January 18, 2024
Trish Arab

"Beef" A Facinating and Dark Look into the Psyche of Mad America (3 minute read)

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It's taken me quite some time to think about how I wanted to word this review of the Netflix limited series "Beef," which has taken awards season by storm.  

Since I had just heard of the series when it cleaned up at the Golden Globes last week, I was able to go into it with only a vague understanding of the storyline and the awareness that the acting was incredible.  What I got after watching the series (10 - 30-minute episodes, that because of the intense nature of the topic, I preferred to watch in pairs over five days as opposed to binging) was one of the most introspective, anxiety-inducing yet still somehow funny and gratifying TV experiences I have ever had.

"Beef" sets the stage in an all too familiar "meet-cute" (or maybe we should call it a "meet-ugly"?) in a home improvement store called Forster's. 

Danny Cho (Steven Yeun), who dreams of making enough money to bring his hard-working parents back from Korea and letting them retire, is faced with the grim reality of trying to return multiple hibachi grills without a receipt.   We find out quickly that this isn't the first set of hibachis he has bought and returned, and the customer service guy was not inclined to be much help (I couldn't relate more to you, brother).

Danny, however, isn't just broke but broken.  His construction company has little to no work, his parents, who were forced to return to Korea because of the loss of their motel, are struggling, and Danny is left to support himself, and his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino).

At Forester's, Amy Lau (Ali Wong), the founder of Kōyōhaus, a bougie and extremely successful plant store, is in the final stages of closing an acquisition deal with Jordan Forster (Maria Bello), the head of Forster's for billions.  Amy is convinced that if she can sell Kōyōhaus and "retire" to spend more time with her artist stay-at-home husband George (Joseph Lee) and their daughter June (Remy Holt), she will finally have the happiness she has been searching for.  Jordan, however, only continues to string Amy along, indicating that the deal (if it were to happen) could take months more of due diligence by her team (and throws in one of many undertoned racist quips Amy's way assuming she's Chinese (Amy is Vietnamese) and in less plain words telling her that if she didn't "behave," Jordan would just go to China and get copies of her plants there.  Maria Bello plays this bitch perfectly, by the way.

These two seemingly different people leave the store and head to their cars (Amy, a slick Mercedes SUV; Danny, a beat-up pickup truck) and try to take in the disappointment and frustrations they are both feeling when each backs out simultaneously, nearly hitting the other.  One honks, the other honks back, some words are exchanged, and then something snaps in each of them, and what should have been nothing more than an irritating situation sets the stage for the most insane level of vengeance.  I was not ready for it.

How many times have I found myself in a similar situation?  Having a bad day, getting in my car and then having another drive pissed me off.  Lots of times.  How often have I wanted to change after the person, scare them off, or tell them off?  Lots of times.  The feelings that start the series are familiar to all of us - even as we learn more about our main characters, even if their actions weren't completely aligned with our personal stories, the feelings they have of regret, despair, unworthiness are all things we can relate to,  I think that's the main reason why no matter how crazy things got in this war, or even mildly unrealistic, the driving force of who these two people are at the core was so relatable and appealing you couldn't help but keep watching - most of the time, not even knowing who to "root" for, or how any of this could end well.

I'm not going to get into more detail than that - I've probably already said too much for anyone wanting to watch the show but not having done so yet.  Some final thoughts have come since watching, and then watching "Beef" cleans up once again at the Emmys.

  • I love the fact that not only is the "Beef" cast almost entirely Asian, but they can embrace their various cultures without being even remotely stereotypical (also all very sexy)

  • This is undoubtedly because of writer, creator, director Lee Sung Jin - who I am completely in love with now and need more information on ASAP; how did this man not have a Wikipedia page three days ago, created the idea of "Beef" from a real-life road rage experience he once found himself in.  

Go watch "Beef." You will agree with me once you do that this is Netflix's best series to date and worth all of the hype it's getting and then some.