I must admit that when I added “Beef” to my Netflix “to watch” list, I genuinely thought I was saving a cooking show that would explore the complexities of the meat industry. I quickly realized the show delved into a deeper kind of “Beef,” the kind that catapults you into an endless pursuit of revenge.
“Beef” recently aired on the streaming platform and was met with positive reviews that secured its position in Netflix’s top 10 for days. The dark comedy explores the beef between struggling contractor Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and successful self-entrepreneur Amy Lau (Ali Wong) — two strangers whose lives are quickly intertwined after a road rage altercation.
The wrath between both characters is all-encompassing. Viewers are invited to witness how their feud escalates from a common altercation at a parking lot to a life-threatening chase. Both characters waste no time putting their lives on the line to achieve retribution.
But what makes the show so good is its in-depth study of the complexity of anger and the results of outwardly expressing our feelings within our current cultural landscape. “Beef” is a dramatized example of how repressed feelings can manifest themselves.
In 2023, it’s fair to say people are angry. We constantly see it on the news. A dramatic road rage incident, a customer being rude to a restaurant worker or an arbitrary outburst at a supermarket, all evidence that pent-up anger is everywhere. “Beef” takes these examples and uses them as inspiration to create a captivating storyline, capturing the anger-inducing reality we live in.
Each character is unhappy in their own way. Danny, is a hard-working contractor who is saving money to buy a house for his Korean parents — but continuously falls short as both his business and family are hanging by a thread. Amy, conversely, is outwardly successful but unsatisfied internally.
The characters meet precisely as they are approaching the brink of a total mental breakdown, which makes the short road rage much more explosive. Cue to 10 episodes of Amy and Danny on a revenge trip through the Los Angeles suburbs.
We have to deal with our emotions internally while appearing unaffected by the outward world, a heavy expectation to carry. While for some, therapy and balanced processing of emotions is enough to assuage boiling rage, for Amy and Danny, therapy looks like peeing on floors, vandalizing cars, sleeping with each other’s family members, unknowingly kidnapping daughters, crashing into each other and falling from a hill.
It may seem extreme, but some of those examples are not that far-fetched from what we do see. While it’s not the recommended response to anger, Amy and Danny’s reaction symbolizes the force of suppressed anger that, when ignored for too long and finally let out, can be volatile.
But “Beef” also alludes to the idea of finding purpose and consequent happiness through this plunge into anger. By allowing their individual rage to boil from subtle and controlled to violent and literally car-crashing, both Amy and Danny are able to do what many of us feel incapable of — brazenly expressing ourselves.
During the final episodes, both characters find themselves needing each other’s assistance after the car crash, and they finally appear somewhat at peace. After ingesting some questionable berries and diving into a psychedelic trip, both characters can finally lower their façades and express their frustration with life.
Throughout the series, we see Danny seeking ways to literally eat his troubles away — like stress eating several Burger King chicken sandwiches — and fill some of the emptiness he feels with his unfulfilling life. Amy masters the fake smile as she plows through several egocentric characters to achieve her professional goals and find meaning.
But in the final chapter, as Amy and Danny finally confront their feelings and express themselves, they both are happy — even though Amy will probably have to deal with a messy divorce and Danny will need to mend the broken relationship with his brother.
Both characters are finally happy because even though their outward existence might seem complicated, at least internally, there is some quiet at last.