Acting as an executive producer on Netflix’s latest original series, 13 Reasons Why, Selena Gomez has been very vocal about her latest project. And with good reason – it’s a smart, engaging adaptation of a bestselling young adult novel, TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, and is produced by the biggest player in television today – Netflix. Add to that it’s genuine and frankly overdue message about teen bullying, and we’re sold.
Set in a fictional town, the story follows high schooler Clay, as he attempts to deal with the recent suicide of his friend and crush Hannah. Leaving behind a series of tapes (13 sides worth, hence the title) as her suicide note, with each side implicating one classmate and the role they played in her death, 13 Reasons Why is a classic murder (or suicide, rather) mystery revised for the modern age.
Having overcome her own issues with social media bullying, Gomez has been a strong advocate of spreading positivity and support among her fans and young people in general. Originally signed on to play the lead actress in the series some years back, Gomez later changed to the role of producer, alongside her mother Mandy Teefey, and has instead focused her efforts behind the scenes. It’s a strong fit for Gomez, who seems wise beyond her years, and eager to spread a positive message.
Hollywood will always take on teen subject matter, but rarely does it do so with such authenticity, which is what makes 13 Reasons Why so refreshing. If you needed any more reasons to tune in, here are 13 of them.
1. It’s one part Twin Peaks, one part Veronica Mars
Two of the greatest high school-set murder mystery series to ever be realized, 13 Reasons Why references both David Lynch’s Twin Peaks in its girl-found-dead-at-the-beginning and dark underlying secrets of suburbia plot lines; while Veronica Mars‘ titular teen private eye undoubtedly helped inspire Clay’s character. 13 Reasons Why‘s tone is still very much it’s own, but with these two as comparisons, we’re already hooked.
2. It’s based on a best-selling book
A bestselling young adult novel, TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, written by Jay Asher, hit number one on the New York Times best-seller list in July 2011. Published in over 20 countries, the book celebrated it’s 10th anniversary edition last year, and has remained a teen favorite for good reason – it’s a universal story that’s relatable across all parts of the globe.
3. It highlights our problems with social media
If you’re of the age where social media wasn’t around during your high school days, then consider yourself lucky. Our hangups about number of friends, likes, oversharing et al. are increasingly at the fore every day. But to be a teenager having these concerns? I dare not even think about it. The show not only engages with how big a role social media plays in our lives, but weaves the complications it can bring into the story line with aplomb.
4. It has a killer soundtrack
We wouldn’t expect anything less from Netflix’s new star series. From ’80s classics from Joy Division and The Cure, to indie darlings Lord Huron and Chromatics, as well as two songs performed by producer Selena Gomez, 13 Reasons Why‘s soundtrack does not disappoint. Lead actor Dylan Minnette picked out many of the tracks himself, only adding to its clout.
5. It tackles teen issues head on
Not since seminal Canadian TV series Degrassi (the original series, not the later spinoffs) have teen issues been dealt with in such an honest and transparent way. There’s no skirting around the topics of sex, drinking and those inane conversations you have with your best friend IRL but Hollywood gives a facelift courtesy of dozen-strong scriptwriting teams. No. It’s a breath of fresh air to see the teens here giddy with excitement all over one “Hey” text from their crush, and that’s what makes it all the more real.
6. It stars the next generation of Hollywood newcomers
Lead roles Clay and Hannah are portrayed by rising stars Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford, the latter hailing from Perth, Australia, and who was cast from a Skype interview mere weeks before filming began. It’s apparent that both in the show and off-screen, Minnette and Langford bring a maturity to their youthful 20 years of age that not everyone can muster. While Langford is literally breaking through with the series, Minnette had a starring role in 2015’s Goosebumps movies, as well as last year’s refreshing horror hit Don’t Breathe. Definitely ones to watch.
7. It reflects our current obsession with old technology
As the technology age shows no signs of letting up, it’s little secret society has turned back to all things analog to balance things out. Vinyl and, pending how underground your band is, even cassette tapes, have seen a resurgence in the last few years. 13 Reasons Why champions the latter, with Hannah’s suicide “note” arriving via a series of seven tapes (13 sides however, hence the title), as well as one of the leads preferring to listen to Joy Division via cassette. Because Ian Curtis would have wanted it that way.
8. It has a strong anti-bullying message
The book’s popularity is due to many reasons, but particularly affecting is the anti-bullying message at the story’s core. Although the entire premise is based around Hannah’s suicide, the show’s (and book’s) main message is just how damaging teen bullying can be. By intelligently weaving very relevant social media woes into its story, the show forces its audience to think twice about the repercussions of the society we’ve created.
9. It’s not afraid to get dirty
The catch 22 of teen portrayals is that if you don’t show enough of the good stuff, you get branded a cleaned up Hollywood version of reality; show too much and you’ve got an extreme Larry Clark-esque kids-gone-wild situation. Brace yourself if you can’t handle the truth, but the fact of the matter is teens have sex, teens do drugs, teens do shitty things to each other which break trust and cause such irreparable pain that they’re affected for life. Many teen-oriented movies or shows aren’t willing to go there, but that only exacerbates the gap from reality to fiction. 13 Reasons Why keeps it real, making it a much needed breath of fresh air in this genre.
10. It highlights the sexism in high school
High school is hard, no matter your gender (and even more so if you don’t identify as cis) but when it comes to double standards, it’s a man’s world out there. Women (or girls if we’re still on the topic of high school) are chastised for both being the Madonna and the whore – don’t give enough and you’re a prude, give too much and you’re a slut. This age-old dilemma is highlighted in the show, alongside the fallout, which unfortunately (as anyone who’s been in high school knows) doesn’t leave women exempt from judging other women either.
11. It’s directed by rising and established directorial talent
A bevy of solid directors have each been given two episodes to direct, with Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation) and Kyle Patrick Alvarez (The Stanford Prison Experiment) to name a few. Not only have they all proven themselves with strong feature film work of late, but they mostly have a grounding in teen issues, particularly Araki. The series’ sobering and realistic portrayal of teenagehood is down to many reasons, a large one being the strong directorial talent behind each episode.
12. The storytelling unfolds realistically
Not only are elements of the show told in real time (discovering a package of tapes from your recently deceased friend, texts from your crush) but the main story unfolds via a mix of present day and flashback scenes. This ultimately allows for two parallel narratives, as well as a dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) look back at events, which is exactly how many high school experiences are lived.
13. It’s not just for teens
The best part about well-written teen shows is that they’re not just for young adults. Good stories transcend age, especially when the age at hand includes those formative, life-changing years during high school, of which few people are left unaffected in some way. Whether you had a perfect high school experience (for real though, is that even truly possible?) or literally the worst years of your life, to have moved past it means you survived. Like all battlegrounds, there are undoubtedly some scars, no matter how old or worn. But that’s also the beauty of a good high school story, it has the potential to get personal, and that’s why stories like 13 Reasons Why have resonated with so many, especially when there’s a good moral to be learned.
Once you’ve watched 13 Reasons Why, check out these other 5 Netflix original shows that you’ll want to binge watch next.