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‘13 Reasons Why’ is a constant cliffhanger

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Beth Dubber/Netflix

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard all the hype surrounding Netflix’s new hit show, “13 Reasons Why.” Whether you’re riding a PVTA bus, eating in the dining commons or hanging out in your dorm’s common room, people everywhere seem to be talking about this show. There’s good reason for why it’s the talk of the town.

“13 Reasons Why” is based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, which reached No. 1 on the New York Times’s best-sellers list in 2011. Notably, actress Selena Gomez is one of the show’s producers. Gomez, along with cast members Tommy Dorfman and Alisha Boe, got matching semicolons, an image that represents suicide awareness, tattooed on their wrists. In short, the show is clearly a product of passion for everyone involved, and we can see it in the final result.

“13 Reasons Why” chronicles the events leading up to high school student Hannah Baker’s suicide. Before taking her own life, Hannah records a series of 13 cassette tapes explaining what, and who, contributed to her untimely death.

Much like “Degrassi,” a clear influence, the show offers a laundry list of “high school issues,” in that it focuses on issues such as cyberbullying, slut-shaming, friendship drama and being the new kid in school. While college students are a bit past this stage of life, we can all relate to and remember dealing with these challenges a few years back. And of course, these problems can still crop up from time to time, regardless of age. To quote Bowling for Soup, “high school never ends.”

Although you may expect this series to be extremely depressing, it has some surprisingly humorous moments to lighten the mood. Protagonist Clay Jensen’s social awkwardness makes you laugh instead of cringe, while Hannah possesses a sarcastic, witty sense of humor when she speaks on the tapes.

However, while “13 Reasons Why” has plenty of amusing moments, at its essence, it’s mainly a mystery with Clay as the lead detective. With cliffhangers around every corner, it hooks you right from the start, when Clay stands in front of Hannah’s locker (now memorialized by the same people whose mockery and harassment drove her to suicide in the first place), and his sleazy classmate Justin accuses him of “looking for something.”

As the show is rooted in haunting past memories, flashbacks from Hannah’s life are incorporated into many of its scenes. Thanks to skillful camera work, these scenes from the past meld seamlessly into scenes set in the present.

The casting and soundtrack are both brilliant as well. Though Netflix humiliated itself with the whitewashed “Iron Fist,” it has redeemed itself somewhat with the impressive amount of diversity on display here.

Aside from its obvious entertainment value, this series also makes a statement about bullying in schools. It depicts the impact of Hannah’s death on friends and family members. One particularly striking moment comes when Hannah’s mother meets with the high school’s principal after her death, and ends up breaking down in tears in the girls’ restroom.

Beside the framing device of the disembodied voice of a dead girl on tape, the show addresses some of the everyday struggles of being a young adult. When Hannah moves to town, she must make new friends. Clay has helicopter parents who seem to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to their son’s activities with friends, while Justin cuts class, smokes weed and plays video games all day when school overwhelms him.

Nevertheless, the moral of the story (or show, in this case), is that students can act cruelly toward someone without even realizing the impact they have on that person. With the show’s vast audience, it will hopefully make teenagers think twice about their actions.

Tiffany Khuu can be reached at [email protected]

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