SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 AND 2 OF “13 REASONS WHY” BUT WHO EVEN CARES
In April of 2017, a little show called 13 Reasons Why popped up on my recommended page on Netflix. I’d seen the trailer a couple of months prior and the show had gotten good reviews, so why not give it a shot? Long story short: I binged the show in two days and really liked it. I thought that the acting was exceptionally great; especially Minette’s performance was a standout. I thought that the cinematography was really good and I really liked the way they utilized color to portray in which time period a scene took place. In the final episode, there’s one scene in particular which I really enjoyed it. It’s a scene where two different people are having a conversation with the same man, though the conversations are taking place at different points in time. The camera moves around these two people in question and according to in which time period they find themselves, the color grading gradually becomes warmer or colder. I’m explaining it terribly but it’s done brilliantly, trust me. Or don’t. All I’m trying to say that on a technical level the show was pretty good as well. The characters were all well-written, though the dialogue was my main issue with it all. Still, all in all, I really liked it. Now, fast forward one year and two months later, a second season is released. And it sucks ass. It’s probably one of the worst follow-up seasons I’ve ever seen. So I thought, why not write an article about it that’s way too long and poorly written. And here you are, reading it. Please enjoy the next 2780 words in which I shit on a show that I once used to like. I’ll break it down in a few categories, reasons you may say.
Why the fuck does it exist? Well, I know why it exists: money, but outside of that, why? There’s no rational reason for its existence. I don’t get it. It’s based upon a book, that they finished by the end of season one. The story was finished, there’s nothing left to tell. Literally nothing and it shows in this season. When they announced that there would come a second season, I already wasn’t looking forward to it. At that point in time, I was already wondering: “Why tho?”, and that same question still pops up in my head. The only thing left to explore were the loose threads left by season 1: Alex’s suicide attempt, Tyler’s gun issues and the trials following Hannah’s suicide. And season 2 does exactly that, plus some more uninteresting nonsense. It’s a story that has no reason to be told. There’s nothing else to add to it. The characters underwent their arc, Hannah’s story’s finished, there are no reasons anymore; they’re all told, hence the thirteen episodes in season 1. Sometimes it’s better if something stays untouched because when you touch something that’s supposed to stay untouched, you’re bound to ruin something, which is exactly what happened with 13 Reasons Why. If you weren’t a fan of the relatively slow pace in season one, prepare yourself for a wholotta nothing throughout the first six or seven episodes. The thing they build this season around isn’t even that interesting to begin with, which is why my second reason will be just about that.
When I speculated that the trials would be the main subject of this season, I was already afraid that it’d be boring. And it was. And it didn’t always make any sense. And it was cliché. And it was cheesy. And it was way too convenient. And it was just plain stupid at times. And it messed with the previous season’s chronology at times. Jeez, it didn’t do a whole lot of good too the season, did it? No, it didn’t. I get that they needed a new way of framing the story, but this just didn’t do it. In the last season, Hannah’s tapes made for a nice window in which another story could be told. For season two, they had the excellent idea to use a trial, with the same purpose as Hannah’s voice over in season 1, and they also brought in Polaroids, to keep that vintage thing going on. The unfortunate part is, that the thing they came up with this time, didn’t really work. It always came across as cheesy, rather than original and fresh. It was never the thing it wanted to be. Things characters said in the trial could conveniently be used as a voice over in scenes, just like Hannah’s voiceover did in the first season, though there’s a difference. Hannah narrated her own story and we’re shown her story. The things she says, go alongside the things happening in her own story. That’s the point of her narration. We get to see how she viewed the world. It’s her perspective. In this season, however, people tell their side, but we’re not always shown the things they’re talking about like we were in the first season. Their narration doesn’t place us in their shoes to experience the whole event like they did back then. The things they tell us in their trials – while they’re personal viewpoints – conveniently line up with the things other characters are going through outside of the trial. They conveniently tell us what’s going through the minds of these characters, while the person who’s saying them isn’t aware of the things happening outside of the trial since they’re the ones in it. It just doesn’t make sense that the positive messages/things they learned from the past are things that other characters now too start to realize at the moment the other person is saying them. My guess is that the writers didn’t even think one second about the logistics of it all, and just thought; isn’t that a handy and clever way to present a story? To which my answer would be; No it’s not. Handy, yes; clever, not so much. It’s a really lazy storytelling technique that felt way too forced, cliché and it became really cheesy in the last couple of episodes, especially. The likelihood of me being too stupid to understand its brilliance is also pretty big.
I already mentioned how the writing wasn’t the strongest suit of the first season, though in this one the quality has dropped severely, which is why I’ve divided this reason into two sub-reasons. Does it make sense, since I’ve already discussed bits of the writing? No, but this season’s existence didn’t either. Is that a good argument? No, it isn’t. Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions? I don’t know, I’ll stop, sorry.
