I’m confused again. I know, I know, you’re not responsible for how clearly I understand the world. I’m a big boy and should have some of this figured out by now, but seriously, there’s the stuff I think I know and then the way things appear to be, and when they don’t match up to each other, I find myself flummoxed.
Take Netflix, for instance. After reading a fair amount about this new show of theirs, 13 Reasons Why, and the controversy around it, I wanted to check it out for myself and see what all the hullaballoo was about. So, while it’s not exactly the easiest binge there is, sure enough, I sat on my trusty couch this weekend and burned through all 13 hours by late morning yesterday.
There’s been a bunch of talk about how the show glamorizes suicide and shouldn’t be watched by teenagers — in fact, I saw just such a post on my Facebook feed, where a friend shared his wife’s detailed and emotional screed suggesting people boycott it — and I’ll get to that in a moment, but the thing that has me twisted into something of a mental pretzel is why the streaming service seems to want a second season.
I’m not going to spoil anything here, of course, but I will say that the show has a very clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, and the story wraps itself up perfectly well in those 13 episodes. No cliffhangers, no real loose threads, nothing of the sort. Which is why the idea of a second season doesn’t really make any sense. I mean, where does a show like that go? Does another character make more tapes? Are there copycat suicides around the school? Do we just deal with the aftermath of what happened? Those concepts have exactly zero credence from a story perspective, and suck any and all drama out of the enterprise.
But see, with all that in mind, I think there’s something else going on here that might have something to do with what Netflix is trying (hoping?) to do.
I mentioned the ongoing controversy about the show itself, and now having seen it, I find it curious. On the one hand, I understand teen suicide is a sensitive topic. This isn’t exactly Heathers, which poked fun at the concept in a pitch black way. This one is earnest and takes itself pretty seriously, which is always a bit of a red flag for me, but that’s another issue.
Obviously, I can’t say how many people who are decrying the themes and are concerned about the message it sends have actually watched it, and I get how some who do watch the show might somehow view the Hannah character — the girl who kills herself in the story — as some kind of a martyr. The show deals with intense stuff, and it’s not hard to see how some might take a dark view of it all.
I don’t happen to see it that way, though. What I saw was a show unafraid to tackle very dangerous subject matters, addressing sexual harassment, violence, and rape, teenage drinking and drug use, stalking, bullying — physical, emotional, and cyber — and, of course, suicide. It makes an effort to point out just how awful a thing suicide is, not just in theory, but for the people left behind. It talks about suicide prevention, the all-encompassing nature of high school and how devastating every slight and embarrassment can seem, how damaging it all is, and what it can do to a kid who is otherwise seemingly happy.
In fact, I thought it was all pretty powerful, and more than a bit horrifying, and if I had a teenager of my own, I would want to sit and watch it with them, specifically so we could talk about all this stuff afterward. To boycott it and tell people not to watch it is a pointless exercise, simply because the more you tell a kid not to do something, the more they’re going to find a way to do it. This way, an adult can be a part of the discussion and actually delve into the deep and intense issues with which the show deals.
I know a little something about this, and I firmly believe that shouting something down because you’re afraid of it serves nothing. It’s always better to address it and deal with it head on, so as to take away its power. Always.
Now, having said all that, the cynic in me wonders if part of why Netflix wants to bring the show back is to capitalize on the very controversy it created. Controversy, after all, is worth millions in free press. Sometimes more. Bring back a show that doesn’t have an obvious reason to exist any longer than it already has because, sure enough, when it does return, it will come with all the baggage that the first season created, which means less work for the Netflix marketing machine and a built-in audience that might show up out of morbid curiosity.
I’m not saying this is the only reason, of course, but it certainly comes to mind. It makes me take a step back from my admiration of the streaming giant and wonder if, perhaps, they’re really just like everyone else. Sure, they have this reputation of being so creator friendly — no media piece about any new show doesn’t have at least one quote from said creators, talking about how much they love working with Netflix — but when it all comes down to it, they’re just as guilty of wanting to squeeze too much out of a good thing as the other networks.
Case in point, Stranger Things. The Duffer Brothers are apparently committed to four seasons of the show, and nothing more, but Netflix wants them to do a fifth season, and is pushing the pair pretty hard. It reminds me of what Fox did over a decade ago with Prison Break. Creator Paul Scheuring had envisioned the show as two seasons and 44 episodes, a confined story that had, again, a beginning, middle, and end. But Fox saw that it was a hit and asked for more, and when Scheuring gave it to them, the product suffered. It sputtered along for another couple years and then died, with its current resurrection clearly one of those cynical cash grabs that seem to be all the rage these days.
It would be a shame for the same thing to happen to Stranger Things, just as it would be a crime for 13 Reasons Why to continue when it doesn’t need to. This was a terrific, moving, emotional story, completely told in 13 hours, with no cause for any more. But that’s apparently not good enough for Netflix. We don’t know what the service’s viewership numbers are like, because they’re proprietary and the company won’t release them, but ratings are obviously highly important, which sort of goes against the narrative the company likes to put forth.
A network that claims one thing and does another isn’t news. Netflix possibly becoming like everyone else? That certainly is.