Showrunner Brian Yorkey explains how the second season of Netflix’s surprise hit was planned well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.
The first season of Netflix’s surprise hit 13 Reasons Why may have had a quiet launch in March 2017, but the aftermath of its debut was anything but, sparking conversations about the graphic representation of youth suicide in the teen-focused drama. While season one was based on Jay Asher’s YA novel of the same name, showrunner Brian Yorkey found himself without a road map for season two — and a daunting task ahead.
“We knew that we had more story to tell, but we were obviously working without the safety net of the book and really had to follow the story where it took us and find the structure and the engine and all the story threads ourselves,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter ahead of season two’s May 18 premiere. “It was obviously a wonderful opportunity to be free of [the book], but also it was absolutely intimidating to go from this really beautifully structured, really compelling and tightly woven 13 chapters to write another 13 chapters of our own.”
Yorkey and his writers tackled suicide, sexual assault, drinking and driving and many more after-school special-worthy issues in the show’s first 13 episodes, which received both praise and criticism — and a backlash against how graphically the series depicts teen Hannah Baker’s (Katherine Langford) death. In response, Netflix added warnings and hotline information to each episode. For the second season, the streamer created a special website with a series of PSA videos from the stars and a host of support information.
“There was a tremendous amount of conversation in the culture around the show. Obviously as humans in the culture we were aware of the conversation,” Yorkey says. “We listened to it, all different sides, all different points of view on the story and on season one. We were very interested in that. What we knew we needed to do when we went back in to write season two … [was] to redouble our efforts to be as truthful as we could and as honest with ourselves as we could, and to tell the story in the most honest, unflinching manner, just like we approached with season one. So, were we aware of the conversation? Was it something that as human beings we listened to, and took [up], both intellectually and emotionally? Absolutely. Did it guide our creative choices in season two? Not really.”
The first season of 13 Reasons Why focuses on Hannah’s suicide and the cassette tapes she left behind for her classmates to listen to and decipher why she decided to end her life. The second season will see her family’s lawsuit against the school (for negligence in dealing with her bullying) move forward with Hannah’s Liberty High classmates taking the stand. A new mystery involving analog technology is introduced when Clay (Dylan Minnette) begins receiving mysterious Polaroids that hint at a larger conspiracy surrounding the circumstances of Hannah’s sexual assault. And throughout the season, Jessica (Alisha Boe) will deal with the aftermath of her own rape. Whether Jessica and Hannah’s rapist, Bryce (Justin Prentice), will face punishment for his actions is a major question of the season — and a timely story considering the increasing momentum of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
To hear Yorkey tell it, the Harvey Weinstein scandal had yet to be exposed when the showrunner and his writers began breaking story for season two.
“We wrote the story in February, March and April of 2017, so everything in those episodes was written months and months before any of those things emerged in the culture. We had our season pitch out at the end of April, so we had written all of this, and proceeded to then make the season as these things were emerging into the culture,” he says. “It was remarkable to watch it happening, but nothing that we did was a response to it. It all predated it.”
As for the conversation that season two will spark, Yorkey isn’t ready to make any predictions.
“Our North Star is always to try to tell these stories of these characters in the most truthful way we can, and to follow them in directions that are taking us to issues and themes that are in the lives of kids today. [Season two’s] stories are in the show because that’s where our characters led us, and they’re stories and themes that we felt were really vital to the experience of young people today. I can’t begin to guess what will and won’t be the most salient points of the conversation. I’ll be very interested to find out.”
Season two of 13 Reasons Why launches May 18 on Netflix.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.