Are 10 episodes of raging revenge worth the watch? I dissect Netflix’s Beef to see what the fuss is all about.
Full disclosure: I really wanted to love Netflix’s new and noteworthy TV show, Beef. It had plenty going for it (well, at least till the rape and nepotism controversies surfaced). The drama-comedy starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun is backed by a huge inclusive cast. It’s created by the same people who made the Academy Award-winning Everything Everywhere All At Once. Plus, an almost perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes? That alone speaks volumes. So when the internet lit abuzz with news of how brilliant this series is, I knew I had to binge-watch it. The real question though – was it worth it? Be warned: light spoilers ahead.
Netflix’s Beef review: What we wish we can do when we experience road rage
The first episode of Netflix’s Beef gets you into the nitty gritty of the characters’ lives. Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) is a struggling contractor trying to make ends meet in order to give his parents in South Korea a better life. While he takes on the typical responsibilities of the older sibling, his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino) is left to frolic. Their personalities alone showcase their dichotomous characters. Danny believes in the reward of hard work while Paul dabbles in crypto with the hopes of a get-rich-quick opportunity.
Amy Lau (Ali Wong) is the busy owner of a plant business called Koyohaus (which is such a vibe). All she wants to do is spend time with her daughter and husband. But the business isn’t the only thing stopping her. Between managing her overbearing mother-in-law and sealing a deal with the wealthy Jordana Forester (Maria Bello), Amy barely has time for herself. There are moments when her sanity and temper threaten to burst. But to keep up appearances, she bites her tongue and hangs on.
It doesn’t take long for their worlds to collide. With both Danny and Amy at the peak of their frustration, they’re unfortunate enough to run into each other. Thus begins an angry chase and not-so-calculated plans of attack. From vandalism to catfishing, the two seek to cause each other the most distress possible. Because if their lives are going downhill, they’re determined to make sure someone else goes down with them. Talk about relatable.
An alternative take on a twin flame connection
Twin flames are mirror souls, and stem from the belief that one soul gets split into two bodies. These aspects can be seen in Amy and Danny, who share a lot of similarities. The two bear the brunt of the responsibilities as they are the main breadwinners of their families. They both carry generational traumas from their parents that affect the way they live. And like any first-generation Asian American, they’re chasing the American dream in hopes of a better future. You can even see them bond over their troubles briefly in the first episode.
When people talk about chance encounters with a twin flame, there’s usually a positive connotation. It refers to someone who changes your life, whom you reunite with time and again. This symbolism plays out through the 10 episodes. No matter how much time passes, Amy and Danny are somehow always led back to each other.
But no one talks about the flip side of a twin flame connection, which is what Netflix’s Beef explores. It can be fiery and tumultuous as twin flames are so alike that they even reflect each other’s insecurities and fears. That’s what makes Amy and Danny’s relationship so inherently unique. People bond over common experiences.
With their Asian-American heritage, it could’ve been a fast friendship. But, like a magnet, like-poles repel. Even when they assume they can put their altercation past them, their hate for each other somehow rears its ugly head, much to their dismay and downfall.
A rage-induced hate-watch
While I found Amy and Danny’s relationship to be fascinating, I became less invested in it as the series went on. Instead, I was frustrated as other elements were explored. It wasn’t the devolution of their familial ties that tipped me over, no. That plot development was expected. It was the lack of support for them that threw me off balance. Even when offered, it was tokenistic or transactional at best.
It pained me to watch betrayals occurring left and right. Swallowing infidelity, fake friendships, and parental disappointment at this intensity was unsettling. I felt anger on Amy and Danny’s behalf, and that fury fuelled me to keep trudging on.
It wasn’t just the frustrating relatability of it all. As I continued hate-watching, I was bogged down with questions about plotholes and scenes that felt out of place. Some were completely unnecessary. Like that random fight with Edwin, what was that about? Even the drawn-out sex scene, or that one moment of violence that came out of left field. But I digress. While innocuous, some scenes continued to haunt me without closure.
The ending left more to be desired. After a series of unfortunate events, Amy and Danny are left to confront their troubles and conflict with each other. I won’t get into the finer details, but even after a second watch, I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened. It felt like a haphazard attempt to tie up loose ends without having to explain much. And I was left sitting in shock and confusion.
Loving what’s on the inside
Don’t get me wrong, just because I was angry the whole time didn’t mean I hated everything about it. I actually think it’s commendable for a show to make me feel so much turmoil. Instead of playing as an innocent bystander, Netflix’s Beef practically throws you into emotional disarray. Shots that featured Amy or Danny were kept incredibly tight, evoking a sense of claustrophobia and discomfort. Whether you realise it or not, you’ll sit uncomfortably in your seat as events unfold.
One thing you definitely can’t ignore: the acting. I’ve always known Ali Wong as a comedian, so imagine my surprise seeing her present such a different personality. She channels so much raw emotion in her portrayal of Amy while keeping a calm and put-together facade. Steven Yeun, on the other hand, shows remarkable range. He takes Danny from aggressively violent to broken and vulnerable at the drop of a hat.
Plus, the title cards. Each episode starts with a unique painting that encompasses the core message. While the art may seem out of place at first, it’s used as a symbol of class difference and wealth. For example, Amy’s family is well-off and artistic. George (Amy’s husband) spends his days making pottery and their daughter is encouraged to paint. Danny doesn’t see the value of art at first. But down the road, he shows off a quirky vase to his parents as his plans to bring them back from South Korea start coming to fruition. As the duo’s lives momentarily take a turn for the better, you’ll see art as a more frequent motif. To me, this ties into the impact of the title cards.
But is the beef squashed?
Final thoughts: Netflix’s Beef was painfully overhyped. When you put everything together, there’s nothing particularly good or bad about the show. But my high expectations for it probably ruined my experience. I went into it expecting my whole life to change but walked away with a lot of questions. How did Fumi get through her loneliness? What kind of anxiety was Junie suffering from? And why did it take them so long to find the duo at the end?
As someone who cares a lot about representation, I love seeing a huge POC cast. But it definitely takes more than inclusivity to create a story. While I commend Beef for addressing the struggles of an Asian American individual, there are other shows that do a better job.
Maybe I missed out on some symbolism that was supposed to make this more profound. Or maybe the goal was just to anger the audience in general. But one thing’s for sure, if you’re someone who experiences road rage, think twice before you honk at someone.
So, does it deserve a second season? Personally, I’d only watch season two if it explores the turmoil of other characters. If not, I’ll pass.