Get ready to renew, extend or intensify your addiction to Netflix. A very impressive adaptation of 13 Reasons Why, the young adult best seller by Jay Asher, has become available to stream on the digital platform and it's almost impossible to resist binging on all 13 episodes. With a killer dramatic hook, a marvelous cast and a nuanced exploration of a highly complicated subject, the new show is impressive in every possible way.
The first thing to reel the viewer in will be the central mystery. The first episode begins with what seems to be a typical modern High School stunned and adrift at the news that one of it's students has committed suicide. The unexpected death of Hannah Baker, the wonderful Katherine Langford, has turned her into an enigma and everyone at the school seems to be trying to figure out what happened. The school counselor (Derek Luke) is meeting with all her classmates to get of sense of how they are handling themselves but mostly to see if anybody could have foreseen such a tragedy, It is in this setting that we meet Clay (Dylan Minnette) who claims that he barely knew Hannah.
We soon find out that is a lie. Hannah comes back from the grave in the form of an analog suicide note. Clay receives a box with 13 audio cassettes. On each one Hannah tells the tale of what drove her to end her life, but here is the kicker, if you received the tapes you are one of the reasons why and what you did will be revealed in detail. So Clay has to listen to all the tapes and when he is done he's meant to pass them on to the next person. That simple set up becomes hypnotic and powerful as Clay comes to find out that he is not the only one in his High School keeping secrets and lying about it.
While the mystery is what propels the plot forward and gives the show a highly addictive quality, the reason why the viewer will keep coming back is how deftly the scripts, the cast and the direction handle the complex subtext Asher's story. During various episodes the plot seem to revolve around a typical High School. A beautiful and smart girl falls for the bad boy while ignoring the sensitive boy who has a crush on her. Two girls who have sworn eternal friendship slowly drift apart. The jocks own the hallways and control the parties. The series sets it up as a nostalgia trip down John Hughes memory lane and then guts the viewer with drenching every situation with Hannah's spilled blood. This is not another young adult story about how High School can be hell and how everyone can be misunderstood under their particular stereotype. The series is about how modern life has left all of us oblivious and blind to each other's pain and how violence and tragedy only brings more of the same in an endless and vicious cycle.
And while the why did Hannah really do it never seizes to be entertaining throughout, the series really begins to pack a punch around episode 6 when Clay's sense of responsibility and injustice kicks in. His story is fascinating to watch and what carries the series to a tentative finish line. Minnette gives a career best performance and matches the complicated and nuanced delivery that is set by Langford whether as narrator or as how she always manage to capture the frailty and humanity in the many ways that Hannah unravels. Fortunately the rest of the supporting cast is as compelling as the leads, in particular Kate Walsh and Brian D'Arcy James as Hannah's grieving parents, Christian Navarro as Tony the protector of Hannah's posthumous agenda and Alisha Boe and Brandon Flynn as Jessica and Justin, two students whose teenage dreams become derailed by their disfunction and a culture of violence.
It is hard to imagine anybody who became enthralled with this story in it's original incarnation being disappointed in how Jay Asher's novel has been brought to life. What seems to be intriguing and possibly troubling is how the story and the character's fate might develop if Netflix decides to follow Clay and his classmates into a second seasons. While the last episode leaves a couple of loose ends and teases the possibility of another tragedy, it's very unlikely that anything will be as powerful as Hannah's story. Even so, with such a fantastic, diverse and talented group of artists in front and behind the camera, the possibility of finding out is very enticing.
13 Reasons Why is now streaming only on Netflix.