So let’s start off with the dialogue. Dialogue’s hard to write. I get that. To write dialogue for teenagers while you yourself are 40 years old is even harder. I get that. What I don’t get, is that the showrunners thought that the dialogue they came up with was passable enough for a teenager to say. That they thought was passable for a high-budget Netflix Original show. The dialogue in this season isn’t even passable for a show on The CW, the network that’s responsible for Arrow and The Flash, for example, but also for Riverdale, which, believe it or not, is better than 13 Reasons Why, because it’s at least self-aware. Things characters say aren’t things humans say. A lot of the lines of the dialogue felt very unnatural and wannabe philosophical. The dialogue in this season is the equivalent of a wet dream of a starting English student, which doesn’t really fit with a teen drama. It’s the type of dialogue I’d write, but I’m self-aware enough to not make a big-budget show out of it and I’m able to acknowledge that it’s horrendous.
Another thing the dialogue in 13 Reasons Why was, was anything but subtle. Everything’s way too on the nose. They practically say: “don’t rape people, ‘cause you know, rape is bad!”. It often felt like I was watching an infomercial instead of a teen drama. They try to let the show be educational. They try to show you the consequences of bullying, rape, and suicide, but they all handle it wrongly and without a lot of respect. The ways they present these themes are done so sloppily and unrealistically, that they become more laughable than dramatic. They try to be self-serious about it, but the way they resolve certain story branches feels very dramatized and disrespectful.
I really liked the characters the first time we met them in season one, and I liked how they were developed throughout the season. Clay was relatable, likable and flawed. He was interesting and it felt like you were experiencing everything together with him, which gave the show the devastating emotional punch it had. This was also made possible by Dylan Minette’s fantastic performance. Clay underwent an arc throughout the season as he slowly began to question everything around him and started to tumble into a form of despair. In season 2, however, they fucked up his character completely. They took away said likability from the first season and made him more of an edgy asshole, which is completely the opposite of how he was in the first place. I get what they’re going for; they’re trying to point out that the whole tape-experience has had a lasting effect on him, but he’s changed radically and it took away all of the things that made him so fun in the first season.
The writers also decided that it was a good idea to make it an ensemble show, rather than one with a fixed protagonist. Dylan Minette and Katherine Langford carried season 1 wonderfully, and by only having two protagonists, you’re able to invest yourself more in their characters. Now that they switched the focus to a whole bunch of people, though, it’s not possible to care for all of them, especially if they’re all turned into whiney little bitches.
The way they treated Alex (Miles Heizer)’s character, was especially bad. They made him one of the most annoying characters in the show. Again, I get what they’re going for, but it just doesn’t work. He’s constantly complaining about everything that’s happening and that just doesn’t make for a compelling character. It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t have a purpose for the majority of the show, but that’s mainly due to the show’s bad pacing and storytelling. Also, the way his character develops and the way he acts, often comes off as rather disrespectful towards the people who’ve gone through similar experiences as him, which has a preposterous effect to how they really wanted to portray it all. This points to terrible writing, which it most certainly is since my guess is that they weren’t planning on presenting it disrespectfully.
They really tried to write characters for everyone who’s going through a hard time/went through one, though this as well, doesn’t have the effect they wanted it to have. There are sexual assault victims, suicide survivors, characters who struggle with drug abuse, bipolar disorder, violent behavior, and being gay, and even more. There are a lot of groups represented, but by having so many people struggle with so many disorders, it just comes across as over-dramatic and unbelievable, while the things in question are serious issues that should be discussed. An example of how the writers over-dramatized something can be found in how they resolved Tyler’s arc, but also in his character as a whole. It’s laughably unrealistically done, even though it’s a very realistic and relevant thing. Due to their unrealistic approach, the show loses all of its credibility, which it tried to maintain. They tried too hard to present these topics, due to which they failed.
They also thought that it was a good idea to add even more characters to the mix. What a surprise, this wasn’t a good idea. The characters they added were stereotypes out of a 2000’s high school film. For the most part, these characters weren’t developed in the slightest, with only one exception. The characters of season one also started off as walking stereotypes, but throughout the season, they’re developed into real human beings, while the characters added in this season, stayed the caricatures that they were at the beginning. Also, the casting of these characters felt way off. You’re not telling me that the girl depicted in this picture is in high school. She looks to be in her late twenties, maybe thirty, which she is in real life. It really makes me wonder who thinks that a thirty-year-old, who looks like she’s thirty years old, is able to convincingly play a 17-year-old.
