Type keyword(s) to search


Netflix’s Beef Harnesses the Volcanic Chemistry of Ali Wong and Steven Yeun

The black comedy from A24 is an escalating war of mutual destruction.
  • Steven Yeun and Ali Wong in Beef (Photo: Netflix)
    Steven Yeun and Ali Wong in Beef (Photo: Netflix)

    Most drivers have felt a flash of anger when another motorist cuts them off, but that’s usually where the drama stops. In Beef, what ought to be a brief moment of frustration quickly escalates into a months-long cycle of revenge, as the Netflix black comedy explores the aftermath of a road rage incident gone completely off the rails.

    Created by Silicon Valley writer Lee Sung Jin, the show’s titular beef is between strangers Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong), who find themselves in an obsessive game of cat and mouse, with each character switching places as the hunter and the hunted. It all begins quite simply: Danny nearly backs into Amy’s SUV at a hardware store, and she responds by blaring her horn and flipping her middle finger. It’s more than enough to set him off, and he nearly gets them both killed as he chases her through Los Angeles traffic. Neither sees the other’s face, but the sequence ends with Amy speeding home as Danny furiously memorizes her license plate. It's the catalyst for an escalating war of mutually assured destruction.

    Spurred by an all-consuming desire to get the upper hand, the duo’s feud quickly becomes a cathartic release of the unhappiness plaguing their personal lives. The series delivers an often comical series of confrontations, such as Danny urinating all over Amy’s bathroom and Amy painting profanities on Danny’s truck. It’s easier for them to blame each other for their problems, and it’s clear their rivalry distracts them from the void of helplessness hiding underneath their childish pranks.

    Despite their shared misbehavior, however, the two initially seem quite different. Danny is a failing contractor struggling to make ends meet as he looks after his aimless younger brother Paul (Young Mazino) while attempting to move his immigrant parents back to America. Meanwhile, Amy is a wealthy entrepreneur longing to stay at home with her husband George (Joseph Lee) and daughter June (Remy Holt). This class disparity is certainly a prominent theme, as evidenced by their contrasting goals. Whereas Amy can relax comfortably on the top floor of a luxury Vegas hotel, Danny has to steal from his church just to secure a loan for his parents’ house.

    But Beef is not a show solely about class divisions, as Danny and Amy suffer from similar pressures and expectations, both internal and external. Danny is wracked with guilt about his role in his parents’ problems, not to mention his looming debt to his cousin Isaac (David Choe), who is fresh out of prison. Amy forcefully smiles through racist microaggressions from her potential business partner Jordan Forster (Maria Bello) and unwanted remarks about her marriage from her mother-in-law, Fumi (Patti Yasutake). The show argues that, regardless of socioeconomic status, these two characters harbor striking parallels that the other fails to see when blinded by their initial rage. There isn’t a clear hero or villain, and the lines between Danny and Amy get blurrier as the episodes progress.

    The show’s blend of absurd comedy and quiet drama is held together by a pair of remarkable performances by Yeun and Wong. Yeun embodies Danny’s pent-up emotions with the subtlest of facial expressions, holding his frustrations in like a ticking time-bomb. During a moving scene set at a Korean-American church, the camera focuses on Danny as he breaks down in tears, finally allowing himself to release some of the burden he’s been holding in for so long. This glimpse of Danny’s vulnerability offers insight into his identity as a first-born son, a second-generation immigrant, and a sole provider for his family. It becomes impossible not to empathize with his struggle for air.

    Wong is equally illuminating as Amy, suppressing all of her discontent beneath a tight-lipped grimace. Every time she tries to voice her loneliness to her husband, she is met with a naive ignorance that puts her on pause. There’s a tortured pain behind her eyes, and this layer of her psyche is clarified in an episode detailing her disappointing childhood. Prior to Beef, Wong has been known as a comedian thanks to her raunchy stand-up specials to her animated sitcom Tuca and Bertie. Here, she flexes her dramatic chops and delivers one of her best performances to date.

    The series loses momentum in the final two episodes of the season, steering into a sensationalistic conclusion that distracts from the central conflict. Still, it maintains the dynamic between Danny and Amy, and the finale finds a surreal but effective way to explore the existential depth of their relationship. That is where the show truly finds its heart. In the midst of the chaos and tonal shifts, Beef is ultimately a series about two people who develop a deep connection, whether they want it or not.

    Beef Season 1 premieres April 6th on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums

    Dianna Shen is a TV Writer at Primetimer based in New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine and Decider, among other outlets.

    TOPICS: Beef, Netflix, Ali Wong, Lee Sung Jin, Steven Yeun, A24