Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
Much alike what he thought of mystery, the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why, Season 1 peels off the mysterious suicide of a teenage girl, layer by layer, episode after episode, cassette after cassette.
Netflix has been unparalleled of late in creating what we can call a bank of original content with over 100 original scripted and documentary series produced in-house.
Being critically acclaimed has been the prerequisite of shows like the political thriller-drama House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, a comedy drama set in a prison or the super-natural series Stranger Things.
The ‘next’ Netfix original’s binge watch content has become a topic of discussion amongst web-series lovers who cannot get enough of the expansive, evolving stories. The latest in their library is an adaptation of the best-selling, award-winning young adult novel, 13 Reasons Why.
Art-house stylist Gregg Araki and Oscar-winning documentarian Jessica Yu are amongst the many minds that have set up the twisted thriller tempered with real and vivid performances by not so overtly exposed actors. The mystery grows and sustains through thirteen episodes and the young, affable cast keeps the audience hooked.
What is most impressive about the series, which possibly takes its impetus from the bestselling book is its nuanced study of high school students and the intensity grappling their lives. The characterization of the students is none less than insightful and the audience gets a thorough comprehension of their turbulent inner lives.
Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker, a 17-year-old high school junior commits suicide constructing the premise of the series. Before giving up her life she records her voice over a set of cassette tapes elaborating on the 13 reasons that compelled her towards the act.
She works out an arrangement to send the tapes to the 13 people she blames for her death.
Katherine Langford is brilliant in her ingenuous understanding of Hannah’s persona. Her cherubic smile, doe like expressive eyes and almost tactile visual appearance connects us to her despite knowing that the character in concern is in fact, dead.
13 Reasons Why does win the draw when it comes to effective casting especially with Hannah and Clay. Interestingly, the book was originally supposed to be adapted into a film. Selena Gomez was to portray the role of Hannah. Later a series took place of the film and Selena became an executive producer instead of an actor in it. She obviously could gauge that her fame could overshadow a story which is essentially a passion project. “I wanted it to be credible,” she told The New York Times. “If I’m a part of it, that’s going to cause a whole other conversation.” 13 Reasons Why introduced Katherine Langford in the lead role who looked Hannah from the first frame itself.
Amongst the 13 offenders, when the tapes reach Clay Jensen rendered by another lead Dylan Minnette our mystery takes off.
Minnette a safe bet for a nice guy performance, with Goosebumps and Don’t Breathe to back him up lives up to Clay’s depiction of restrained paranoia.
Teen-adult Clay is a simpleton always comfortable lurking in the periphery of the high school. Though interested in Hannah from the first time he met her he was always too shy to exhibit what he had in his heart. And now, she is no more.
Instead there are a bunch of tapes calling out the Liberty High bullies that shoved her to death. Clay drives himself insane in the pursuit of understanding how he was responsible and what he might have done that could affect Hannah so much.
Clay and Hannah’s narratives feature together, simultaneously although in separate timelines. Clay takes the audience all over the town as he bikes frantically identifying locations Hannah mentions and imagining the events that have taken place there.
The juxtaposition of the past and the present builds up the tension and the audience wants to watch more of the mystery unravel.
There are points when the thrill takes a dip but the colour story of the cinematographer and the production designer keeps the vibe in tact.
While Clay remembers Hannah in shots tainted in bright, warm colours like yellow, orange and yellow, Clay’s present day image is dominated by cool colours green, blue, grey adding to his melancholy, post Hannah’s death.
As per Hannah’s wishes, every person handed the tapes is to listen to the whole set and then pass the tapes along to the next person on the list.
A number of characters are introduced in course. Justin, a popular boy in class is amongst the first who labels her as an easy going ‘slut’. After they kiss just once, he upsets Hannah deeply by sharing a private, unethically taken photograph of hers. Her close friend, Alex reduces her to the ‘best ass’ in school. Jessica who once her closest ally in school blames her and even physically abuses her when Alex dumps her. Them, and a host of others are the names on the list of Hannah’s 13 critical offenders.
A decently integrated show, 13 reasons why has worked on rich character study, assessing and exploring the conflicts and exchanges between teenagers in High School. To be honest though, I felt impatient to get done with the series while the seventh episode concluded. Its pace had started to take a dip after the eighth episode and the story sagged at places.
That however, did not take away the justice done by the makers while layering the show. Cassette tapes, one thing that made me nostalgic definitely scored for the audience as well. In 2007, when Jay Asher’s novel was out, cassettes were already out of the market. Retaining them in the series 13 Reasons Why self assuredly declares its love for the 80’s from rooftops. Alex, Hanna’s friend has a Joy Division poster on his wall, and Tony another significant character loves walkmans and cassette tapes over the commonly used aux input, CDs or pen drives. New Wave music dominates the background score with the 1980 song “Vienna” by Ultravox,
and covers of 80s classics from Echo and the Bunnymen and Yazoo (by Gomez herself) giving it a distinct reminiscence of the 80’s.
Clay keeps mentioning how he cannot hear at one go because it is messing him up. That is the obvious tool of the makers to spread the story over thirteen episodes. There times when Clay asks the other character about what would follow next and I wandering why wouldn’t he just listen to the tapes himself.
Undoubtedly that was a technique used to sustain and elevate the drama and mystery if you may that would turn the plot juicy. For those that haven’t watched, definitely go take your fill. One thing that will bother you as did me while I reached midway is, ‘Why did Hannah die’? After thirteen back to back episodes I definitely felt depressed for a good twenty-four hours. I also would give the series its due for taking me back to my childhood, reminding me of the bullies and the bullying, just like any other girl or boy my age went through. 13 Reasons Why is in a way an important watch for modern day parents just to get a whiff of how complicated middle or high school can be in this day and age.