By now, you've zoomed through all 13 episodes of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why — and if you haven't, it's time to call in sick to work/school/army and get it done. The series explores the aftermath of a teen's suicide, in which she leaves behind 13 cassette tapes explaining the reasons why she made the difficult decision to kill herself, with each episode corresponding to a tape, and each tape targeting a specific individual at her high school.
Plenty has been written about the series' important examination of suicide, depression, loneliness, bullying and varying perspectives and understanding those perspectives — which is 13 Reasons Why's most valuable message — and they're all worth reading and understanding. Seriously, I cannot emphasize how important this show can be to oblivious old fogies such as myself, as well as those in high-school hell right now. But here we're going to talk about something much less serious: 13 Reasons Why's obvious argument in favor of the binge watch.
I'm not saying the series is the kind of show that you have to watch over a weekend in order to truly appreciate (a complete myth for any show, by the way). I'm saying that the characters in the show itself create a world where binging is not only the norm, but it actually makes the world a better place. And those who don't binge? They get left behind or become social outcasts. Harsh, but true.
To catch those up who didn't watch 13 Reasons Why, reasonable teen Clay (Dylan Minnette) is given 13 cassette tapes previously recorded by his classmate and friend Hannah (Katherine Langford) explaining why she killed herself. Kind of a podcast from the grave, as it were. As said above, each episode of the 13-episode series depicts Clay listening to one of the tapes and learning how Hannah felt someone in her school was a reason she made her tragic decision. So basically, we listened to the tapes at the same pace Clay did, which took Clay a few weeks in the show's timeline to get through.
But here's the thing: Clay isn't the first person to listen to the tapes. In fact, about 10 others have listened to the tapes before him, and through the series we learn that they didn't take their sweet time with the tapes like slowpoke Clay did. Some even said they devoured all of them in a night.
There's an easy parallel to make between how the teens of 13 Reasons Why consumed Hannah's tapes and how regular people like you or me watch television (podcasts, like S-Town, too). But with 13 Reasons Why's connection to Netflix and its format, its particularly emblematic of how Netflix shows are introduced into the world.
Clay had an entire "season" dropped on his doorstep at once, leaving him with the choice of how to handle this unknown property. Some binged, some didn't. And what we see in 13 Reasons Why is how frustrating it can be to have a normal conversation about anything — something as serious as a friend's suicide or something as asinine as whether or not Iron Fist is truly atrocious — when people aren't on the same page.
Specifically in 13 Reasons Why, there are countless times when Clay is screaming at someone else about something he just heard on a tape and the only response the other can make is, "Just keep listening." We all have that friend who constantly updates us on where they are in Stranger Things when it's been months since we saw it. It's frustrating for Clay, it's frustrating for the other person, and it's frustrating for us to watch. Why don't you just listen to the damn tapes, Clay? Why was everyone else — including people who didn't care about Hannah as much as Clay did — able to listen to them so quickly? Simply put, Clay listened to the tapes incorrectly, the show would argue.
It also mirrors the dead-end conversations we have on a daily basis with our TV-watching friends; maybe you even already had a similar chat with someone who was behind you in 13 Reasons Why.
"Why did the school administrator say that they had suffered two losses?" your friend Slowbones McGee asks because he's only on Episode 9.
"Just keep watching," you have to say, because you can't say anything for fear of spoiling him.
Clay's tardiness behind his peers created all sorts of awkward situations. He started photographing nude nerds, he "fell off his bike" and onto Bryce's fists, and those who had already listened to the tapes formed a club to stop Clay from doing something stupid, kind of like when your friend finally got into Game of Thrones and started badmouthing Jaime Lannister. (He's the best, sorry.)
The fact of the matter is that if Clay had just listened to the tapes at the same speed everyone else did before him, much of the trouble that occurred could have been avoided and the results would have been the same — they just would have happened a lot sooner, which I'm sure would please some persnickety viewers.
We live in a world where the idea of live television and the universal audience is dying, or probably already dead. The panic and confusion of talking to others while being behind on a big show is indescribably frightening, but 13 Reasons Why is the first show to go meta and capture that feeling, whether that was its intention or not.
13 Reasons Why was about so many important things that we need to pay more attention to. But it also gave us a metaphorical look at the current state of TV-watching culture, and a convincing argument that when it comes to new Netflix shows, it's best to get through them as fast as possible or suffer the humiliating consequences.
13 Reasons Why is currently available on Netflix.