Adaptation: Thirteen Reasons Why


So the new Netflix original show, Thirteen Reasons Why is getting some serious attention, and for me at least, the hype is justified. It is a phenomenal show. Understandably, you may think I’m biased because Jay Asher’s original book is one of my all time favourite reads, but my reasons for loving show are somewhat different.

I appreciate the show for what it is, a genuine adaptation. It remains faithful to the original source material while developing the story in such a way that it works for the new medium. As book lovers we can be a bit over-protective of these stories and I think we have to appreciate that TV and Film are different. What works for a novel does not necessarily translate well on screen. Take the majority of Stephen King adaptations for example, they never quite capture the psychological tension that he expertly builds in his writing, but perhaps I should reserve judgement until the IT remake is released…

Anyway, back to Thirteen Reasons Why.

The story arc pretty much lends itself to a TV adaptation, thirteen reasons = thirteen episodes and by sticking to this set up, the creators allowed themselves more time to develop the story. I know what you’re thinking, this means change, and yes it does, but the overarching story remains fundamentally the same.

The creators of the show take care to stay true to Asher’s original concept while expanding Hannah and Clay’s world to include more from the other characters, the  reasons why and the surrounding families.  For me, this works because we cannot share the same head space with TV and film as we do novels. Yes, a show can be just as immersive, but we do not become the narrator in the same way we do when reading a novel. The scope of the story then has to be broadened because the camera can’t remain with one character for an entire episode, it just doesn’t work. So as an audience we still follow Clay’s journey, but the show pans out to include the other characters. Now this doesn’t detract from Hannah’s story or pull focus away from Clay’s journey. If anything these changes reinforce the message I believe Asher was ultimately trying to convey. We have no idea what is going on in other peoples’ lives and we should be more mindful of our own actions, no matter how small, because there are consequences. For me, this is why the show succeeds because it doesn’t take the audience in a different direction. Despite changing the order of the reasons, the chain of events remains the same, we just learn more along the way to the story’s ultimate conclusion. In some ways this gives the original story more depth because we view what happened to Hannah from a more far-reaching perspective. As the show itself points out, there is more than one truth to every story and in learning more about what drives these characters we gain a greater understanding of what happened to Hannah and the wider impact of her suicide, in a kind of ripple or snow ball effect that seeks to include everyone.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying I prefer the show, I just appreciate it for its differences.

I also admire the creators for taking an unflinching approach to such complex themes. Some of the scenes were hard to watch, as they should be, but the creators definitely set the right tone because I never felt that anything was done for shock value. They also include trigger warnings at the outset of the more intense episodes.

My one criticism is not really with the show, but its future. They’ve quite obviously left  the ending open for the possibility of a second season when there really doesn’t need to be one. I fear that in pushing the story further, it will loose some of its impact and minimise its importance. Because Thirteen Reasons Why is important. It has opened up conversations about difficult topics that people generally shy away from such as suicide, rape and mental health. Conversations we need to be having. Netflix shouldn’t make the mistake of capitalising on the shows popularity by sacrificing its integrity.

As it stands though, it’s a show that everyone needs to watch it.


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