Does ’13 Reasons Why’ Do More Harm Than Good: Viewers Weigh In?

13 Reasons Why has entered its third and penultimate season with an Agatha Christie-inspired plotline set over a Days of Our Lives tone. In other words, murder meets melodrama, as teens face addiction, body image issues, suicide, rape, and more. The series is not for the faint of heart, as it shows teens struggling with trauma, bearing multiple painstaking internal conflicts, all while trying to discover who murdered Bryce Walker

13 Reasons Why
’13 Reasons Why’ | Photo Illustration by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

While 13 Reasons Why brings several issues — that teenagers often face in isolation — forward, many believe the show does more harm than good, frequently arguing that the approach glamorizes malice, deceit, trauma, and more. So, let’s see what fans and critics have to say — on both sides —to determine whether the series helps or hinders the community, or should we say the student body, it’s attempting to reach.

What ‘13 Reasons Why’ gets right

13 Reasons Why has, with time, objectively grown worse. When viewing the ratings for the last three seasons on Rotten Tomatoes, season one opened with a 79% critic score and an 80% audience score; however, seasons two and three both dropped to “rotten” values. Critics gave season two a 25% and season three an 18%, while viewers placed both latter seasons close to 50%. 

When discussing what 13 Reasons Why does best, it’s easiest to look back and see the positive traits that the show has retained, for it has not picked up any new ones along the way. 

Season one — though accused of glamorizing suicide — provided a sincere glimpse into adolescent grief, retaining a sense of maturity despite its Young Adult genre, as the critics explained. The show was suspenseful and dramatic, choosing to target specific issues facing teens and helping to make related conversations easier in real life. The season managed to maintain a high degree of sensitivity and was “uniquely sympathetic,” as it dove into “the challenges of being in high school,” as one critic noted.

To this day, 13 Reasons Why poignantly illustrates how difficult it can be to get through high school, the struggles teens face, and the bonds they come to bear and break across time. The show depicts grief, romance, mistrust, friendship, and more in a relatable and captivating manner. However, the show has arguably lost its sensitivity. 

What ‘13 Reasons Why’ does wrong

Without Jay Asher’s source material to rely upon, as was the case in season one, the suspenseful plots and dramatic twist come to supersede the show’s deeper message.  As a result, the show veers into the melodramatic, minimizing the very subject areas it wishes to place a sincere spotlight on. In a discussion forum on the subject, one viewer stated:

Imma be honest.. I feel like this season solidified my already festering sentiment that this show is far more harmful than it is productive and does a disservice to the audience it’s trying to inform. There’s a lot of devious romanticizations of horrendous topics that toe the line of pure caricature and misrepresentation.

Reddit user 

As the fan noted above, 13 Reasons Why has veered so far into dramatization that it has lost its sincerity; the show has lost the sense of depth it used to retain and, as a result, the series minimizes the severity of its delicate subject matters — ones that require a degree of finesse that seems to have slipped through the cracks.

Speaking of season three, one critic argued that it plays like “a bad teen melodrama.” One critic went on to note, in a manner similar to the fan above, that the show “undermines its own intentions-and winds up making itself useful to no one in particular.”

When dealing with difficult matters, you must be sensitive in your depiction. However, without Asher’s guiding voice behind the material, the showrunners have lost their grip on balancing drama with reality — purpose with titillation. And, as a result, many fans and critics feel that the show has created a suspenseful spectacle, a murder mystery, out of topics that elicit no further dramatic heightening.