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stevenpiziks ([personal profile] stevenpiziks) wrote2017-06-23 08:00 am
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Reasons Why I Stopped Watching 13 Reasons Why (And Why I Started in the First Place)

All my students were buzzing about the Netflix show 13 REASONS WHY.  I'd heard of it, of course.  I knew about the controversy.  And I knew, even without watching, that it in no way portrayed suicide accurately, and I had no desire to watch it. 

But then I found out a high school friend of mine, Brian d'Arcy James, was in it as the father of the suicide victim.  Brian mostly does stage work on Broadway (he's currently playing King George in HAMILTON), so I rarely get to see his work.  Most recently I saw him in the movie SPOTLIGHT, and it's always fun to see him perform.  So I decided to give 13 REASONS a look.

I lasted about five episodes.

I suppose I should warn about spoilers in the following, though the show has been out for months, and I don't see it as my job to protect anyone from plot spoilers after that long.  But I'll be nice. SPOILERS.

The show was absolutely awful.  Part of it, I'm sure, is that it does cater completely and unabashedly to the teenaged crowd, and there's really nothing in it for adults.  That's okay--I can enjoy a teen show on its own merits.  But . . .

The premise:  A teenage girl commits suicide (and the show was bad enough that I can't remember anyone's names, so I'm reduced to giving them epithets), and a few days after her death, a set of cassette tapes appears on the doorstep of the main character.  The tapes are an audio diary from Suicide Girl explaining, in detail, how thirteen different people drove her to kill herself, and, she says on the first tape, if you don't listen to all of them all the way through, something awful will happen.  "You're being watched," she says (feeding into the adolescent feeling of being the center of the world and that everyone is always watching you).

Okay, we all know suicide doesn't work this way.  Netflix was even pressured into putting a little disclaimer at the beginning of the first episode to this effect.  But a disclaimer doesn't stop me from thinking, "This would never happen" and "That would never work" and "This isn't remotely possible," which yanks me constantly out of the story and reminds me that I'm watching a fake for fake fakey-fake TV show.  I can't even pretend it might possibly somehow be a little bit real, which wrecks the viewing experience.

Suicide girl, you see, goes through some world-wrecking bullying at school which culminates in graphic sexual assault (I didn't get that far, but I read about it) that is so bad it drves her to kill herself, but she somehow manages to hold it all together long enough to formulate and execute an extensive, Machiavellian postmortem revenge  plan with dozens of moving parts that hold together without input from her.  She narrates the tapes in a chipper, snarky tone with no sign of being upset or unhappy. 

Seriously.  I have an easier time believing in an magical island full of warrior women created by Zeus, or a skinny kid from Brooklyn being transformed by a mysterious drug into a super-hero than this.  If Suicide Girl is so smart and savvy and together while putting this plan off, why doesn't she ask for help?  Or get her revenge while she's alive to see it?  Hell, why not just run away and leave the tapes behind as 13 Reasons Why I Ran Away?  None of it makes any kind of sense.  Easier to believe in giant apes living on an uncharted island than this.

The characters are also unlikable and uninteresting.  Every one of them.  There's Football Boy (the eventual rapist) who heads up a coterie of friends who hang out in his rich parents' pool house (which is bigger than most people's houses) and is for some reason worshiped by the entire student body (in reality, most students at a high school can't name the quarterback, nor would they care).  He drinks, does drugs, and beats up smaller students.  We also have Suicide Girl's Bitchy Best Friend, who gets into a fight with her over a boy (of course) and slaps her in the cafeteria.  We have Camera Kid who peeps into windows and takes pictures of Suicide Girl while she's dressing.  We have Asian Lesbian-in-the-Closet Girl who is being raised by two dads but is somehow too closeted to admit she is herself lesbian.  (WTF?  So being adopted and raised by two men turns you both gay and closeted.  I was ready to punch the fucking screen at that one.  Or just knock the writers' teeth so far down their collective throats that they could chew their own shit as it came out their asses.)  We have Miscellaneous Teens who spread half-naked photos of Suicide Girl around with their phones and make fun of her about it.  I wouldn't have wanted any of them in my classroom, let alone in my life--or on my iPad.

