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Why does 13 Reasons Why keep coming back?

Written by TV

After the first series of 13 Reason Why was released, we all thought that that would be it. There had, indeed, been 13 episodes in which the 13 reasons were explained. While the final episode may have finished on a massive cliffhanger, it was still reasonable to expect that, as most of the sub-plots had been drawn to a conclusion, the series would just end there.

But it didn’t. It came back. Then it came back again. And Twitter has gone into haywire as it has been announced that the show is returning again for a fourth series to be released next week.

Sub-plots, characters and the number 13 aside, what makes it most surprising that the show is returning for a further series is the amount of controversy it has predominantly become known for. The show features so many controversial and potentially triggering plotlines despite being targeted at an overwhelmingly youthful audience: school shootings, bullying, rape, self-harm and suicide. Critics of the show argue that the series romanticises suicide, and a Google Trends analysis suggests that the release of the first series corresponded with between 900,000 and 1.5m more suicide-related Google searches in the US, where the series is set, including a 26% increase in searches for “how to commit suicide. One Floridian superintendent reported that schools in the district had seen a rise in suicidal and self-harming behaviour from students, with some of them having “articulated associations of their at-risk behaviour to the 13 Reasons Why Netflix series”.

There was no way for Netflix to hide from this backlash, and they instead responded by adding strong advisory warnings

Similarly worrying trends were noticed around the world, leading to many charities issuing disclaimers about the show and activists speaking out again its portrayal of these sensitive topics. There was no way for Netflix to hide from this backlash, and they instead responded by adding strong advisory warnings prior to the ninth, twelfth, and thirteenth episodes in the first season for their portrayal of sexual assault and suicide. This continued on an ad hoc basis throughout the second and third series. The renewal of the show, however, meant that many viewers were revisiting the first series, causing Netflix to heavily edit the original graphic suicide scene in the season one finale in July 2019, more than two years after the episode’s initial release on the platform. Netflix also released an episode of the aftershow documentary 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons alongside each series, which features cast, crew and mental health professionals discussing some of the topics included in the series.

Credit: IMDb

The show is undeniably targeted at a young audience. All three series to date are set in a high school and feature almost exclusively teenage characters. Many of the plotlines can be seen replicated in similar high school-based films, books and series, but very few other coming-of-age novels portray these issues both in so much detail and so graphically, and almost no other has reached such phenomenal global viewership. This means that the series is both incredibly triggering and very widely watched. Arguably the show itself would be problematic no matter how much of an audience it attracted, but the fact that it has been viewed on such a large scale mean that it is affecting millions more vulnerable viewers. This is in part due to the ever-increasing popularity of Netflix, especially among young adult audiences, and, despite the show rightfully being rated as an 18 on Netflix UK after classification by the British Board of Film Classification, this is incredibly easy for teenagers to bypass, especially if their Netflix account is in a parent’s name.

The show is based on a 2007 novel of the same name by American author Jay Asher, but what is worth noting is that the book finishes at the same point as series one of the show, and no follow-up books were released. This makes it all the more remarkable that Netflix would choose to continue producing the series once the source material had ran dry.

13 Reasons Why has faced an increasingly critical reception with each new release, with ratings on Rotten Tomatoes falling from an impressive 78% for the first series to 27% to just 12% for season three.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the popularity of the show plummeted dramatically from series to series. While many long-running shows can sustain a loyal audience throughout, 13 Reasons Why has faced an increasingly critical reception with each new release, with ratings on Rotten Tomatoes falling from an impressive 78% for the first series to 27% to just 12% for season three. Despite this, the show continued to be renewed.

Credit: IMDb

Is shock factor the root of this continuation? Presumably, Netflix would want this. The more outraged viewers there are, the more media attention the platform will attract. According to marketing analytics firm Jumpshot, the first season was the second-most viewed Netflix season in the first 30 days after it premiered, and viewership increased by 18% from week one to week two – suggesting that these viewers weren’t attracted by the programme initially, but become interested following the media hype. Netflix is a business, after all, and if producing shows like 13 Reasons Why is going to encourage young adults to subscribe to the platform then they’re going to keep commissioning them.

RELATED: In this age of streaming, what role do film certificates play?

Last modified: 29th May 2020

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