Did you ever want to really take revenge on someone out of pure rage but didn’t go ahead with that decision? BEEF takes the road less traveled, unraveling a whole world where revenge is best served raw. Netflix’s latest offering by Lee Sung Jin, BEEF (under A24 productions), follows the lives of Danny Cho and Amy Lau as they get into a road rage incident in the midst of spiralling into chaos within their own lives.
The show is fast-paced, unnervingly thrilling and knows very well where its soft moments lie. It has already garnered critical acclaim from critics and audiences alike as being the best new show of the year. It is also one of the best shows in a while with superb acting, writing and production, made better by the fact that it’s an original show that’s not an adaptation.
We’re All Tired: Identity and Mental Health
BEEF delves into identity crises at multiple levels – as the characters’ familiar roles of mother or brother or children on a personal level, with their ethnic identity in relation to making connections with their family/community, and with their own position in the world. It’s a particularly difficult journey because our protagonists are dealing with serious mental health issues, and there seems to be hardly anyone who’s willing to understand them. They aren’t willing to help themselves either. This boils down to situations where many characters resort to crime.
Through all the tough decisions or decisions made on a whim, we can easily see the stress and the feeling of not knowing anything at all on both Danny and Amy’s faces, thanks to the career-best performances by Ali Wong and Steven Yeun. It’s a particularly difficult task to talk about the show without spoiling anything, and it’s also a disservice to its viewers to spoil it for them and rob them of the chance to see the show with minimal context to it.
The finale of the show might just be the best episode of the year (in good company with The Last of Us’ Episode 3 A Long, Long Time and Succession’s Season 4 Episode 3 Connor’s Wedding). The finale’s tone is unmatched with the rest of the season, with multiple moments signalling that this might be “it” for the series. Right from the opening scene in the parking lot between Danny and Amy, to the unraveling of their growing up, to the disastrous implications of decisions that could have been easily avoided, we see a moment of calm. In a thematic way, the last episode is the answer to Amy’s constant worry about being tired all the damn time and having no time for herself and for Danny to leave everything behind for a moment.
Art, Value and Meaning-Making
With media like The White Lotus, The Menu, Fresh andThe Triangle of Sadness, there’s already a lot of comical emphasis on what actually happens in the lives of the 1%. And BEEF adds hilariously to that trope but doesn’t keep it as a central focus. When Jordan says, “That’s everything in this house,” in response to a robbery, it points to how money in itself is crucial to the plot. Not just in the financial way, but as a way to get a better life, and maybe with it, some peace and rest. The shocking clash in the penultimate episode of the show is all about to what extent money can save you, and its intersection with art and how to make money off it.
Whether Art is meaningless is a question that has been pondered for long, with one of the best analyses done by Abigail Thorn. BEEF takes up this question as we follow Amy’s relationship with her stay at home husband George, who’s also the son of a much acclaimed artist. Several scenes emphasize on the meaning of art, and also the sculpture work done by George himself. Another peculiar fact is the title card illustrations where each episode begins with an eye-catching painting full of popping colors that matches its tone. Netflix even did a whole article on the meaning behind the title card illustrations, George’s sculptures, the 65 chair exhibit, and Jordan’s house.
When To Let Go? Can We Ever?
In the second last episode, the most explosive of the series, there’s a dialogue that mentions zugzwang – the point in chess where you have to make a move and every move is a loss. Life is sometimes like that, especially for the characters of Danny and Amy as we see their life from their childhood to adulthood to where they are now and how life has treated them. There is discussion around the theme of suicide, infidelity, and a particularly memorable scene of masturbating with a gun (hinting towards shame).
The confrontation scenes in the show are marvelous from start to finish, being both fun and shockingly dark at many points. It all ends with the finale of the series, where we as viewers eagerly want to know if these two broken souls can break each other further to their truest selves. The show also taps into what can be considered as experiences we all go through in the current state of the world. There are times when our general annoyance at so many things in life ends up being projected upon an unfortunate person for a completely unrelated incident. The worst part is when it impacts people like our friends and family through no fault of their own, and that is where BEEF hits the bullseye.
Verdict: BEEF is the dark comedy/drama of the year which you just cannot miss – it’s full of bonkers moments centered around rage and angst with raw performances (and surprisingly tender moments) from Ali Wong and Steven Yeun. The fast paced show is one hell of a ride of the consequences of two strangers’ impulsive actions and reactions from a road rage which leads to an unfortunate finish amidst some moments of peace and quiet.
BEEF is currently streaming on Netflix, and is scheduled to have two more seasons to wrap up the plot.