The two main performances of the first season where the main two reasons why I liked the show as much as I did. Dylan Minette is an excellent actor; he certainly has a bright future in front of him, but even he struggled to make what they did to Clay feel right. He tried to maintain that likable quality he had in the first season that the writers oddly enough tried to throw away. He really tried, but due to lackluster writing, his performance was often just okay, with a select few powerful moments. Unfortunately, a few powerful moments in a 13-hour show are not enough to save it. And what’s even more unfortunate is that, even with a fairly flat performance, he still was the best thing this season has to offer. The rest of the cast was fine at best, but there are two actors in particular that I really didn’t like.
People have been praising Miles Heizer left and right, which I can’t fathom in the slightest. His performance was so bad that I deemed him The Cringe Machine. Every time this guy appeared on screen, you can be guaranteed to witness some of the most awkward line delivery and human interactions in multimillion TV-show history. He wasn’t particularly great in the first season, but it was bearable. It wasn’t in this season. Everything he says is in this monotone voice, even in the angrier scenes, which he has a lot of since they decided to turn him into an edge lord for this season. He just raises his voice, but there’s a complete lack of emotion in it. The ironic thing is that the scenes where he raises his voice are meant to be emotional. Due to his terrible performance, they try to achieve that sad feeling, by upping the soundtrack that’s playing in the background, which only had a preposterous effect. Alisha Boe’s another actress who got a lot of praise for her role in this season, which I also don’t get. She often just comes across as soapy, overdramatic, and is far from convincing. With the right material, I do believe that they can give a decent performance, but when the script is lacking, so are they.
Compared to the good performances of season 1, there are a lot of actors underselling it this time around, but there were a select few who were pretty decent, other than Minette. Brandon Flynn was pretty decent, though his character arc was over dramatized, Justin Prentice was pretty good too, but I felt like his performance was just overly evil. He even came across like a bond villain in scenes. Again, I get what they’re going for, but they went too far. Ross Butler was also decent and charismatic, Devin Druid was fine, and Timothy Granaderos was okay. Other than those though, they were all mediocre or below. There were a few scenes where actors who were bad for the majority of the season were able to shine, but those moments really aren’t able to save those other scenes that came before where they weren’t as good.
There’s literally no point in having her around. Mostly she’s just… there. She’s just standing around and doesn’t add one thing whatsoever. They try to make it look like she has an impact on Clay, which she only slightly has, though this could’ve been achieved without her being there as a ghost. There’s only one scene where I felt like she had a purpose, as it made for an emotionally powerful scene and she was the reason why it was so emotionally powerful. It’s also no surprise that that scene was my favorite of the season, but that one scene where she was useful doesn’t justify the others where she wasn’t.
They also try to justify her being there, by playing it off as if Clay has a mental condition due to the trauma he got from Hannah’s suicide and that this is his way of coping with her passing. Well, I guess that that was what they were going for because they never really make it clear. It’s very inconsistent in how he communicates with Hannah, that often makes you wonder if she represents his consciousness, or that he’s going mad and is suffering from a mental disorder. The execution’s lacking either way, but if it’s the latter, I would’ve been fine with it if they didn’t over-fucking-dramatize it. They also never really bring any attention to it like they do to sexual assault, suicide, and homosexuality. It’s more something that’s happening by the sideline, that doesn’t impact Clay or the story.
This season’s a tonal mess. It aims for this dark and moody atmosphere, which you can tell from the cinematography alone. In the previous season, blue and orange were the most prominent colors, but now black prevails. The shows filled with much darker colors than before, even Clay’s jacket has changed from blue to black. The topics and ideas the show wants to discuss are also rather dark and depressing, and they go for that said atmosphere for a lot of the time, except for a few moments. Those moments really show how unsure they were of fully committing to that serious approach. Dark scenes are followed by stupid slapstick and when things start to become darker, there’s this cartoony hallway fight scene, which felt incredibly out of place. It’s played for laughs right when things really start to get going. It doesn’t know what it wants to be and it shows. It’s super self-serious most of the time, while at others it’s taking the piss with itself, which just doesn’t fit with the subject material presented. These tonal inconsistencies make their statements come across as unbelievable or insincere, while I know that that’s far from the thing they’re going for.
And that’s the end of this article at least, not the show because a third season’s already on the way: Hooray! I really hope the show picks up again, but I doubt it. The ideas they left open at the end of this season were even of lesser quality than they were at the end of season one. It’s like a fuse that’s slowly fizzling out. I just really hope that they throw a bucket of water over that fuse so that it dies instantly. There are still a few things to go over in more detail, but I’ll leave it at this because I’m too lazy. The season does have some good things to offer, like the camera work, for example, but all in all, it still sucks. To end things on a more positive note, though, check out the band Dylan Minette’s in, called Wallows. They’re pretty good, here’s a single from their EP.