Screen Test

Staring danger in the face

One is a new series about a troubled teen, while the other is an expose on the alleged abuses of the church of Scientology

(Above) Dylan Minnette plays Clay Jensen in 13 Reasons Why.
(Above) Dylan Minnette plays Clay Jensen in 13 Reasons Why.PHOTO: NETFLIX

Stories about teenagers or septuagenarians do not typically have crossover appeal. But 13 Reasons Why and Grace And Frankie do, more than you would expect on paper.

The former, a new series about a troubled teen, Hannah (Katherine Langford), who posthumously explains why she committed suicide, sounds like your average angst-filled adolescent drama.

In a series of 13 cassette tapes, she enumerates what and who drove her to take her life, then leaves the recordings for a group of high-school peers and others who bullied or otherwise failed her, forcing them to confront the part they each played.

Dramatically, the structure is a little contrived. To have the story unfold over 13 episodes, one of those who gets the tapes, Clay (Dylan Minnette), delays listening to all of them at once, which is transparently just so the audience can slowly discover what happened as he does - through flashbacks, Hannah's voice-over and his own investigations.

(Above) Dylan Minnette plays Clay Jensen in 13 Reasons Why.
(Above) Dylan Minnette plays Clay Jensen in 13 Reasons Why. PHOTO: NETFLIX

That voice-over recalls the cult teenage noir series, Veronica Mars, but here, the all-knowing tone is grating and overly didactic at times, betraying the writers' clear desire to preach about the dangers of teenage alienation.

Yet, it is also a thoughtful, moving rumination on loneliness, social persecution and unintentional cruelty, and how they can devastate even a charismatic, clever and seemingly confident human being.

Some of the show's most penetrating observations are of parent-child relationships. Not only do Hannah's well-meaning but pre-occupied parents "not see me, but they don't see me seeing them", she says.

Her hellish high-school experience is, in many ways, also depressingly, a microcosm of the adult world - a place where star athletes and other men of high social status get away with sexual assault and their victims are ignored or blamed. If only we did grow out of this in our teens.

Nothing nearly as dramatic happens in the third season of Grace And Frankie, a comedy about two women jilted in their 70s by husbands who come out as gay.

The women then become roommates and unlikely friends, an odd couple navigating this unexpected stage of their lives together.

On the bright side, they are finally launching their own business - a line of vibrators designed for the older, arthritic woman.

At the same time, they are figuring out how to relate to ex-husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Saul (Sam Waterston), as well as new love interests Jacob (Ernie Hudson) and Nick (Peter Gallagher).

The show could easily have become a boilerplate geriatric comedy where all the jokes are basically about being old.

Yes, there is age-related humour, but it is used judiciously and credit must be given for the running gag about ergonomic sex toys for ageing hands, as well as this season's poignant storylines about a major health scare and forced retirement for some of the characters.

Meanwhile, the narrative continues to build on the idea of friendship no less fragile than a marriage, but potentially even more valuable and long-lasting.

As an expose of alleged abuses in the controversial church of Scientology, Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath is not quite up to the standard of Going Clear, Alex Gibney's excellent 2015 HBO documentary.


King Of Queens actress Leah Remini. PHOTO: CRIME+ INVESTIGATION ASIA

Even with all the tabloid tales published about the religion, which has been labelled a cult by the German and French governments, a bit of history and context upfront would have been nice.

Instead, King Of Queens actress Leah Remini places herself, and others who say they have been shunned and intimidated when they criticise or leave the church, front and centre immediately.


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Their stories are remarkable and that alone makes for riveting television, even if the way it is pulled together makes it feel like the kind of hastily edited true-crime series shown late at night.

The most compelling aspect of the series is hearing these formerly devout Scientologists explain why they joined, why they stayed and why they helped punish others for asking questions or trying to leave.

Oddly, Remini's explanation of her own moment of clarity - prompted by the church's reaction to her inquiry about the whereabouts of leader David Miscavige's wife - is the vaguest and least convincing of these anecdotes.

Still, it is forgivable if the show triggers a lightbulb moment for anyone else trapped in this or any other fascistic belief system.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Staring danger in the face'. Subscribe