Netflix's '13 Reasons' Twist Has Everyone Obsessed With a Dude Named Jeff
For more 13 Reasons Why, read our interview with the actor who plays Jeff.
Fans of 13 Reasons Why will be happy to know the TV adaptation stays true to the blueprint of Jay Asher's novel. The YA saga still focuses on Clay (Dylan Minnette), a high schooler who receives seven cassettes detailing his crush's rationale for suicide. But to stretch Clay's pursuit of the truth -- of what pushed Hannah (Katherine Langford) to take her life -- over 13 hour-long episodes, showrunner Brian Yorkey fleshes out plenty of details, adding elaborate subplots and unresolved cliffhangers in the process.
One of the most rewarding updates is Jeff Atkins. He's not in the book, not exactly, but he's a big deal in Yorkey's version.
Wait, who's Jeff?
Jeff, played with winsome confidence by Brandon Larracuente (Bloodline's Ben Rayburn), is Liberty High's star baseball player. Since he's not academically gifted, he trades girl advice for Clay's peer tutoring services.
With Jeff's coaching, the nerdy protagonist finds the courage to buck his loner mentality and PARTY. In other words, viewers get to know Jeff as Clay's Hitch (a movie that is unfortunately not streaming on Netflix). The two share a genuine you-got-my-back-I-got-yours friendship. Sadly, it screeches to a halt when Jeff dies in a car crash.
That's not in the book?
Kind of. In Asher's novel, this same crash happens; it just happens to a lesser-known character. "I never knew the guy in that car," Hannah says in the book. "He was a senior. And when I saw his picture in the newspaper, I didn't recognize him. Just one of the many faces at school I never got to know."
Though Book Hannah feels partly responsible for the senior's death -- after escaping a nightmarish house party, Hannah and a questionably sober cheerleader drive into a stop sign, knocking it over and setting the stage for the crash -- it hits TV Hannah way harder.
Via flashback, we see TV Hannah try to confess her involvement in Jeff's death to Clay. He shuts her down, upset that she tries to make his friend's death about her. Adding the toxic guilt to the dozen other mishaps that have already rocked her life, Hannah seriously considers suicide for the first time, saying her situation "was starting to be more than I could live with."
Last night I stopped for a moment, looked around the room and thought to myself, "This is so surreal." I am so proud of @13ReasonsWhy and everything this show stands for. For anyone watching if you're struggling just know you aren't alone and life is SO precious. Thank you to the cast for being amazing and thank you to the backbone of 13 Reasons Why for choosing me to be apart of telling this story. I will be forever grateful for the friends I've made and the experiences I'm having making this series.
Why is he so important?
For multiple reasons. Jeff's death feels heavier in the adaptation -- for Hannah, Clay, and viewers -- because everyone's more invested in him. He's no longer a random, nameless student. He's Clay's friend, the catalyst who sets TV Clay and Hannah in motion. In fact, multiple Clay-Hannah moments -- their first dance and kiss, in particular -- don't exist without his encouragement. ("The only time you and I actually ever get to hang out is because of Jeff?" Hannah points out.)
In a show that hits on numerous hot-button teen topics -- being kind to others, talking about your feelings, and asking for consent among them -- Jeff's subplot also adds a look at the real ramifications of drunk driving. (Even if Jeff wasn't driving under the influence, was Hannah's driver?) The show tries not to be too on-the-nose with its preaching, but echoes of "designated drivers" and "how much have you had to drink?" send a clear message.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Jeff's death resurface in a potential second season. People with ties to him and that fateful night are still in play: namely, Clay, who told Jeff's parents the truth about the intersection, and Sheri, the girl who knocked over the stop sign and dodged punishment.
If a second season comes, Yorkey told Entertainment Tonight that he "would love to learn more about who these kids are, why they did what they did." Jeff's ever-growing fan base would probably like that:
"Hannah made 13 tapes, and told us 13 very specific stories, but there's a lot she didn't tell us," Yorkey added. "I want to know what her secrets are, and the other characters' as well." A second season hasn't been announced yet, but Jeff's impact on Season 1 and the lingering truth of his death are enough to make you wonder if he has more to offer.
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