And we have Doormat Boy, the viewpoint character.  He receives the tapes and starts listening, but can't bring himself to listen to more than five seconds at a time before anxiety takes over and he has to stop.  Here's where things become even more unbelievable.  Doormat Boy, we learn, is something like the ninth or tenth person to get the tapes.  The tapes have been passed around from teen to teen, and everyone keeps asking Doormat Boy if he's listened to "his" tape yet (the tape that talks about his role in Suicide Girl's death).  When he says he hasn't, the asker always shouts, "What are you waiting for?  You have to listen!!"  But Doormat Boy can't do it.  And why?  Because if he did, the show would be over.  The show needs him to listen to one tape per episode.  So, against human nature and every bit of reason in the universe, Doormat Boy listens to one bit at a time.

Doormat Boy always does what the person next to him says.  Suicide Girl orders him to be her friend, and so he does.  Football Boy's friends pressure him into drinking, so he chugs a beer.  And, of course, Suicide Girl orders him to listen to the tapes on the first cassette, and he does.  I heard that later he starts standing up for himself, but I wasn't willing to wait for it.

Suicide Girl herself is a nasty little bitch.  She's mean and snarky to her friends.  She walks all over Doormat Boy.  She calls him names (the fact that she calls him by a series of demeaning nicknames instead of his actual name turns into a running joke).  Whenever she asks him for advice and he gives it, she says something cruel to him in return, and when he finally gets up the gumption to protest about it, she simpers at him and walks away.  She starts arguments with her friends and parents over inconsequential matters just to have drama in the episode.  Bitchy, nasty, unlikable.  If I was supposed to feel sorry she was dead, by Episode 5 I wasn't.

I also couldn't swallow the idea that no one tells anyone else about the tapes.  Ten-odd teens have gotten hold of these tapes, and they've told their friends about them, but NOT ONE PARENT has learned of them?  No.  Just no.  Someone would talk about it to an adult.  Or an adult would find the tapes by accident and give a listen.  Or they'd stumble onto their teenager listening and demand to know what's going on.  ("Why are you listening to a tape?")  There's no way something like this would remain a secret when this many people know about it.  I've seen it in action.  Just last week at school, a kid kept spraying stink bomb aerosol in classes as a prank.  It was supposed to stay a huge secret who was doing it.  But within twenty minutes, someone ratted him out.  Someone ALWAYS talks.  Always.  The tapes would be public knowledge in a matter of hours.

And why DOES everyone do what Suicide Girl says on the tapes?  Sorry, hon, but you're dead.  You don't get to reach out of your grave and tell other people what to do.  If I got a bunch of cassettes from a dead person that said, "Go to Spot A in town and listen," I MIGHT continue listening, but I definitely wouldn't go to Spot A to do it.  My overall instinct would be to return the tapes to Suicide Girl's parents, untouched, or maybe to erase them and throw them out.  I certainly wouldn't obey orders from beyond the grave, if for no other reason than a feeling of "Fuck you."  Yet on this show, every single person follows orders.  Another point of disbelief.  No one erases the tapes or throws them away or says, "Fuck this!"?  Sure.

And Brian's role as Suicide Girl's father?  Well, he was barely given enough screen time for me to form an opinion.  He's an adult in a teen drama, so he'd shown up in maybe four scenes by the time I stopped watching.  I'm glad he got the chance to be on what's inexplicably a hit show, though.

When I got halfway through Episode 5, I realized I was watching the show out of a sense of duty more than any enjoyment, and that I actively disliked bringing it up on Netflix.  There was nothing redeeming in the show, nothing fun or interesting to watch, nothing that made me look forward to more.  The show actively pissed me off, in fact.  I decided to remove the show from my queue, and you know what?  I felt a strange sense of relief. 

No more banal adventures of Doormat Boy and Suicide Girl.

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