Road rage footage was one of the many reasons I deleted TikTok on my iPhone. As I scrolled through the various clips on that app, I’d be happy and comforted by footage such as a dog cuddling with a raccoon or laughing uncontrollably at some Cockatoo yelling curse words at its owner because it didn’t know better. Then all of a sudden, I’d swipe up, and there came fight footage between real people; it could be drunk fools in bars, high school kids, people on public transportation, or road rage incidents that would either turn into life-threatening car accidents or physical altercations. This, to me, is not entertainment when it involves real people. That’s why I deleted TikTok.
After I read the description of Netflix’s new series Beef, I went into it with somewhat hesitation because I’ve been involved in road rage moments myself. One guy flipped me off with no provocation, and to this day, I can not figure out why he did it. My only guess is that he was not having a good day, and his only reaction to the sight of me was to flip me off to see if he could have an excuse to beat someone up. My reaction was merely confusion as I continued on with my life. Our reactions to moments of stress define us, and that’s what the series Beef is basically about. If Amy Lau (played by Ali Wong) didn’t react by angrily honking at Danny Cho (played by Steven Yeun) and giving him the finger, then there’d be no road rage. If Danny Cho just saw that middle finger coming from that car window and didn’t care, he wouldn’t have chased after it, causing both to eventually drive through a stranger’s front yard. If both Amy and Danny moved on with their lives, then there’d be no show as entertaining as Beef.
After the road rage, we get to know the characters and all the people involved in their lives, and you soon realize that the story is not just about that road rage incident but why it happened — and from a certain point of view — needed to happen. That was the coolest and strangest part of the experience watching Beef all the way to the final scene because, in a warped and satisfying kind of way, these two crazy people saved each other from living a life of lying to themselves. They freed one another from a cage they built and locked themselves inside since they forgot how much control of their lives they always had.
Danny Cho, who’s played excellently by Steven Yeun (not that’s not surprising, based on his roles in The Walking Dead and the film Minari), is a down-and-out, failed independent construction worker living in a shabby apartment with his lazy, unemployed brother Paul (Young Mazino). After the road rage incident, Danny comes home and immediately berates Paul for not cleaning up after himself, but it looks like Danny equally does nothing about the condition of the entire two-bedroom apartment since the cleanest part of the place is Paul’s room. At that point, Paul might be just another Gen Z basically playing video games on Twitch in his room, but he invests in Bitcoin, making enough to afford a two thousand-dollar gold chain.
We learn that their parents used to own a Hotel they all lived at, but their older cousin Isaac (David Choe) was selling “counterfeit” baby food from the location, which put Isaac in jail and caused their parents to lose the Hotel entirely and move back to South Korea. Since the Hotel closed, Danny has been unsuccessfully hustling to get his parents to move back to America. Any attempt he makes to succeed in his business fails. Eventually, with the help of his cousin Isaac, who’s fresh out of prison, Danny steals construction equipment to work on renovating a church that took out a bank loan to pay Danny, which he and his cousin Isaac pocket since they’re using stolen construction material.
Amy Lau (played by Ali Wong) is a small business owner who operates a plant-selling business called Kōyōhaus. After coming home from the road rage incident, her husband George (played by Joseph Lee) confronts her, and after a few minutes of them talking, I can tell neither of them is remotely close to being in a happy marriage. Amy may smile throughout the first episode, but it’s a mask that hides an anxiety-stricken, stressed-out soul who finds no solace in the weak support she receives from her own family. Of course, she has a judgmental mother-in-law, played by Patti Yasutake, who doesn’t help, and, as we later find out, is not at all perfect herself. There’s only one genuine smile from Amy that appears on her face at the end of the first episode, and it’s hilarious because it’s after she finds out Danny peed all over her bathroom.
The show’s creator Lee Sung Jin put together a cast of actors that brilliantly sold me on the series. Though, at times during some episodes, I kept thinking that the story could have worked out better as a film rather than span out over ten thirty-minute episodes. But the brilliance of the tenth episode titled “Figures of Light” could not have been done as well in a three-act film.
I recommend Beef to anyone because it basically has something for everyone living in our social media society: comedy, tragedy, action, and even moments of poetic, psychological, and existential philosophy. Actions have consequences, and our reactions to mistakes can define us for all the wrong reasons, but in the end, we all find ourselves. By the end of the series, Danny and Amy find their true selves, whether they like it or not.
I give Beef: 5/5