Roush Review: '13 Reasons Why' Season 2 Doesn't Give Enough Reasons to Watch
The question "Why?" — as in, "Why am I still watching?" — arises frequently while slogging through the painfully overextended, sluggish second season of 13 Reasons Why, a continuation of last year's provocative teen tragedy about a student's shocking suicide. Lacking the first season's compelling hook of the 13 tapes left behind by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), exposing a high school's poisonous subculture of sexual abuse and bullying, 13.2 is too much of more of the same.
This wallow in angst ends up being mostly insufferable. That's especially true for grieving Clay (Dylan Minnette), Hannah's greatest admirer and advocate for justice. Clay mopes through most of the season engaged in endless conversations with the comically persistent ghost of Hannah. (In one scene, he even ducks into the bedroom closet to change to get away from her.)
He can't let her go, and neither can Hannah's estranged parents (Kate Walsh and Brian D'Arcy James), who take Liberty High to court in one of the longest, least convincing and repetitive trials in TV history. Each episode puts a different witness on the stand, and as these characters keep dancing around speaking truth to power, anonymous threats pile up—seemingly without anyone else bothering to notice—while scandalous mystery photos circulate, as if this were a lost season of Pretty Little Liars.
The stock jock villains, led by rich-kid sociopath rapist Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice), are possibly even more toxic this season, and the authority figures especially wan, with Derek Luke pathetically bland as guilt-ridden guidance counselor Kevin Porter. Maybe that's the point, because the raison d'etre of 13 Reasons is to ask who should be held accountable for these crimes and if justice is even possible.
As in the first season, some fine work is delivered by a strong cast of young actors giving it their emo all. Standouts include Alisha Boe as traumatized Jessica, Miles Heizer (Parenthood) as recovering-from-trauma Alex, Brandon Flynn as traumatized—see a theme here?—runaway junkie Justin, and Christian Navarro as tough-but-sensitive gay confidant Tony.
The strongest subplot belongs to tormented outcast Tyler (Devin Druid), the lonely misfit school photographer, whose flirtation with gun culture adds an ominous and very timely undercurrent as the 13 very long episodes plod on. Although by the time things actually start to happen in this bloated sequel, it's almost too late to care.
13 Reasons Why, Season Premiere, Friday, May 18, Netflix