Everyone’s experienced a bad day, had a close call while driving, and most likely experienced some type of road rage. Whether you’re the one staring daggers into the other driver or had a certain finger gesture aimed at you, the interaction usually doesn’t go much further than that. It may simmer a bit and leave a bitter taste in your mouth, though it’s only in rare cases that both parties take a somewhat harmless vehicular mistake and turn up the heat. In Beef, Netflix and A24’s new episodic series from creator Lee Sung Jin (Dave, Silicon Valley), we follow Amy Lau (Ali Wong) and Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) as the two find themselves in this exact situation, and take their “beef” to the next level.
After a brief road rage incident in the parking lot of a hardware store, Amy and Danny escalate their ridiculous feud to measures beyond fathomable reason. They each become obsessed with getting the upper hand on one another, exacting revenge upon their sworn enemy and as the intensity increases, their futile conflict takes over their personal lives. They are both equally blinded by rage and don’t give a second thought to the people they care about or who they hurt along the way of their destructive paths.
Amy is a savvy businesswoman who owns an art, plant, and home goods company; she strives to complete a looming major sale to be able to take some time off and be more family-oriented with her husband George (Joseph Lee) and her little daughter Junie (Remy Holt). With George being Junie’s main caretaker and her mother-in-law Fumi (Patti Yasutake) throwing any and all judgment her way, Amy’s main goal is to be able to prove herself as both an entrepreneur and a mother. Her struggles are not unlike Danny’s. As a single man living with his chronically online and crypto-obsessed brother Paul (Young Mazino), Danny struggles to keep odd jobs to make enough to scrape by, all while dealing with generational pressure from his parents to be successful. Just when things seem to be looking up for the two, Danny and Amy, unfortunately, get into their accident.
Showrunner Lee Sung Jin, along with directors Hikari (37 Seconds) and Jake Schreier (Thunderbolts), make sure there is no right or wrong individual here as we are not expected, or at least easily able to choose sides. Rather, thanks to masterful performances via Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, the audience is shown that sometimes even our most strongly felt emotions don’t really make any sense. But they are felt nonetheless. There are obvious parallels between Danny and Amy, just as there are parallels to be found between any two strangers if you dig deep enough. The viewer has the privilege of seeing both sides of the coin in Beef. Because of this, it’s much easier to empathize with both parties and come to an understanding, perhaps not enough to validate their actions, but enough to make it nearly impossible to declare allegiance with one or the other without guilt.
The performances in Netflix’s Beef are zany and incredibly memorable all around. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say this is some of the best work we’ve seen from Ali Wong and Steven Yeun thus far. They equally bring out the best in themselves while spotlighting the authenticity in these flawed, tangible characters. Yeun, in the quieter moments, spectacularly portrays an exhausted and deeply hurting individual attempting to bury his emotions for as long as possible, until the inevitable dam breaks and we see a vulnerable and heart-wrenching performance come to fruition. Similarly with Wong, in contrast to moments of bared teeth and explosions of pent-up emotion, it’s gentle scenes between her and Fumi that she is able to open up and provide the series some much-needed humanity. Ashley Park (Girls5eva), Justin H. Min (After Yang), and artist David Choe also hilariously stand out from the cast ensemble.
Beef juggles elements of black comedy, thriller-like tension, and drama in its quieter instances. The A24 and Netflix original ebbs and flows in its pacing at times, kicking off slowly to get into its unique groove. But once it does find its rhythm, it’s generally unapologetic and unstoppable. That is until its final episodes, where the irrational action and thrill of the finale may end up losing some of its audience with how much of a turn it takes into the realm of unbelievability. This may deter some while others will happily eat it up, as it also ends on quite a note of insinuation and viewers will have to take that with what they will in a subjective sense.
Despite some pacing and over-the-top absurdity, Beef is unequivocally an extremely watchable and enjoyable breath of fresh air. With addictive performances, stellar writing, and an innovative tone throughout, Beef will undoubtedly garner a dedicated viewership on Netflix due to its sheer originality. Through the privilege of seeing both Danny and Amy’s uniquely individual positions, motives, and experiences, we are able to truly understand each of them and their complicated actions. This speaks to the fact of life that everyone has their own battles, their own reasoning, their own bad days, and hardships.
Netflix’s Beef opens up the conversation that emotion, specifically rage or anger, doesn’t always have to make sense, and that, perhaps if we cut each other a bit more slack, gave more people the benefit of the doubt, and took a deep breath before reacting, there would be a few less middle fingers raised every day.