Education

Netflix Renews Controversial Teen Suicide Drama ’13 Reasons Why’

By Mark Walsh — May 08, 2017 3 min read

The teen drama “13 Reasons Why,” which has drawn controversy as well as huge viewership among young people over its story about a high school student’s suicide, has been renewed for a second season.

“Their story isn’t over. Season 2 of #13ReasonsWhy is coming,” co-producer Selena Gomez announced on Instagram about the Netflix show.

Those who have watched the 13-part first season—about a set of tapes left behind by 17-year-old student Hannah Baker detailing whom she believes wronged her and led her to commit suicide—know that in the last episode, another student was on his way to the hospital, possibly the victim of a suicide attempt or some other violence, setting up a potential continuation of the story.

The show has been hugely popular with teen audiences, but has sparked concerns among educators and many mental health experts, as I reported here last month.

Critics say the show fails to depict whether Hannah has a mental health disorder contributing to her suicide. They take issue with a school counselor’s handling of a meeting with Hannah at a time when she was clearly in crisis. And they say the detailed tapes left behind by Hannah idenfifying her tormentors represent a revenge fantasy that could spur copycats.

I could list more criticisms, but here is adolescent psychiatrist Harold Koplewicz on the “Today” show recently, saying “this show should be pulled off the air immediately” because “teenage suicide is contagious.” (A longer segment on mental health turns to “13 Reasons Why” about 3 minutes, 45 seconds into the piece.)

There have been plenty of other opinions about the show. Here are couple I found interesting, though they contain spoilers.

“Julie” on the website Hammervision gave her take on 13 reasons why she didn’t love the series, but she concludes she would be right there to watch the new season. Julie’s reason Number 5 is: “The tapes, part one: The fact that [Hannah] uses cassette tapes to record her voice is very romantic and all, but so anachronistic. Kids born after 2000 do not have wistful feelings about making mix tapes on cassette. Gen X writers do.”

And Variety chief TV critic Maureen Ryan has this view on the series from the perspective of a critic and mother of a high school student:

“Whatever you think of the show—and I respect that there are a wide range of responses to it—I think part of the reasons kids are watching ’13 Reasons Why’ is because, in a world where we’re practically drowning in content, there are not all that many realistic depictions of surviving assault, experiencing depression, and going through the kind of casual but devastating public shaming that can take place now that so much of kids’ lives are online,” Ryan wrote on May 1.

The producers, actors, and others behind “13 Reasons Why” have clung to the view that the show is doing a public service by opening up discussion about teenage suicide, as well as bullying, rape, and other issues. As I noted in my earlier post, their viewpoint is perhaps best expressed in the half-hour documentary that is available on Netflix after the 13th episode of the series.

However, amid the growing outcry from critics, Netflix did add an additional warning card before the first episode (to go with two existing ones before particularly graphic episodes), and it strengthened the “messaging and resource language” in the warnings.

Last week, stars Katherine Langford (Hannah) and Dylan Minnette (Clay Jensen) appeared on Ellen Degeneres’ syndicated talk show.

“I know there’s a lot of controversy because people say there’s a lot of heaviness in the show,” Degeneres tells the two. “But in high school right now, and even in younger [grades], kids experience a lot of bullying and other things. So you’re doing a service to parents to help them understand what their kids are going through, don’t you think?”

Minette says, “The main goal overall is to start conversations that need to be had, the bring these issues to light, and to show them in a real way. If people are talking about it, we’ve reached our goal.”

The second season of “13 Reasons Why” will again contain 13 episodes, and is expected to air on Netflix in 2018.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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