Everyone has a rage monster lurking inside them. I call mine The Wrathinator! He’s locked up in a tiny cell in my brain, but always looking for a way out. All it takes is one trigger — a condescending coworker or a jerk who drives like SpongeBob SquarePants — and I lose it. The Wrathinator breaks free and takes over the wheel. I scream words I don’t mean, I hurl things I shouldn’t, and I make a mess of everything. When the devil’s had his fun, he happily recedes to his cage, leaving me to deal with the fallout.
That’s pretty much the premise of Netflix’s new TV show Beef, created by Lee Sung Jin (Silicon Valley, Undone) and released on April 6th, 2023. It stars Steven Yeun (Danny Cho) and Ali Wong (Amy Lau) as two Asian-American strangers who unleash their inner beasts (their Wrathinators if you will) on each other. Their beef sets off a chain of events that matures from vengeful obsession into mutually assured destruction. Beef boasts a rich supporting cast that includes Joseph Lee, Remy Holt, Young Mazino, and the recently controversial David Choe.
So, why does a show centered around such a simple plot end up being an absolute win and one of the best things Netflix has done in recent memory? Let’s find out.
Spoiler warning: Massive spoilers from here on if you’re still sleeping on Beef and are yet to complete the show.
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Wong & Yeun, Yin & Yang
Steven Yeun is a highly talented actor as is evident in productions he’s been in (Minari, Walking Dead, Nope). While acting, he channels the right amount of quality and emotion needed to pull off a character. Hence, it’s no surprise that his portrayal of Danny Cho, a struggling contractor who lives in a middle-class neighborhood, is spot on. What surprised me was that he could sing.
Another surprise, a bigger one at that was the knockout performance of Ali Wong. You’re probably familiar with her work, foremost as a stand-up comedian and then an actor (more recently in Always Be My Maybe, that one Netflix romcom nobody remembers). Nevertheless, in Beef, Wong manifests a range we didn’t know was there all this time. Don’t get me wrong, I love comedians as much as the next heckler. But you would agree that when it comes to acting “serious roles” where some level of character depth is required, comedians aren’t exactly the go-to choices. Regardless, Wong is an exception to the rule. She brought this “angry suburban mom” energy which was equal parts funny and serious. Wong is perfect as Amy Lau, a successful local entrepreneur who “has it all” but is secretly unhappy and dissatisfied.
As a duo, Ali Wong and Steven Yeun have great confrontation chemistry on screen. In Beef, they play off each other’s delivery and style, creating a dynamic tension that drives the story forward. What is most impressive is their showcase of great acting range: Yeun’s drama-centered acting background did not hamper the actor during comedic takes and Wong’s comedy-styled delivery didn’t interfere with her transition to vulnerability. Together, the pair created characters that are complex, funny, relatable and most importantly, memorable.
Wong and Yeun are supported by a stellar cast of supporting actors who bring their A-game, thereby contributing depth and diversity to the show.
Tasty Plot of Beef
Life doesn’t always present itself in absolutes. Recognizing this, Beef discards the tedious hero and villain troupe for a narrative that explores the grays, absurdities and complexities of the human condition. Plus, it’s not your typical comedy-drama either but a tragicomedy. Beef is dark, existential, and unpredictable while also being hilarious and poignant. It challenges the viewer to question their own assumptions and biases.
Consider the opening scene for example. It introduces us to Danny and Amy who almost bump their cars into each other in a parking lot. Both of them believe they are in the right and refuse to back down, leading to a furious car chase. This kickstarts events that will change their lives forever. There is however an important purpose for this scene. It establishes that Danny and Amy are more alike than they realize. They both have secrets that they hide from their families. They both are unhappy with their current situations and feel trapped by their circumstances. Furthermore, Danny and Amy both channel their pent-up anger and frustration into destroying each other, rather than confronting their own issues.
The show also cleverly uses parallel scenes and motifs to highlight their similarities, such as how they both memorize each other’s license plates in the same way at the beginning and end of the first episode. Undeniably, the reason the plot of Beef works so well is that it builds on familiar themes and characters to set up an original and compelling story.
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As Danny and Amy torment each other, the world around them spins without stopping. Each episode of the show features a rich array of subplots that weave together into the larger story and help us better understand the actions of the characters. Here are the most interesting ones.
