Reviews: Thirteen Reasons Why

A Compelling, Emotional Tragedy

I would say I enjoyed this series, but "enjoyed" isn't really the right word to use for something so heavy and tragic. 13 Reasons Why is a very upsetting show, but it's upsetting in the best way possible, and thought provoking at that.

One of the greatest achievements of this show is how good it is at creating an emotional response. I've seen few other series that are so frequently stirring. This is thanks to many factors, but the two most important are the great performances given by the show's leads: relative newcomers Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford. Both of them do a fantastic job selling the show's more dramatic moments.

Other factors that make the series so compelling and powerful lie behind the camera, however. The show's use of color, cinematography, and music, while sometimes a bit on the nose, does a good job conveying emotion and story without dialogue. Casting the "past" storyline in oranges and reds and the "present" in blues and greys is serves as helpful visual cue to the viewer and contrasts the vibrancy of life with the emptiness of death. Additionally, the show makes a smart decision by leaving most of its more intense content for later episodes, ensuring that the audience is invested enough in the characters to empathize.

This brings us to another major strong point of the 13 Reasons Why: the characters. The writers go to great lengths to deconstruct caricatures and stereotypes. Even when the characters do frankly horrible things, you frequently sympathize with them. Rather than just being straw bullies, predators, and exploiters, most of the characters have real depth and complexity to them, which makes them far more interesting.

The show also deals with some heavy themes, such as empathy, depression, and the Butterfly Effect. The latter is the most effective, as the show goes to great lengths to show how small acts of carelessness or selfishness can have disastrous consequences down the road.

However, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the show's significant flaws. One is the pacing; the series feels drawn out in places, especially in the early-middle episodes, where there's plenty of filler. There's also significant Narm in certain parts of the series. This is mostly due to the writing, which sometimes struggles in the dialogue department; the actors mostly do a good job no matter their material. The show suffers from the "teen dialogue curse": the dialogue either sounds too adult for teenagers on one hand or trying to hard to be "hip" on the other. However, it's only occasionally distracting (or at least it only was for me).

Despite these significant flaws, I would very much recommend the series. While not perfect, the show is ultimately a beautifully told tragedy that is consistently engaging and engrossing. Few shows have had an effect on me like this show did, and that's saying a lot. I really look forward to seeing what everyone involved does in the future.