Disclaimer: I understand there’s a lot of criticisms of how this show portrays suicide and the effects it could have on young people. Many on the internet have articulated these points better than I could, so I don’t wish to dwell on them. Instead, I’ll just focus on the narrative structure of the pilot and try to judge it by the same standards as any other pilot.
Had I seen it before: Yes, I’ve watched the series in full.
What IMDb says: Follows teenager Clay Jensen, in his quest to uncover the story behind his classmate and crush, Hannah, and her decision to end her life.
Why I picked it: 13 Reasons Why might just be the most polarizing show of recent memory. Well, it is the most polarizing show in MY recent memory, I can’t speak for everyone. Regardless of your thoughts on it, there’s no denying that 13 Reasons Why quickly became the sort of cultural talking point that writers dream of writing. Within weeks of premiering, it seemed as though EVERYONE had an opinion about it, usually a rather vocal one. It was the show you had to watch RIGHT NOW or else feel completely out of the loop. And for that reason alone, it’s worth discussing in this project.
I also wanted to examine this pilot because 13 Reasons Why is a textbook case of “How the hell are they going to get more than one season out of this?” I mean, their protagonist is dead at the beginning of the show. It’s literally called “13 Reasons Why” and each episode of their 13-episode season was about a different reason. So now that I know there is a Season 2 in the works (something I didn’t know when I watched this pilot the first time around) I wanted to reexamine it to see if it was setting up any conflicts that could last longer than 13 episodes.
What I liked: The show does have an intriguing premise. Most of the time, writers talk about stakes and what will happen if characters fail to meet their goal. With 13 Reasons Why, those dire consequences have already happened and it’s just a question of who failed and what did they fail to do. It’s an interesting way of turning the usual narrative on its head.
The pilot also does a good job of setting up conflicts to come. We know Hannah’s parents are suing the school. We know that at some point, seemingly innocent Clay Jensen pissed off Hannah enough to get his own tape, and that provokes curiosity as well. And of course we’re curious to know who the other 11 people besides Justin and Clay are and what they did.
What I didn’t like: Neither Clay nor Hannah are particularly compelling people. I feel like the writers knew that the premise of teen suicide was dramatic enough to get us interested and that they didn’t have to bother writing interesting characters. Take away the fact that Hannah committed suicide and all we have is two teenagers who happen to work at a movie theater together. I’ve watched other teen dramas that had far less dramatic circumstances but still had interesting characters.
The pilot also doesn’t set up any conflict that isn’t directly related to Hannah’s suicide. That would be fine if they had just admitted this was a mini series rather than trying to squeeze a second season out of it. I know how Season 1 ends so I understand that there’s still potential for more drama. However, the fact that there’s no other substantial conflict in the pilot makes me think that they’re going to end up reinventing the wheel with every new season. Hannah and her tapes define this show from the beginning. Next season there will be no more tapes. It would be like if Lizzie McGuire discontinued Cartoon Lizzie. It’s the show’s signature element.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I can definitely say that the first time around, I wanted to watch Episode 2. But it’s certainly not a series I see myself rewatching.