Review: 13 Reasons Why // Netflix T.V Show Adaptation
Before you all go judging me for jumping on the bandwagon for writing about this, I would like to inform you that I have in fact read the book "13 Reasons Why" by Jay Asher. Granted I read the book when I was in sixth grade, but hey it still counts.
If you're new to the world of "13 Reasons Why" then it's my pleasure to bring you up to speed. Clay Jensen, the protagonist, can best described as the typical nice guy. He's shy, gentlemanly, keeps to himself, and doesn't mind just being Clay. One day, Clay returns home from school to find a box with his name on it sitting on his front porch. The box contains thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate Clay had feelings for who recently committed suicide. Each tape contains detailed information about one of the thirteen reasons she killed herself. Soon enough, Clay is taken on an eye-opening journey by his deceased crush who reveals secret after secret about Clay's other classmates, who are featured on the tapes, as well as why he's one of the reasons.
For clarity of reading, I would like to simply divide this post into two sections -- the things I liked about the Netfilx adaptation of the bestselling book, and the things I was disappointed by. Let's start with the things I enjoyed about the series.
First of all, even though this has nothing to do with the show itself, I greatly appreciated that Netflix aired the show in typical Netflix style. Meaning, that it was aired as a season so that viewers (such as myself) could immediately binge watch the show. There's no way I could've made it through waiting week after week for new episodes to air so thank you Netflix. Alright now I'll finally get to it. I'm going to start off on the broad category of casting. In my opinion, all of the actors matched their characters in terms of how old they looked which I appreciated because it seems that casting directors love casting actors who are many years beyond their characters when it comes to shows revolved around high school life (yes "Pretty Little Liars", I'm talking about you). Also, the actors overall did a great job at convincing me of their roles which if I'm honest, is tough to get me to admit.
Next up are the music choices. At the end of each "tape" (episode), a song was played that solidified the feelings the viewer had just experienced watching the episode which made me feel as if each episode was wrapped up in a nice little bow. What I mean is, I never felt dissatisfied about the conclusion of an episode because the music choices at the end created a feeling of conclusion. The tracks played throughout each episode were also great, but how could they not be when they included bands such as Joy Division, The Kills, and The Japanese House?
Perhaps the most important thing to pay attention to when it comes to bestselling books being made into T.V shows and movies is "How parallel was it to the book?" I was pleasantly surprised by how similar to the book the Netflix adaptation was for "13 Reasons Why". I read the book many years ago, however I was still able to accurately point out details from the book that were consistently kept throughout the web series. A lot of these details revolved around how accurately the characters were represented. For example, Clay always rode his bike, Skye is rebelliously bitchy, Justin and Zach were hardly ever seen not wearing varsity jackets, Courtney always came off as preppy and stuck-up, etc. As long as I'm on the topic of characters, I'd like to bring up the addition in the show of the character Jeff. Jeff makes several appearances throughout the show as a student that Clay tutors in English since Jeff is much better at baseball than he is at grammar. I loved the addition of Jeff because in the books he's just an unnamed character who gets caught up in mistakes related to Hannah, but in the show he can be considered as one of Clay's rare friends. After all, what else do you call people who constantly help you out with girls?
In order for Netflix to make a decently lengthy series writers of course had to also add in some new scenes that weren't in the book. I know what you're thinking. Additions? Straying from the book's plot line? Oh no! But no, it's not like that. The writers responsible for making the transition from book to web series knew what they were doing. Each scene was seamless, I was barely left with any questions, and if anything, most of the new scene additions added a lot of value to the show that was lacking in the book. For example, sticking on the topic of Jeff and Clay, when I read the book it started to become very tiresome for me to read about Clay's feelings because he started to get repetitive and dry. But the addition of Jeff in the T.V. show and the highlighting of his friendship with Clay added much needed life. When Jeff *SPOILER WARNING* died in the car crash the night of Jessica's party, it became one more thing that Clay had lost. First Hannah, then Jeff which created much needed emotion from Clay. I honestly enjoyed how much angrier Netflix series Clay was than the Clay in the book.
However, one very important element that was changed for the show is how Hannah dies. In the book it's said that she overdosed on pills, but Hannah's death in the Netflix adaptation is very different. Instead of overdosing, the viewer watches a very graphic scene where Hannah slits her wrists with razors and bleeds out in her bathtub. But it doesn't end there, because the audience also has to watch the heartbreaking reaction of Hannah's parents when they find her. I know that I should be angry that such a drastic change was made, but I actually appreciated it. Suicide is not something easy and painless, and I think that as horrible as it was to watch, it's important that more people are exposed to the harsh realities of suicide. The show followed a similar format when Hannah's rape was brought to light. In the book it was eluded to that Bryce raped Hannah, but it is never plainly stated as fact. The Netflix adaptation however didn't create any gray area about it because the audience is forced to watch as Bryce clearly rapes Hannah along with all of her emotion, or lack there of, during the incident.
