Opinion: I Used to Love “13 Reasons Why”. Now I Can’t Stand It. 

13 Reasons Why has been no stranger to controversy since season 1 originally aired. From public outcry regarding its graphic depiction of rape and suicide, to mental health experts warnings that Hannah’s tapes gave teens false expectations of what happens after a suicide, there were a number of valid concerns presented.

At the time, I saw why there was such controversy. I even agreed with a lot of the suggestions, and am glad they took out the bathroom scene from season 1. But I was also conflicted, because I saw the other side: which was the lack of media surrounding suicide.

If we don’t portray people in media who are suicidal – and I mean really suicidal, and have been for a long time – kids who are feeling that way will feel like they are beyond repair. Because they don’t even know there are other people out there who feel that way, or that they can get better. Or even worse, they seek out people to relate to online, or in their lives – where the information they’re receiving is not regulated at all. At least on a show, there is not only some standard of what is shown, but it’s out there in the public, so that a conversation can be started. What the show gets wrong, other media can correct.

I understand the criticism that Hannah does not get better – however, I do believe the show does a good job of convincing the viewer that Hannah did not have to die. If one thing had happened differently, she might not have. Her suicide was not presented as inevitable, and Hannah was not presented as beyond repair. Unfortunately, she did not receive the care she needed – a fate that too often befalls people in real life. We need those stories as much as the recovery ones, so that we can be affected – and, as the show’s main character says in the season one finale, “do better.”

The show does depict recovery as well, with season 2 featuring prominent recovery stories for Alex, Skye, and even Tyler (disregarding the last episode). Even though Hannah didn’t receive help, others did – showing teens today that it is possible to get better.

The show was not perfect by any means. The triggering issue is extremely valid, and the show did go too far in some aspects. However, I do not feel the show’s subject matter alone was too triggering to be important. Teen dramas have long used suicide for shock factor – off the top of my head, I can remember at least one suicide attempt in every single teen drama I’ve seen (to name a few, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, 90210, Pretty Little Liars, Teen Wolf, The OC, and the Vampire Diaries). Oftentimes, the attempts were the result of something supernatural, a last-ditch escape effort of a villain, or dismissed as a one-time situation that’s never mentioned again. Rarely do shows present depression and suicide with the gravitas it requires – at the very least, 13 Reasons Why presented suicide seriously and earnestly. It was an extended storyline that had the potential to make people feel heard.

Which is what makes it especially disappointing that the show’s gone where it has.

Season two was certainly more teen drama esque than the first. It was more unrealistic. Hannah’s continued involvement felt like a gimmick, especially as Clay’s mental health was really not addressed. It also continued to reinforce the idea that people somehow “live on” after their suicides. But I still felt the show did more good than harm – we saw continued efforts of the characters to heal following Hannah’s death/her confessions in season 1, and we continued to see how hard suicide/depression is on everyone without feeling like the show was blaming Hannah, or Alex, or Skye.

Things started to go downhill in the finale.

In a way, the show turned itself into a sort of evil twin of Glee – trying to tackle far too much without the capabilities to handle it all. But at least Glee was always earnest. 13 Reasons Why turned itself into the exact shows it had seemed like such a departure from, by featuring a character who seemed to be a great example of recovery getting brutally bullied and sexually assaulted, then attempting a school shooting at a dance, only for our main character to jump in front of the gun and play hero when he’s half the problem. Again.

It was a bad move. It upset a lot of people. But I still had some hope for season 3. They were moving on from Hannah – there would be other storylines. Maybe they would try to handle this storyline with Tyler with some sort of care that they had shown Hannah’s.

I was vastly disappointed when I saw the first episode.

Tyler is in serious need of extensive professional help. By having our cast babysit him and “protect him” by hiding the truth, the show presents the idea that something this large can be handled by mere teenagers. Sure, he later goes to counseling and takes up boxing – but that is simply not enough in the real world. Tyler deserved immediate, around the clock, professional care. I understand why many of the characters didn’t want him to get in trouble – but they were not protecting him or anybody else with what they did, and it was a dangerous idea to show viewers.

