Over the last few years, on-demand streaming services have been shaping the way we consume our entertainment. Catching-up on an episode we missed on air developed into binge-watching entire back catalogues of forgotten works, all neatly stored away in the digital archives of our browsers. The master system of them all however – Netflix – was at the forefront of the latest way to witness: Original Programming.
Whether an entire season is dumped in full, ready to be gorged on by hungry viewers, or drip-fed on a weekly basis to align with our traditionalist televisual habits, Netflix’s success is simply unprecedented, with the service securing more rights to major TV and film properties each and every year. Whilst March sees another superhero entry land in the shape of Marvel’s Iron Fist, we at Filmoria have opted for their forthcoming youth drama 13 Reasons Why as our TV Pick of the Month. Here’s why…
Created by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Brian Yorkey, 13 Reasons Why is adapted from Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same name. The book was something of a sleeper-hit, suddenly landing a spot on the New York Times bestseller list nearly five years after publication. Asher co-writes the scripts for the show here, which underpins the complexities of high-school life, and the pressures it places on the mental and physical health of our young people. Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it, lying ominously on his porch. Inside the box are a collection of cassette tapes – recorded by his classmate and crush – Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who committed suicide a fortnight earlier. The thirteen audio recordings detail the reasons as to why Hannah decided to end her life, and how key people within the school framework played an instrumental part in this saddening process.
The show, which is executively produced by Selena Gomez, and directed by Spotlight‘s Tom McCarthy, will provide global audiences with a keen insight into the many struggles faced by teenagers in our ever-changing, ever-complicating landscape. Themes of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, depression, and ultimately suicide are integral to the narrative design and characterisation; something of a rarity amongst the target viewership for programming of this nature. In a recent interview with Daily News, actress Langford spoke about her experiences filming 13 Reasons Why, and her emotional attachment to girls like Hannah, saying: “I remember after filming there was a story in the news about a young girl who killed herself. It was awful, and a reminder that what we’d just done (filming the show) is real and it happens with teenagers all over and I just really hoped that I got it right and paid proper respect to someone in Hannah’s position”.
13 Reasons Why will, rather obviously, run for thirteen episodes, and each cassette tape tuned into by Clay will transport the spectator back to that very moment; as if we are living inside Hannah’s memory and recollection of such periods. Whilst the show provides Langford’s first major role of any description, audiences are likely to recognise Minnette, who was excellent in Fede Alvarez’s breakout horror-thriller Don’t Breathe last year, and impressed alongside Jack Black in the heartfelt homage that was Goosebumps (2015). The principal young cast is rounded out by the likes of Brandon Flynn, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Justin Prentice, Michelle Selene Ang, and Devin Druid, whilst Hamilton star Brian D’Arcy James will play Hannah’s father, and Grey’s Anatomy‘s Kate Walsh as her mother.
Perhaps most exciting, the show looks set to erase the idyllic image of the “American High School” – a place of glitz, glamour, pep rallies, and proms – and instead place spectators inside a grounded, human environment. Schools might be breeding grounds for group networks and social hierarchies, but they are also filled with real people undergoing real day-to-day activities. British audiences in particular are most used to a hazy, sun-kissed image of pure Americana with shows like 90210 and The O.C. as examples, with only the single exception of E4’s Skins to crash us back down to earth. 13 Reasons Why, from a narrative and sub-textual standpoint, seems more akin to the interpersonal drama of the great British exports as opposed to the glossy sheen of The CW. The official trailer for the new series is shrouded in intrigue and paranoia, playing to surprising rhythms of genre and tone, and teases the potent, challenging messages of its subject matter in a digestible way.
With Netflix’s global distribution platform, offering viewers worldwide to tune into all episodes at precisely the same time, and its deeply cinematic approach to film language and design thanks to McCarthy and Gomez’s involvement, this could be the US offering which finally renders a honest portrait of its youth amidst our technologically-chaotic, socially-troubling world.
13 Reasons Why premieres worldwide on Netflix from 31st March.