While I applaud the show for shining light on typically taboo topics such as sexual assault and suicide, it was the challenging of gay stereotypes that I applaud the most. One of the biggest stereotypes of gay individuals both in reality and in media, particularly about gay males, is that they have feminine tendencies such as being fashion obsessed and emotional. This can be seen in the character of Ryan who has a preppy style and lives for publishing his independent newspaper made up of recycled love notes and teen angst momentos that he finds in the school's recycling bins. However, "13 Reasons Why" challenges this stereotype through Clay's mysterious friend Tony. If I had to choose one word to describe Tony it would be macho. He loves working with mechanics, appreciates old school technology, and is only ever seen wearing a black, leather biker jacket. Yet it is revealed towards the end of the series that he's gay. The show purposefully even highlights Clay's (who is supposedly one of Tony's best friends) surprise to bring awareness to the stereotype.
I would now like to discuss the things that I was disappointed with about the book to show adaptation. To start, for someone who can't remember much about the book, I even noticed that two of the books key symbols were missing in the show, or mostly missing. The first thing missing is the map that Hannah included with her tapes so that the people receiving them could follow it to get a more personal point of view of the events she was describing. The map is shown in the first episode which leads Clay to the park where Hannah had her first kiss with Justin Folley, and although many of the locations on the map are included in the Netflix episodes they aren't mentioned on the map at all after that first episode. Speaking of the park, something was missing there too. Can you guess what it is? In the Netflix adaptation Hannah has her first kiss on just a regular old slide that could be found at any park, but in the book the slide is described in detail as the 'rocket slide'. I was disappointed that this was left out because I feel like it would be rather simple to create a prop rocket slide. Also, the slide is where Hannah's downward spiral towards eventual suicide began, so I feel like changing it to become something so boring and typical really took away from the significance of the slide.
Everything that I am about to discuss now revolves around the season finale so if you haven't watched it yet I suggest you stop reading now. The season finale I believe suited the show well, and gave a lot of much needed clarity and relief. However, it also left me with a TON of important unanswered questions including "What happened to Bryce?" We know that Bryce loses his closest friend Justin, that Clay has a recording of Bryce confessing to raping Hannah, and that now, along with all of the people on the tapes, Hannah's parents and Mr. Porter will have the power to turn him in. That's my next question, how do the Bakers and Mr. Porter feel and what do they do after hearing Hannah's recordings? Because we don't know if Bryce ever gets turned in we also don't know if Hannah and Jessica ever get the justice they deserve. Alex's fate is the next big question left unanswered. Towards the end of the episode before the finale we know that a seventeen year old boy suffered a gunshot wound to the head, but we don't know who it is or how they got shot. It isn't until the last few minutes of the final episode that we find out the boy is Alex, and that the gun wound was self-inflicted. I can't remember if this is an event that actually happened in the book (I have a feeling it's not), but it calls a lot of attention to the cycle of youth suicide. Unfortunately for us we don't know if he actually survives after he is brought to an intensive care unit. Finally, the biggest question that I had personally after finishing the season is "What's up with Tyler?" After finding out how Tyler contributed to Hannah's death the others featured on the tapes isolate him even from their guilty group. We see him make several attempts to join them, but he is repeatedly told to get lost. In the final episode there is a scene where Tyler is seen rummaging around a chest in his room containing multiple firearms and enough ammunition to launch a large attack. He is then show posting up pictures featuring the other people on the tapes who have bullied him including Clay, but not including Alex since we watch him remove Alex's picture from the lineup. Whether or not he removed the picture of Alex because he'd already shot himself, or because Alex was the only person who ever stood up for Tyler we'll never know. Anyways, this all draws me to conclude that the show is trying to make a statement about school shootings and some of the warning signs to look for. Yet we don't know if a school shooting is actually Tyler's intention or if he ever follows through with it. However it seems that whatever it is that Tyler's planning, Alex won't be involved.
I have to admit that I was hesitant to even watch "13 Reasons Why" on Netflix because I was afraid that it would be overdramatized for T.V which would draw away from the rawness of the book. The show definitely proved me wrong since I couldn't stop watching it and now call it one of my favorite shows. Overall, I would highly recommend that if you haven't read the book then you should, and then watch the series in that order. I'm usually not one to jump on the bandwagon or draw attention to something that already has so much undeserved attention, but this show was definitely worth my while.