Season Two of Netflix’s controversial “13 Reasons Why” drops this weekend. Ahead of its sophomore season, the show has made strong moves to get ahead of the backlash it received during the show’s first season
Based on the young adult novel by Jay Asher, the first season was based on the aftermath of the suicide of Hannah Baker, who leaves 13 cassette tapes behind after her death. The show deals with strong themes including teen suicide, substance abuse, bullying and sexual assault.
While the show resonated with younger audiences (becoming the network’s most tweeted about show) and was a ratings success, it also received global backlash from mental health organizations, school administrations and parents. In particular, the graphic, on-screen suicide of Hannah seemingly ignored most recommended media guidelines for portraying suicide, and was viewed as triggering and unnecessary by many professionals and mental health advocates.
“Many – myself included – object to the series’ depiction of suicide because it lacks understanding about how to show it on screen safely,” wrote Mark Henick in an op-ed for CNN last year. “And that narrative choice, while an artistic one, is also a potentially devastating setback in the effort to combat a problem which by any conservative estimate is a global health crisis.”
Approaching season two, both the network and showrunners have attempted to address some of the criticism.
“Soon after the season one launch, we saw global conversation explode on the controversial topics covered by the series and understood we had a responsibility to support these important discussions,” Netflix’s vice president of original series Brian Wright said in a statement.
Netflix commissioned a study by the Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development, with Wright acknowledging “research indicated the majority of parents felt that while the show brought up important topics, they wanted more resources from us.”
The network has also launched a website, 13reasonswhy.info, which links directly to contacts for the Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on the front page. It also lists a number of support organizations with a specific focus, such as RAINN, which helps survivors of sexual abuse, and The Trevor Project, which assist LGBTQ teens.
Each episode will air with a custom intro as well where cast members come “out of character” to introduce the show but advise it might not be right for all viewers, and they will also include a new after show concept to explore the issues raised.
The plot in season two will explore the fallout from Hannah’s explosive revelations and the aftermath of her suicide, this time incorporating the use of Polaroid photographs instead of cassette tapes.
“13 Reasons Why” airs May 18 on Netflix.