I’ve previously thought the character of Bryce was a good case study, and even though I was upset Jessica and Hannah did not get the justice they deserved from the courts system in season 2, I felt like the show was accurately depicting what often happens with young, white, athletic rapists like Bryce Walker. This kind of story is important to tell because it enrages people to see Bryce not get what he deserve – which can lead them to actually look into this problem in real life and make a change in our country.

Killing him off was fun for the viewers, as horrible as that sounds, but it was not the justice Jessica and Hannah deserved. Showing him as sympathetic most of the season, after facing essentially no consequences for his actions, was not what Jessica and Hannah or any other rape survivors deserved.

It all feels very gimmick-y, almost click-bait-y, or sensationalized. It no longer feels authentic or earnest, or like it’s trying to start a genuine conversation. It’s taken the trust of people who thought they were having their stories represented and then broken that trust seasons in by presenting their trauma for the sake of drama/suspense/tension. It’s not the only show to do so, but it’s the only one I can think of that does this after seeming to promise viewers they would not in the first two seasons. It almost feels like a betrayal.

Beyond that, the beginning of the season just isn’t good.

It’s hard to introduce any character into a tight-knit group of characters that’s never had any addition before, especially as not only a main character but the narrator. It doesn’t help that Ani doesn’t seem to fit in the story. She’s brash, calling things as they are – on a show where all of the teens are keeping huge secrets (which the series derives its tension from), this doesn’t introduce a foil so much as feel like they’re crossing over two completely different shows.

The structure is also off. It’s very unclear when they’re showing a flashback vs. the present. Season 2 left off on a huge cliffhanger, and they then start season 3 with a time jump. They keep flashing back to directly after season 2, but it’s often unclear how much time has passed. Also, they keep referring to something that happened the weekend before, so they also flash back to that, meaning there are basically 3 storylines going on at once. It’s too much, and it’s honestly just confusing without really piquing your interest much. I get that the whole “who can you trust” plotline worked well in season 1, but here they don’t even give you one character to stand behind who’s trying to figure it out.

Clay has turned into all the worst parts of his character. He doesn’t have the same drive for justice that made you root for him – and he’s not the only one. The characters mostly just seem to not know what’s going on. It just doesn’t work anymore – it’s not saying enough or doing enough good to make all of the bad worth it anymore. And in an ever-improving tv landscape with teen dramas that are deliciously fun, like Riverdale, or gut-wrenchingly authentic, like Euphoria, no one really has the patience for that anymore.

My consensus? Serena van der Wooden 13 Reasons Why is officially irrelevant. 

Opinion: Why Riverdale is the Best Satire of Our Time

If I were to posit that “Riverdale” is the smartest teen show of our time, I would get more than a few laughs. After all, this is the show with levitating cult babies, mass seizures, a giant monster named the Gargoyle King, and a juvie fight club, all within the span of a few episodes. 

The writers are certainly not Hemingway. 

But they just might be Shakespeare. 

Yes, it’s wild. It’s ridiculous. Most of the storylines are not even related, to the point where characters who are supposed to be best friends barely interact for episodes on end. 

In fact, all of the main characters seem like they’re in different TV shows. Jughead is in some kind of private detective noir. Betty is in an actually pretty good CW version of Nancy Drew where she’s also got to deal with family drama and romance. Veronica is in a teen “Dynasty”, or a later season of “Gossip Girl”. Archie is in a different Netflix rom-com every week, playing whatever the hunk is that film – the football star, the singer, the juvie bad boy, the rugged nature scout. Cheryl is in a dark teen musical satire like Heathers or Carrie (very accurate choices for the show’s musicals) – over the top, dramatic to the point of being cartoonish, yet still dark. 

And all of them are playing it completely straight. 

