‘Beef’: Netflix says ‘know thy enemy’
Claire Lyons | Friday, April 28, 2023
In a world of 8 billion people, what are the chances of meeting your mortal enemy? Unfortunately for the main characters of “Beef,” Amy Lau (Ali Wong) and Danny Cho (Steven Yeun), they’ve already found out. At first, it seems like Amy and Danny have nothing in common except for their mutual blood-boiling hatred for one another. In short, they beef.
Amy Lau seems to have it all: a lovely husband, an adorable daughter, a mid-century modern mansion in Southern California (that she designed herself) and ownership of a booming bougie plant store that’s just about to be acquired for $10 million. The only thing she doesn’t seem to have is the time to enjoy it. Danny Cho, on the other hand, is penniless. He’s living out of a motel with his younger brother, Paul, and dreams of the day his contracting business will make enough money to bring his Korean parents overseas for a reunion.
By all accounts, Amy and Danny shouldn’t know each other, let alone hate each other. But after a chance encounter in the parking lot of a home-improvement store, they end up in a road-rage fueled car-chase that sends their lives careening out of control. As they become increasingly hell-bent on destroying each others’ lives, their beef turns obsessive. They continue to raise the stakes, perpetually escalating the conflict by destroying each others’ property and going after each others’ family members.
The show’s whip-fast pace and high stakes will have you on the edge of your seat, and even when Amy and Danny are borderline sadistic, Wong and Yeun’s empathetic performances give their characters the dimension you need to actually root for them. Both characters are incredibly unhappy, and their inability to address their sadness turns them into tightly wound, bottled-up angry maniacs who have the potential to snap at any moment. “Beef” is one of the few pieces of media today exploring these ugly emotions without being too depressing and dislikable.
“Beef” is also rife with striking social commentary. With Amy and Danny’s different financial backgrounds, “Beef” is keenly aware that the Asian-American experience isn’t a monolith. It navigates the intersection between wealth and ethnicity in America with humor, but it doesn’t deny the effects of structural inequality. It strikingly dramatizes millennials’ mid-life crisis: the anxiety of growing up in a digital age with parents that aren’t exactly open about their feelings. The characters need to perform for their loved ones or they risk becoming unloved.
One of my favorite aspects of “Beef” is the late-90s alt-rock that punctuates the closing of each episode, elevating an already well-produced show. As Danny makes an escape from Amy in the first episode, “The Reason” by Hoobastank plays, singing “I’ve found a reason for me / to change who I used to be / A reason to start over new / And the reason is you.”
Amy and Danny’s newfound beef inspires each other to live, even if it’s just in spite of each other. Somehow, their mutual obsession dances somewhere between hate and love. Their desire to truly hurt one another requires them to know thy enemy. And maybe, just maybe, it takes a mortal enemy to be seen for who you truly are.
Starring: Ali Wong, Steven Yeun
Favorite episodes: “The Birds Don’t Sing, They Screech in Pain,” “Just Not All at the Same Time,” “Figures of Light”
If you like: “White Lotus,” “Uncut Gems”
Where to watch: Netflix
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5