13 Reasons Why Review: Welcome Back to High School Hell (And That Is a Big Compliment)

Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette star in the drama executive produced by Selena Gomez

By Chris Harnick Mar 24, 2017 4:30 PMTags
13 Reasons WhyNetflix

The crushing anxiety of high school came rushing back.

The panic of homework that vaguely makes sense, the uncertainty of friendships and maintaining a social life. It all came back thanks to 13 Reasons Why, Netflix's new teen drama based on the wildly popular book series. And that, despite sounding like a nightmare, is a compliment.

13 Reasons Why will make you happy you're not in high school in the time of the digital age—and if you are, it may hit too close to home.

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Starring Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker and Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen, 13 Reasons Why tells the story of Hannah Baker's death, the 13 reasons why she committed suicide. She didn't leave a note, devastating her parents played by Kate Walsh and Brian D'Arcy James, but she left the tapes. Hannah released 13 tapes to classmates, each tape/episode about a specific student and their interactions with Hannah.  

What follows are 13 episodes of one the most realistic teen dramas to grace TV. Rumors, cyberbullying and mystery pepper each episode. The installments unspool a tangled tale full of intrigue that makes it so easy to slip into the high school world of Hannah Baker, easily allowing the viewer to picture themselves in Hannah's shoes, in her mom's shoes, in Clay's shoes, in the world of 13 Reasons Why.

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Walsh is more than believable as the grieving mother, giving a heartbreaking performance as a woman desperate for answers, blindsided by her daughter's death. But it's a star-making series for both Langford and Minnette. Prepare to see those names around for some time.

While 13 Reasons Why is a satisfying tale, there are still problems. Wooden performances from some of the supporting cast (including "kids" who are clearly not high school age) and some of the episodes meander at times and could benefit from shorter run-times. You'll want to watch more than one episode at a time, but binging may be hard.

The series hails from executive producers Tom McCarthy, Selena Gomez, Joy Gorman, Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Mandy Teefey and Kristel Laiblin. When the project was announced, viewers assumed Gomez would star in the project, but by having Langford, an unknown, star in the role, it made it easy to get lost in the world of 13 Reasons Why. Not that Gomez couldn't handle the role, but she's the most-followed person on Instagram, her fame could've proven to be too distracting. In addition to D'Arcy James, Walsh, Langford and Minnette, 13 Reasons Why stars Brandon Flynn, Christian Navarro, Alisha Boe, Michelle Selene Ang, Justin Prentice, Devin Druid, Miles Heizer, Ross Butler, Sosie Bacon, Derek Luke, Henry Zaga, Amy Hargreaves and Steven Weber.

All 13 episodes of 13 Reasons Why premiere Friday, March 31 on Netflix.