First is Fumi (Patti Yasutake), Amy’s judgmental mother-in-law who doesn’t think Amy is good enough for either her son or her granddaughter. However, she is in debt and sought to secretly sell the Tamago – the sex chair her husband made her.
Next is George (Joseph Lee), Amy’s stay-at-home husband who should’ve paid more attention to his wife’s feelings than the grotesque vases he sculpts. He becomes attracted to Amy’s assistant Mia without realizing that such attraction was a symptom of his marriage becoming “vanilla.”
Then there’s Jordan (Maria Bello) and Naomi (Ashley Park), who went from being sisters-in-law to getting engaged. We don’t know how the heck that happened but I for one would watch that movie. Jordan is Amy’s boss who hates the concept of a modern family and collects bizarre artifacts from all over. You know, she’s your typical modern privileged white businesswoman living in America. Naomi on the other hand is Amy’s neighbor and contends with crippling feelings of self-doubt sometimes. Nevertheless, she doesn’t let such feelings stop her from moonlighting as the “Calabasas mom detective”, intent on exposing Amy’s involvement in the road rage incident.
On Danny’s end is his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino) who is as Gen Z as they come. He daydreams of Yachts, hot girls and millions of dollars from trading crypto with his “boys.” However, in real life he dislikes his older brother and would do anything to make sure he doesn’t end up like him. Paul is also comfortable with dating an older woman even after finding out she catfished him. This he keeps to himself of course, not just because of Danny but he might be worried what his boys would think.
Also, there’s Isaac(David Choe) Danny’s cousin, resident Jack-of-all-trades-illegal, local gangster extraordinaire, self proclaimed student of life and master of his universe. He was responsible for getting Danny’s parents deported. He plays big brother to Danny but for a price. After being framed for the road rage incident and narrowly escaping the Filipinos, Isaac wants payback so he assembles his cronies and masterminds a robbery/kidnapping that ended up being equal parts tragic and hilarious.
“Figures of Light”
Only after crashing into each other, getting lost in the wilderness, and facing starvation, thirst, and hallucinations, did Danny and Amy finally confront their similarities and differences in a cathartic climax. The universe grants Danny and Amy the chance to go at each other in a way that is both primal and therapeutic. The episode cleverly depicts the setting of their compromise to demonstrate that Danny and Amy are actually two lost souls who, unhappy and trapped in their own ways, use their obsession with each other as a twisted form of escape.
As they embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing together, they realize that they can only find peace by forgiving each other and themselves. For the first time, they see each other as human beings, not as enemies, and they understand that their fates are intertwined in a larger scheme of things. In their moments of vulnerability, they bond over their fears, regrets, and hopes, and discover that they have more in common than they thought. The finale is a powerful turning point for both characters, who learn to let go of their anger and resentment and embrace a new perspective on life.
Nevertheless, the consequences of Danny and Amy’s feud have taken a toll on their personal lives. Both of them have alienated their families, who want nothing to do with them after the kidnapping debacle. Danny’s brother Paul and Amy’s husband George are fed up with their antics and blame them for putting their lives in danger. But even rediscovering yourself on a wilderness retreat with your enemy-turned-bestie brings forth fresh consequences. George shows up to rescue Amy and shoots Danny, thinking he is holding her hostage. Beef ends with Danny in the hospital and Amy lying close by his side. Interestingly, there is more to the final scene than showing how far Danny and Amy have come from being mortal enemies to unlikely allies.
The finale leaves the fate of the protagonists undecided, inviting viewers to choose whichever ending makes more sense to them. Some may see it as a hopeful ending, where Danny and Amy find solace and love in each other after surviving the ordeal in the wilderness. Others may settle on a tragic ending, where one of them dies in the wilderness and the other hallucinates them as a way of coping. A third ending possibility is that they both die and ascend to a higher realm of peace and happiness, to never be touched by the burdens of a chaotic life.
Whichever ending appeals to you most, there is no doubt that Beef delivers a powerful finale that examines the complex emotions of grief, anger, guilt, and forgiveness and challenges its viewers to ponder how the choices of the characters shape their destinies.
Beef blends a captivating premise, engaging plot, talented cast, and distinct style to deliver a gripping and hilarious series that will keep you hooked until the end. With so many mediocre shows constantly getting released and renewed, Beef is a rare treat that will satisfy your appetite for quality entertainment. Just don’t watch it while driving. 😉
Beef is available to stream on Netflix worldwide.
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