The Netflix sequence Beef is a cataclysmic spiral of existential despair and self-destruction. It begins, nonetheless, with little greater than a site visitors altercation: Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) backs out of an LA parking zone in his crappy crimson truck and practically hits a pristine white SUV. Horns are honked, phrases shouted, center fingers prolonged. It’s the form of battle the place the individuals are likely to go on with their lives as soon as they’ve let off some steam.
However for Danny and the unseen SUV driver, there’s nonetheless various steam to let off. Danny provides chase, weaving by crimson lights and cease indicators whereas his adversary pelts his windshield with rubbish. As soon as the confrontation is over and the SUV speeds away, we see that the motive force is one other Asian American: Amy Lau (Ali Wong), a harried entrepreneur on the verge of promoting her thriving enterprise for an enormous payday.
The characters in Beef should not well-intentioned victims of circumstance who study some form of lesson by the top. They’re allowed to be horrible and egocentric and petty in ways in which we not often see exterior white-centered tales, and their habits takes on an enchanting extra layer within the context of the Asian American id that unites them even throughout divisions of sophistication and tradition.
In essence, the sequence is an excessive interpretation of one thing Amy’s touchy-feely husband George (Joseph Lee) says: You by no means know what the opposite particular person goes by. Danny is a struggling handyman residing out of the motel his household as soon as owned together with his layabout brother Paul (Younger Mazino). George is correct, in a way, that Amy and Danny are considering of the opposite solely as a goal for his or her ire somewhat than as a definite particular person with their very own life and emotions. In fact, he’s additionally ignoring the truth that Danny tracked Amy down within the aftermath, cajoled his manner into her dwelling, and maliciously peed throughout her lavatory.
Photograph: Andrew Cooper/Netflix
Beef provides its Asian People room to be something however reserved and well mannered. We watch the imperfect coping mechanisms they’ve developed, like masturbating with a gun or inhaling a distressing quantity of Burger King. After which we see how, in portray each other as an unambiguous enemy, they discover an outlet for the feelings they’ve spent a lot of their lives holding in.
When Danny comes dwelling to the cramped room he shares with Paul, he rants in regards to the expectation to take “different individuals’s shit” with a smile. It’s a high quality that, as an actor, Steven Yeun has constructed a latest profession on expressing: the buried damage of his traumatized ex-child actor in Nope, the simmer of sociopathy in Burning. He conveys one thing extra occurring beneath the face he presents to the world. In Beef, Danny can’t be sincere even when he’s in any other case being open about how he feels — he lies to his brother that he scared off the white SUV and “received” the confrontation, and he spends a lot of the sequence making tiny excuses as if by intuition. (“I did chest yesterday,” by means of rationalization for being outlifted by the plainly extra athletic Paul.)
Photograph: Andrew Cooper/Netflix
In Amy, too, we see the issues she should ignore and the efficiency she should give, which equally dovetails with Ali Wong’s personal profession: She’s primarily struggling to maintain burying her outspoken comedian persona. Her interactions with Jordan (Maria Bello), the possible purchaser for her firm, are loaded with informal racism that she smiles by, like when she’s praised for her “zen Buddhist” vibe. Amy sees the sale of her firm as an escape from such soul-sucking upkeep, a manner for her to money out and deal with elevating her younger daughter. However even in her private life, she goes unheard — George cuts her off earlier than she will even clarify the highway rage incident.
On some stage, the characters can hint repression again to their households. Amy says as a lot about her quiet Midwestern upbringing, whereas Danny notes that he, because the eldest son, shouldered the majority of his mother and father’ calls for. As in so many Asian American tales, the protagonists labor beneath a cloud of generational strife. However repression is as a lot heaped upon them by the societal stereotype of the mannequin minority, those who preserve their heads down and by no means make a fuss — the very habits that Danny rages in opposition to within the first episode, and the very expectation that numerous Asian People are confronted with all through their lives.
As Beef’s battle spirals uncontrolled, it locations its characters in a pantheon of TV antiheroes. The self-actualizing arc of its characters and the collateral harm they go away behind performs like a form of low-stakes Breaking Unhealthy, with the pettiness and discontent unobscured by any climactic drug-dealing drama. We perceive Amy and Danny, maybe even rooting for his or her success occasionally, and Beef accesses that empathy while not having to make them notably likable or sympathetic. The sequence dismantles stereotypes by giving its characters such depth, revealing the humanity beneath. And humanity, Beef acknowledges, is usually messy, indignant, and imperfect.
The context of their actions and the legible historical past of ache that comes with it don’t absolve them, and their extra unsavory traits by no means subside. Danny’s interactions with Amy are pervaded by oblivious chauvinism, first imagining that solely George might be his adversary after which labeling her a bored housewife leeching off her husband’s “artwork cash.” And Amy, for her half, is hardly deterred by the huge revenue hole that divides her and Danny — she paints “I AM POOR” on the facet of his truck and tanks the critiques for his floundering building enterprise. When she tracks him to his motel, she gloats that he didn’t strike her as a house owner.
For as intense as the particular rivalry is right here, there’s additionally a common reality to their struggles, within the catharsis of expression. As Beef goes on, it demonstrates that Danny and Amy are removed from the one characters overwhelmed down by the load of expectation. George is the son of a well-known sculptor, however his personal work shows not one of the expertise and makes no cash, leaving Amy to offer for the household. Paul bemoans the best way older generations go off all their hangups and insecurities onto the subsequent. They, too, are merchandise of uncared for emotion; when Amy and Danny manipulate them to their very own ends, Paul and George style a few of the validation they’ve by no means clearly acquired from their very own family members.
With the rise in on-screen illustration over time, Asian People have anchored beforehand unthinkable main roles, as issues like love pursuits and superheroes. It’s Beef, although, that clears a really pivotal hurdle in that regard: It lets its protagonists and peripheral characters be messy and sophisticated, if not unambiguous assholes.