I must confess that I was excited to watch Netflix’s new series, “13 Reasons Why.” As much as one can be excited to watch something that has as the core of its premise a teenager killing herself. Mostly, I was intrigued because I knew it was adapted from a best-selling young adult novel, and I am mildly obsessed with young adult stories in general.
Because of my interest and desire to watch it unbiased, I actually stayed away from all the articles I started to see popping up about it online. Big mistake.
Now, after watching it (or rather, after watching part of it – more on this below), I went ahead and perused a few of those articles, most of which deal extensively with the “death porn” aspect of the show, its glamorization of suicide, and basically how freaking dangerous and twisted it is. This article has a pretty good discussion of these topics.
So I don’t feel the need to write about the portrayal of suicide in the show. I think we’ve covered it – you suck for making this, Netflix, etc. “Welcome to your tape.” Just kidding. Kind of – because this show really could help push someone over the edge, as so many articles are discussing right now.
We Couldn’t Finish the Season
This show is hard to watch for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is knowing that the girl kills herself and uses her suicide to torture everyone who was mean to her.
But there are other reasons not to watch this show. I probably could have made a list of thirteen, but I’m sure that’s been done by now.
Surprisingly crappy quality…
This is honestly the least of its problems, but I think it’s worth noting that the show is just not that well-done.
I’ve come to expect pretty high writing quality in Netflix Original shows. “13 Reasons Why,” was a big letdown in that regard.
I tried to pretend at first that it wasn’t that bad. That maybe it was just awkward and cringe-worthy here and there. But by about the second episode, my husband Luke and I were both rolling our eyes and saying, “No one talks like that…” It’s almost as if they took the dialogue straight out of the book; novels can get away with things like lengthy complex sentences or half-page monologues, but they just sound ridiculous on TV.
There’s also the over-dramatization issue of the main character feeling tortured and seeking answers before he finishes listening to the girl’s tapes, while everyone tells him, “Just finish listening to the tapes.” Yes, do. For goodness sake, just sit your butt down and listen if you want to know what happened, problem solved.
I wanted to love this show, at least artistically, but it became apparent pretty quickly that I was going to have trouble even stomaching it.
Who is this aimed at??
It’s based on a YA book. It has all teenage main characters. Adults play a comparatively minor role in the story. And there’s very little to interest grownups. I guess I’m a grownup, technically. But a young one (I’m 27), and I typically love young adult stuff. Heck, I head straight to the YA section every time I go to the library.
And yet, it didn’t appeal to me. Probably because it wasn’t really supposed to.
It was aimed at young teens.
And that Mature rating? It was well-deserved.
Let’s start with the language. And work our way up.
Now I don’t typically think of language, even F words, as something that’s super morally offensive in a show/movie. If my kids are asleep, it’s not that big of deal to me.
However, PG-13 movies are allowed one F word before it automatically becomes rated R and thus is no longer something that can be marketed toward teens.
This show had a lot of F words.
I know that the typical high school hallway probably has language like this flying around plenty. So the show does do the realistic thing well, I suppose, but at the same time it jumps straight into the bracket of content that is not normally marketed toward teens. It’s as if, right off the bat, we’re throwing typical teenage content standards out the window.
But a lot more troubling to me was the sexual content.
Early on, we see flashes of what appear to be sexual encounters, as if the characters are remembering it. These were brief but kind of problematic because it was hard to tell immediately who the characters in these scene were, leaving the viewer wondering and wanting to look more to figure out who it is. And if we’re, ya know, trying to be pure Catholics, we probably shouldn’t be staring at what seems to be two people having sex.
But these early flashes were pretty brief and not a deal-breaker for us. We kept watching.
Now, we ended up stopping after having fast-forwarded a scene that looked like it was about to turn into a lesbian sex scene (Wikipedia told me they were just making out…), because right after this scene the main character is about to masturbate while looking at a picture of the two girls kissing.
Wow. We paused it, looked at each other and said, “Screw this.” There have got to be much better things we could be watching.
Then I started reading those articles…
No longer afraid of any spoilers, I did some research.
If we hadn’t stopped there, we definitely would have later, as the show apparently later depicts two separate rape scenes and the girl’s super graphic suicide.
Let’s just layer on the moral refuse, shall we?
We Broke it Down
If there’s one good thing about this show, it certainly makes for some lively discussion.
I think we were still kind of troubled by the show even the day after we quit it (probably partially because I was obsessing over writing this review…), so Luke and I really had to think about what was so wrong with the show and how it could have been better.
Now I absolutely do not think that a show has to shy away from difficult, dark subject matter in order to be worthy of my consumption. We live in a fallen world full of sin, and if the stories we watch have none of that at all, it won’t feel real and it won’t resonate with us. But there is a way to show that sin that doesn’t leave us there wallowing in the filth, but instead brings us back up and gives us hope.
This show doesn’t bring us back up.
It shows us the filth, the sadness and sorrow, the deep darkness. And it leaves us there.
I know, I didn’t watch the whole thing. And there’s some supposed lesson learned by the end about being nicer to people bla bla bla, wouldn’t want our mean behavior to go make people kill themselves, right? But what did we have to go through to get to some wimpy “be nicer” message?
Showing a girl – excuse me, two separate girls – be raped? Which would essentially be a scene showing a sexual encounter of a nature that is by far the most perverted perversion of the way God intended it to be? We needed a graphic scene of that – excuse me, two graphic scenes of that – why? And I certainly don’t know why in the hell we needed to know, let alone actually see, the main character masturbating to a picture of two girls kissing.
If you need to portray darkness and sin in a story, for the sake of telling a deep, meaningful story, then do it. But don’t make us dwell there. Don’t make us watch it all in graphic detail.
Especially when you’re telling that story to 14 year olds.