The show does not require good acting (sorry, Lili Reinhart, your talents are wasted) – it’s driven instead by wild storylines and a strange nostalgic style that seems to drive shows into Halloween costume-level success. It doesn’t even need good friendships – Betty and Veronica and Jughead and Archie rarely have scenes together, unlike the Serena and Blairs and Liars of the previous teen dramas. Relationships are the same – Archie and Veronica’s relationship is entirely based off sex and 1-2 teary phone calls, while Jughead and Betty act more like adult-in-teenage-bodies cop partners than boyfriend and gilfriend. Cheryl and Toni probably have the most substance, actually discussing real issues in their relationship- yet still, they often act more like posing Victoria’s Secret models than an actual couple. 

Yet people still care – people ship the hell out of these characters. Why? Because they rely purely on the precedent of teen dramas before them. Good girl meets boy from the wrong side of the track; rich city girl falls for townboy; high school princess falls for the last person you’d expect; we’ve seen it all before. We don’t even need scenes of actual substance between any of them – we’ve got that association to love these couples just because we always do. 

Which allows the show to satirize these kinds of relationships – by showing that people will still ship them even with zero substance and increasingly ridiculous situations. Veronica’s father tries to have Archie killed, and then puts him in jail. Jughead brings out a literal dark side in Betty, who dons a dark wig, becomes a cam girl for an episode, and does a striptease to become the “queen” of Jughead’s gang. Cheryl and Toni rob houses for fun, then create their own all-girl, school-sanctioned gang, then both get involved in a cult. Somehow, we still find a way to see these relationships as real. 

It’s not just relationships, either. There a million tropes that are satirized – to get information, Betty and Jughead continuously meet the creepiest coroner I’ve ever seen, who is such an over-the-top character that if he had been on similarly soapy mystery Pretty Little Liars, people would’ve thought it was too much. Veronica is clearly the “boss bitch” character – the show pushes this even further by making her the literal owner of multiple businesses as a high schooler. Cheryl is the mean girl with a heart of gold, and she has some of the most over the top lines I have ever heard in my life.

Yet it’s like we hardly notice – because we’ve come to expect nothing less. 

Don’t even get me started on the adults – besides for Fred Andrews, a bona fide good father (who we will miss dearly), they are the most ridiculous characters I have ever seen. The show takes the “parents are the enemy trope” and puts it over the top. Hal is a serial killer. Alice is a cult leader’s wife who gives away Betty’s college money (although it later turns out she’s actually pretending and is an FBI informant). FP runs a gang of literal teenagers with names like “Sweet Pea” and “Fangs,” along with his own son Jughead. Penelope is yet another serial killer, and also happens to run a brothel. Hiram Lodge is a drug kingpin and murderer. Again, we accept it all without question. 

This brings us to the true genius of the show – it may be a satire, but it’s still attracting the very same fans of the exact shows it satirizes. It does their tropes so well that it can’t help but not – riding on the success of these earlier teen dramas, it doesn’t even need to be earnest or trying to say something or even emotionally resonant. It just needs to be interesting. And it’s made itself immune to the critique many of its precedents faced – by training the audience to expect the ridiculously implausible, nothing it does is seen as too far-fetched. It’s impossible to jump the shark, because the very universe they’ve created jumps the shark, and has from the start. Next season, Archie could be manning a spaceship next while Dilton Doyle’s ghost diffuses a bomb hidden in Hal’s casket, and nobody would bat an eye. 

Shakespearean dramas were also seen as soapy and low-class in their time. Shakespeare made up ridiculous insults and words that would not sound out of place coming from Cheryl’s mouth. Half the adults were murderous. Young lovers did completely unrealistic and foolish things in the name of “true love” that actually had very little substance. And look how his stories appreciated today. 

Okay, maybe it’s a stretch. But one thing’s for sure – “Riverdale” is much smarter than anyone gives it credit for. The writers are very well-versed in their subject matter and their audience, and they’re mocking us and what we’re willing to accept. But they’re doing so without any sort of judgement or real goal – we’re all just having fun together. And there is something so refreshing about something that has no agenda but fun in today’s world.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what happens next.