“13 Reasons Why” is Netflix’s latest, and perhaps the first, attempt to offer up a serious, engaging drama for its teenage audience. It tackles the dark side of teenage life including serious and critical issues such as school bullying and suicide. It also highlights everyday atrocities and forms of abuse such as slut shaming and middle-class entitlement. It handles the teenage dilemma where the desire to fit in trumps everything else. But it’s a show that grown-ups can enjoy just as much as, if not more than, teens. 

“13 Reasons Why”, based on the bestselling novel by Jay Asher, follows a high school reeling after a young girl’s suicide. That is, until the release of said girl’s tapes about her death. Hannah Baker the protagonist says there are thirteen reasons why she chose to kill herself. The series begins a week after she has committed suicide, leaving no note. She did, however, leave behind 13 cassette tapes, each addressing a different person whom Hannah felt was instrumental in leading her to the point of despair where she found no other option but to kill herself. 

The receivers have to pass the tapes to the next person in order to learn what they’ve done, and so that it never has to happen again. The tragedy of Hannah Baker unfolds in two timelines, with flashbacks of how it all came to be, and a present-day story in which Clay (her shy friend), who worked with her at the local cinema and nurtured a crush on her in secret, tries to find out why the girl that was so filled with light and life is now a cold body in the ground. He put his shoulder to the wheel in order to unravel the mystery and avenge his friend. 

This poignant and sometimes hard to watch story expresses the true feeling of depression, isolation and fragility of teenage. It also teaches teenagers how to behave, especially toward girls. Suicide is not the easiest of subjects to discuss and conversation about it is often avoided altogether. But “13 Reasons Why” brings up the issue with a brilliant and meticulous performance by its young cast. However, it is possibly not a show that many people fancy binge-watching. Hannah’s story is by turns heart-breaking, excruciating and alarming. But it is also this that makes it important, both for teenagers themselves and those who are or will soon be parents of teens. 

Dealing with such a sensitive subject matter, it is inevitable that there will be some controversy. But that is exactly what our society needs since it opens conversation. Suicide, rape, bullying, etc. are all uncomfortable topics, but they are reality and sweeping them under the rug will not make them go away. I agree that this drama is not perfect, but you have to applaud the ambition and endeavour to address these issues in an unrestrained and honest manner. The acting is exceptional and the storyline is intriguing, but above all else, the message is raw and real, serving as a wakeup call to an avoidant society. Please give this drama a try and watch all the way through since it’s more than just a teen trend. 

IMRAN ALI PHULL,  

Karachi, May 8.