This past Thursday, A24 released their latest series “Beef,” starring Steven Yuen and Ali Wong, in collaboration with Netflix. This dark comedy centers around the increasingly ridiculous feud between Amy Lau, a small business owner, and Danny Cho, a struggling contractor. As the two struggle to make it through their everyday lives, their increasing fixation on the conflict between them begins to eat away at their relationships.
Both prominent actors, Steven Yuen and Ali Wong bring a level of controlled chaos to their roles as they play downtrodden business owners on the brink of collapse. Danny is a full-time contractor working to regain the money necessary to restore his family’s motel after his cousin loses it in an illegal “baby powder” operation. Struggling between carrying the weight of his family on his back and his slacker brother Paul, his constant bad luck sees him losing $17,000, falling from a tree and getting fired from his job all within the first episode.
As a direct foil to him, we see Amy struggle with her flower shop business as she tries to be acquired by a large art house that could turn it into a franchise. Juggling her anxious daughter, her laid-back husband and her overcritical mother-in-law proves to be a challenge for Amy, as she’s come to rely on micro-dosing to get through her day. Undoubtedly, her struggles with the stress and looming failure affect her as badly as Danny, resulting in her breaking into the gun safe to satisfy a violent fetish. Just as their individual drama reaches a sweltering point, we see Danny take the first step in igniting the feud by peeing all over Amy’s bathroom.
The interesting thing about “Beef,” besides the beautiful directing and color grading courtesy of Hikari, Jake Schreier and series creator Lee Sung Jin, is the characters themselves. It’s unclear who’s in the right because both of them are horridly wrong. An ever-growing laundry list of unfortunate events makes it far too easy for them to be sent over the edge. While they’re both a hair trigger away from killing themselves and possibly each other, the self-destructive nature of the two comes in swinging like Mike Tyson. From their homicidal rage at each other to their frustration towards their families and support systems, it’s hard not to feel pity for them.
If this series had main antagonits, they would be white people, family and mental illness. Not an uncommon unholy trinity to minority groups in America, both characters face microaggressions on a daily basis despite their different social statuses. For Amy, it’s the airhead investors threatening to copy her traditional Japanese art style with “cheaply made shit in China” and for Danny, it’s the white landowners undercutting his business, making it hard for him to survive financially. While the racism is not entirely overt, it’s evident that both characters are seen as second-class within their field.
The tension doesn’t end there, as a lot of the conflict and jokes also center around the Japanese heritage of Amy and her family versus the Korean background of Danny and his. Heritage plays an important role within “Beef,” as both characters reflect their respective cultures. Danny cooks Korean barbeque by the poolside at his family motel, while Amy and her husband George dress their daughter up in traditional kimonos. The series does go beyond outward representations of heritage by incorporating various aspects of Japanese and Korean culture throughout its 10 episodes.
Whether you’re team Amy or Danny (or team Paul like me), it’s hard not to relate to either of them at times. Danny’s dedication to his family is admirable as his cousin continues to screw him over. Far from the smartest, he at least tries to use his time meaningfully. Amy’s a chronic people pleaser who tries to keep afloat in the highbrow art world that she’s been thrust into. Battling feelings of self-doubt, anxiety and stress, she’s the embodiment of impostor syndrome. But perhaps the most relatable thing about them is how undoubtedly delusional they are.
The dark humor of “Beef” is never lost on viewers, as brilliant writing and eccentric characters keep it interesting and fresh. Both Danny and Amy have support systems far more laidback than them, acting as their fire extinguishers when they get a little too hot-headed. However, those same support systems often undermines them by making things far more difficult than they need to be. Despite being worlds apart, “Beef” seeks to show that we all “go through shit sometimes” as George puts so elegantly.