Friday, May 12, 2017

So I watched "13 Reasons Why"...

Not long ago, I read and blogged about the new Netflix drama "13 Reasons Why".  A lot of my friends had opinions about the show.  Always one to embrace a good melodrama, I subscribed to Netflix again so I could see what was generating all the hype.

Over the past couple of days, I've been watching the series.  Much to my relief, last night I finished the last show.  Folks, I have to say, I am not a fan of the Netflix version of "13 Reasons Why", which was based on a bestselling novel of the same name that was published in 2007.  But it's not because I don't think there should be TV shows or movies about suicide.  My reasons for not liking "13 Reasons Why" are much more pedestrian than that.  I simply found it an annoying and unrealistic show.

"13 Reasons Why" is the story of Hannah Baker, a teenager who decides to kill herself and leaves behind cassette tapes for people who had to do with the reasons why she takes such desperate measures.  I must admit, I was amused at seeing the supposed teens (all of whom were clearly in their 20s) asking their parents if their "boom boxes" or classic Walkmans still worked so they could play the cassettes.

Hannah sounds very confident and clever as she explains the tapes.  She does not sound depressed.  In fact, there's an edge to her voice that sounds almost as if she's enjoying herself.  The first one to discover the tapes, at least onscreen, is Clay.  Hannah had a crush on Clay and apparently he's one of the 13 reasons why she decided to slit her wrists and hang out in a warm bathtub.  Clay is the one character who seems pretty "good".  The rest of the people in Hannah's midst are assholes who, I guess, screwed her over (literally in one case).  She plots her suicide as a means of taking revenge.

Allow me a minute to say that it seems pretty dumb to take revenge by killing yourself.  It's not like you'll be around to see how that affects the people who have pissed you off.  And you'll be dead.  Death is final.  But maybe that was the one realistic thing about "13 Reasons Why".  Teenagers are not necessarily known for being rational or logical.  Nevertheless, it doesn't make Hannah very likable or relatable.

Okay...  well, I think the premise of the story is interesting enough.  A lot of suicidal teens are angry and hopeless and maybe some would fantasize about leaving tapes letting the people who hurt them know what they did.  But in my experience, a person with clinical depression would not undertake such an auspicious and lengthy project of making multiple cassette tapes.  Depression often makes you tired, distracted, and apathetic.  Based on this story line, I'm not sure if Hannah is supposed to suffer from depression or if she's just throwing a hissy fit.  If she's just throwing a fit, would she have really taken the time to make tapes?  If she's depressed, would she always look well-groomed and "normal"?  And would she have had the ability to concentrate long enough to make those tapes?

Many people who attempt or commit suicide are suffering from some degree of clinical depression.  It is a significant problem for teenagers.  I was a depressed teen.  I have pictures of myself during those years when I was young and pretty and I often had a very sour, glum expression on my face.  There were days when I wanted not to give a shit, but I had enough anxiety to keep me caring about things.  Hannah just doesn't strike me as depressed or even that angry.  But if she were very depressed, I'd have trouble believing that she'd have the energy or the will to make audio tapes for the people left behind.

Consider that she would have had to talk for hours to make those tapes.  That would have taken energy and planning.  It doesn't really ring true.  At most, maybe one side of one tape might be somewhat realistic.  And since teens are often impulsive, especially when they get angry and dramatic, it doesn't ring true that Hannah would make so many tapes before killing herself.  Again, that requires a lot of pre-meditation that I don't think a lot of teens-- even the very bright ones who sound like they're 30-- would necessarily be capable of.

I also really don't think a teenager of today would use cassettes.  Why would they?  What would motivate a teen in this day and age to record a bunch of monologues on old fashioned cassette tapes?  I would think that if a person went to that much trouble to make the tapes, they'd want to be heard.  And yet, Hannah used a medium that would force their friends to find obsolete boom boxes on which to play them?  It sounds like bullshit to me, but I guess it makes for a nostalgic hook that will get the 40 somethings watching.

The characters irritated me due to everything from the fact that they all looked at least 20 and spoke like they were in their 30s, to the repeated and completely overdone use of the word "fuck".  I am certainly not offended by the "f-word", but when it is used over and over again by teens who are otherwise very intelligent, I'm just left scratching my head and wondering if no one teaches vocabulary anymore.  I certainly don't have a problem with blue language, but it really gets tiresome to listen to non-stop vulgar language (my dad would be so PROUD).   Yes, teens use a lot of profanity.  I sure did when I was a teen.  But these "kids" used the word "fuck" in every conceivable part of speech over and over again.  I would have been more impressed if the writers had found a few other obscenities to use.

I noticed that the soundtrack sounded very 80s inspired.  I have not had a look at the musical credits, but it sounds like they used music by The Cure a lot.  If you were a teenager in the 80s, as I was, you know that The Cure was the quintessential "teen angst" soundtrack for that era.  And as a music lover, I'll admit that their music has aged well.  Do today's teens listen to it?  I dunno...  But it seemed more like music intended to appeal to people in their 40s than teenagers.  Maybe that was done by design.  Maybe today's parents should be watching shows about suicide with their kids.

I have to admit, I paid close attention to the first couple of episodes, but before too long, I lost interest.  By the final episode, I was starting to get really twitchy with every utterance of the word "fuck" and its many incarnations.  I squirmed as each very attractive, very precocious, very annoying and teen-angsty "teen" shouted about those tapes and Hannah Baker (whose name also annoyed me... it reminded me too much of Studebaker).

I grew up in an era when we had Afterschool Specials and Movies of the Week on TV.  A lot of those programs, never longer than two hours, were melodramatic and smarmy.  But at least they got to the point quickly, and a lot of times, were entertaining enough to hold my attention.  I just got really bored and annoyed watching "13 Reasons Why".  It made me miss Aaron Spelling.  

In all seriousness...  in the mid 1980s, I remember watching an excellent movie of the week called "Surviving".  It was about teen suicide and starred Molly Ringwald, Zack Galligan, River Phoenix, Heather O'Rourke, Ellen Burstyn, and Marsha Mason.  Thirty plus years later, I still remember that movie.  And... lookie here!  Someone has posted it on YouTube!  No Netflix subscription required!


You're welcome. 

If I had a teenager, this movie is what I'd be watching with them if I wanted to address teen suicide.  I would not watch "13 Reasons Why", not because I would fear them being inspired by the show, but because the show simply sucks and lacks realism.  Sorry. 

Edited to add...  I could probably write even more about what I think is wrong with "13 Reasons Why"...  maybe later, I will.


  1. I wasn't impressed by "13 Reasons," either. While I'd hope a movie wouldn't glorify suicide to the point that those who were not sufficiently clinically depressed would see sufficient glamour in it to try to plot a similar (but somehow less pathetic) version of it, I wish someone had not chanced it. I get first amendment rights, though, and don't think it's akin to hollering "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.

    "Surviving a Family Crisis" is much more effective.

    1. And "Surviving" has the benefit of beautiful classical piano music.


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