13 Reasons Why: Season 1
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (19th April 2018).
The Show

Two weeks ago, high school student Hannah Baker (Love, Simon's Katherine Langford) committed suicide. Some of her classmates are making a show of their sensitivity, some less so ("Hashtag never forget"), some are so over it all, and others are just numb: case in point, Clay Jensen (Let Me In's Dylan Minnette) who only recently shed his nerd image and the gay rumors that came with it and felt like he was something different than the way his lifelong friends and classmates always saw him when he hung around with Hannah. Coming home after another long day of well-intentioned guidance counselors, pushy teachers, and insensitive classmates, Clay finds a package on his porch containing seven audio cassette tapes. Borrowing his dad's "radio thing" (aka: a boombox), he plays one of the tapes and discovers that it is a message from Hannah; rather, it is a coercion from Hannah to listen to the thirteen sides of the seven tapes in order to understand why she ended her life. She tells the listener that if they have received the tapes, they are one of the thirteen reasons why she killed herself and instructs them to pass them on after listening or risk the tapes being released "very publicly" by a trusted friend who is watching the listeners. As Clay listens, he discovers the identities of the other potential listeners and how they contributed to Hannah's final decision: among them Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn) whose locker room talk after he and Hannah kissed branded her as a slut rumors spread about her at her previous school necessitating her recent move to the town best friend Jessica Davis (Ray Donovan's Alisha Boe), Jessica's ex-boyfriend Alex Standall (Parenthood's Miles Heizer), stalker Tyler Down (Imperium's Devin Druid), closeted Courtney (Michele Selene Ang), Hannah's Valentine's Day date Marcus Cole (Steven Silver), classmate Zach Dempsey (Riverdale's Ross Butler), poetry club president Ryan Shaver (Tommy Dorfman), "fratboy Darth Vader" Bryce Walker (iZombie's Justin Prentice) which both he and Hannah witnessed, cheerleader Sherri Holland (Empire's Ajiona Alexus), and guidance counselor Kevin Porter (Antwone Fisher's Derek Luke) for not doing enough to help her. The more he listens, the more tormented he becomes as he looks back on his own actions and waits until he comes to the side of the tape where he will learn what he did or did not do to her. The revelations cast new light on his relationships with these people and their behavior towards him and his actions towards them in light of what he learns from the tapes and others as to whether or not they have yet heard the tapes and the threats for silence from those who have.

An adaptation of the young adult novel by Jay Asher executive produced by Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers) who was originally up for the lead when the project as a Universal Pictures feature film, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why seems to have been so severely flawed all the way back to its source novel as to be socially irresponsible. Hannah's tapes seem to be less about showing the people to whom she has them sent the consequences (however indirect in some cases) of their actions than a manipulative "game" bullying them from beyond the grave. While it is insensitive in real life to call any suicide "selfish" it certainly seems to be the case in this contrived fiction. It might have been salvageable had point-of-view character Clay been able to look back with the distance of time to both feel sorry for Hannah while acknowledging the wrongness of her plan shaped as it was in a state of severe mental distress although one would think she might have been able to work through some of the lesser "infractions" by voicing them on tape as she seems to have had a problem in life expressing her emotions to others but the tapes throw him for an emotional loop and send him out as her avenger as if she was taking advantage of his unvoiced love for her (especially as one of his infractions against her was not staying with her when she told him to leave her alone). Hannah is the too-perfect martyr to teen bullying that her shallower classmates might buy, but the story robs the characters to whom the tapes are given of the ability to reason for themselves without even acknowledging that Hannah has threatened them into silence and set them against each other with Clay perhaps victimized the most. While some of them have violated her privacy, hurt her emotionally or physically, or facilitated bullying by others, she takes no responsibility for her own actions: blaming one of them for not preventing the rape of her friend that she witnessed alongside him and then blaming the rape victim as one of the reasons why for her suicide, victimizing herself for her friend's traumatic experience both figuratively and literally. She apparently expects Clay to be the one among them that will expose the rapist but she seems not to have cared that she may possible drive one of the other lesser offenders to suicide. While Hannah need not be a likable character, it is hard to relate to anything she does more so than the (self)righteous indignation she arouses in one or more of the listeners with the excuse being that they are all teenagers for whom even the little things are so significant combined with the emotional trauma she might share with them and of which she seems to take advantage. 13 Reasons Why is not so much a work of suicidal ideation as the sort of smug "lesson" one of the characters more popular preppy classmates might have envisioned as the PSA of all PSAs without any real insight into depression and trauma turned inwards.


Shot in 4K with the Panasonic Varicam, 13 Reasons Why looks reasonably clean and crips in Paramount's anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen standard definition encode (Netflix being the place where one can currently see the show in UltraHD). The digital cinematography refreshing favors a naturalistic and neutral color palette that makes sunny exteriors look plesantly warm rather than sunscorched and nights without the heavy blue cast and desaturated hues, leaving the bolder colors to the wardrobe and set design. Flashbacks utilize color correction a bit more creatively (if not always imaginitively).


The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is fairly active in all channels for a dialogue-heavy film with general atmosphere in the surrounds while flashbacks and hallucinatory bits prompt a bit more novelty in the sound design. Optional English and English SDH subtitles are included along with a stereo descriptive audio track.


Disc four shares the final episode with a handful of extras starting with contexutal featuretes on the characters - "Hannah & Clay: An Unfinished Love Story" (7:50), "Justin Foley: Not Your Typical Jock" (6:26), "Discovering Jessica Davis" (5:57) - a featurette on the source novel in "Bringing the Book of Life" (10:32), and the web short "13 Things About Me" pieces on Dylan Minnette (2:06) and Justin Prentice (3:58). Most substantial is "Beyond the Reasons" (29:08), a Netflix special that functions both as an extended making-of and a dicussion with the cast and some behind the scenes personell on the themes of the show.


13 Reasons Why is not so much a work of suicidal ideation as the sort of smug "lesson" one of the characters more popular preppy classmates might have envisioned as the PSA of all PSAs without any real insight into depression and trauma turned inwards.


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