An Unpopular Opinion on Netflix’s Newest


Jenna Heng

I’m going to offer up what is sure to be an unpopular opinion: Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why was a disappointment. As someone who has read the novel more times than I care to admit and has loved it more with every single read, I naturally entered the Netflix series excited, but skeptical. And I was met with nothing but bitter disappointment.

My grievances against the television series adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why go far beyond just trivial inconsistencies with the book, although those are prolific. Inconsistencies are to be expected when undergoing a book to screen adaptation, inconsistencies I could have lived with and still thoroughly enjoyed the series. Although, my book nerd self would have dissected them and torn them apart, I’m not unrealistic and know that they are unavoidable. I only have one reason, not thirteen, why it was such a disappointment to watch, but it is a big one: It feels like all that made the book beautiful and impactful was entirely missed in the Netflix version.

First, a little about the novel by Jay Asher. The general plotline of the book is identical to that of the series. A girl commits suicide and sends around a box of tapes, seven tapes, thirteen stories. A boy receives the box and listens. Within the book, the characters of Hannah and Clay are complex and compelling. Clay is perhaps the only entirely decent person in the book, he refuses revenge against the people who have wronged him and the people who hurt the person he loved. Hannah slowly devolves from a girl who has an undescribed, but what can be assumed to be painful, past to one who is broken even further. Plot elements of the book can be disturbing at times, featuring the death of a student and a violent sexual assault and a gray area rape. However, none of these themes are explored in graphic detail, but this does not make them any less impactful. Simplicity is key to the novel, simplicity and lack of detailed information are present and this makes how impactful the novel is even more impressive.

The primary critique I have heard against the novel is that Hannah’s problems seem trivial and mental health is never once mentioned, almost making her seem like a melodramatic girl who suddenly decided to kill herself. I respectfully disagree. Mental illness does not necessarily come with an announcement, it is often implied with small gestures and tendencies and ways of thinking that the sufferer keeps to themselves. Through Hannah’s narration, I believe an existing mental illness and mental health decline are heavily implied. Mental illness is represented and also displayed in a realistic fashion: It is subtle and nothing to be ashamed about. Some of her problems do seem trivial, but when you’re not going through them, a lot of things seem trivial. Suffering is not a monopoly, what doesn’t hurt someone can be enough to destroy someone else.

These are the things that made Thirteen Reasons Why a hard hitting and impactful story. These simplistic themes and choices of the writer are the things that were entirely lost in the Netflix series.

Excessive. That is the one word I would use to summarize the series. In what seems like an attempt to be edgy and intricate, plotlines are added and already violent instances are made even more aggressive. This makes the series seem unnecessarily graphic. Is it still hard hitting? Of course it is, it’s hard to watch things like that and not be affected. But it is a very in your face kind of hard hitting, it seems very forced. It’s as if the series wanted to earn their MA rating with language and alcohol and drugs and violence, so they used these things excessively. Details are also added to Hannah’s problems to make them, especially without some of her narration, seem even more trivial. This combined with the thoughts of other characters and not Hannah’s make her seem like a stereotypical girl who believes that having a perfect boy would fix everything. These combined not only do a disservice to the novel, but also entirely miss the point of the book.

While the novel did a wonderful and difficult thing by fairly representing, and at the same time reducing the stigma around, mental illness, the series encourages it. Through its excessive content, the series almost makes it seem like mental illness has to be justified. There must be reasons. If something monumental has not gone wrong in your life, then your mental health should be unaffected.

The series did many things well, I don’t mean to say that it did not. The acting was excellent, the writing was realistic, so the words slipped out the mouths of the actors with ease. The diversity of the cast was exceptional and nothing acting or story wise was sacrificed to make it so, as a minority I find that to be outstanding. These exceptional factors do not make up for what was lost when the book went to screen. The series was excessive, it’s as though they were afraid of the gray area the book thrived in and the subtle suggestions that it made.

My complaints and disappointments go far beyond just minor inconsistencies with the book, although I could write another thirteen pages on that. However, in addition to displaying what an absolute book nerd I am, that would truly be excessive.