This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s BeefIt is given that the inclusion of Ali Wong and Steven Yeun as the main characters of a show would result in an explosion of comedy, as these two come off as a diabolical duo. Netflix’s Beef achieves exactly that. It might seem like a simple watch that focuses on the everyday life of two Asians in America but, in reality, the show has so much to say. Of course, anything that is related to A24 is expected to result in making the viewers rethink a lot of things, and that is also why their productions have received such rave reviews.
One cannot expect anything less than brilliance from Beef. A major reason for this is the way in which the miniseries focuses on real issues. Yes, the show does make Asian-ness inherent to its plot and characters, but this does not prevent it from tapping into some universal issues. If you are looking for a show that ends up giving you something important, Beef is a must-watch.
A social hierarchy system might seem like an archaic social structure, but in reality, we all live in a society where the binaries of class are prevalent. Beef takes this to heart and is not afraid to vividly illustrate this class system we are all a part of. The stark difference between the two protagonists, Amy Lau (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven Yeun) is one way in which this is achieved. The former is seemingly so rich that she is obsessed with her house being so perfect.
The latter, on the other hand, is struggling to make ends meet. Their residences are a clear example of how different their lives are. So, it is very ironical when these two end up clashing with each other. Beef gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “when worlds collide”
Maria Bello’s character, Jordan, takes the forefront in representing this theme. Not only is Jordan a billionaire, but her lifestyle is pretty absurd. Her house is situated in the middle of nowhere. Her dinners are not only lavish, but they are represented in such a way that you are taken to a whole new world. The show is quite sarcastic about this particular character, simply because of how she comes off as “holier than thou”.
Jordan’s obsession with other foreign cultures, specifically that from Asia, is quite disturbing. Her house might even remind you of the British Museum and its “stolen goods tour” since she has a display of stolen artifacts, all headpieces from different countries. Funnily, she takes this obsession to a whole new level when she marries Naomi (Ashley Park). Her use of Naomi as a mere object is hard to ignore, as she is very ignorant of Naomi’s feelings.
Obviously, if a story centers around America, the theme of capitalism is hard to ignore. Jordan’s wealth stems from her company, Forsters, as well as Amy’s start-up business, which caters to rich people, which are the best examples. What is interesting about the way in which Beef approaches this theme is that they use Danny’s character to show the effects of capitalism.
Danny’s struggle with buying a house and running his business shows how many low opportunities are there for a certain class of people. “Those who thrive will thrive” seems to be a key message the show focuses on.
As the show continues, we are given glimpses of Amy’s childhood. It is then revealed that, unlike her husband, George Nakai (Joseph Lee), Amy does not come from a well-off family. She built herself up. The show hints a lot at her childhood trauma, especially by bringing in a strange creature who is watching Amy.
It is an interesting reminder of how such childhood traumas can be carried on to adulthood, in turn, impacting one’s life. This incorporation comes with a bit of sadness, which gives the viewers more emotional elements to grapple with.
This might seem like a trivial element included in the show, but when looked at closely, Beef has a strong statement on the debate of guns. At one point, we see Amy pleasuring herself with her gun. Even though it might come off as a strange scene, it might be hinting at people’s obsession with firearms. It is sad to see how something so destructive and violent is handled with so much ignorance, and that is exactly what Beef shows with Amy’s weird “relationship” with her gun.
Art plays a significant role throughout the show. The title cards act as a hinting out of what the episodes entail. Within the show, there is also a criticism of “fine art”. The way in which the Nakai family’s artistic creation impacts their lives is quite interesting. On one hand, George’s vases are criticized while his father’s legacy of chairs is looked at and appreciated but never sat on.
Then there’s Fumi’s (Patti Yasutake) constant comments on the lack of beauty in Amy’s house. All these point to the fact that art fails to give the comfort it is supposed to simply because people have preconceived notions of what art should be. In reality, art is subjective. Funnily enough, Amy’s graphics on Danny’s car can also be perceived as art, and it gives her more comfort than the Nakai family’s chairs.
“Western therapy doesn’t work for Eastern minds”
One of the best lines of the show. Danny points this out to George when they are hanging out. On one hand, we have Danny who refuses to accept he has depression and suicidal thoughts and on the other, we have George, a white-washed-Asian, trying to rely on therapy instead of being honest about his feelings. The show heavily criticizes the way many Asians tend to ignore their mental health. At the same time, the show also emphasizes the difference between the East and the West.
Facade of a “Perfect Family”
The Nakai family is seemingly perfect. A happy couple with a beautiful daughter and, not to forget, extremely wealthy. However, in reality, each has their own issues and there is a very clear lack of communication between Amy and George. It is as if the two are leading double lives.
Amy’s “beef” with Danny acts as a source of happiness while George’s relationship with Mia, Amy’s employee, acts as an escape from the lack of emotions he finds in his relationship. This ultimately causes a huge rupture within the family. It is interesting to see how Beef uses an Asian family to focus on the bottling up of emotions and the hiding of one’s true self.
We are all lonely, and that is something Beef tries to tell us. Yes, it is sad but at the end of the day, it is the truth. Almost all the characters in the show are finding it difficult to build genuine human connections. That is why they end up faking their happiness and leading double lives. However, Danny and Amy seem to have broken this curse by the end of the show.
Their “beef” ends up allowing them to develop a genuine connection that is simply based on their shared experiences and feelings. In a way, Beef‘s beautiful ending is a reminder of how genuine human connections can help us be less lonely.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb