Netflix's Beef is a modern day Fight Club, and absolute mandatory viewing.
BEEF SERIES PREMIERE REVIEW SCORE
The Beef premiere, including its entire Season 1, dropped on Netflix this week and if you’ve sworn off television for some reason, break whatever sacred oaths you’ve taken and stream it now. Beef is darkly funny, it’s surprisingly effecting, and it constantly feels like something that’s more important to see than any other TV series that has or will come out this year. Like 1999’s Fight Club, it’s a story about tearing down the veils society imposes and getting “real.”
Beef stars Ali Wong (Always Be My Maybe) as the tightly wound and affluent Amy, while Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) is Danny — a struggling contractor and handyman who finds himself penniless after his parents lose their motel. The Beef premiere opens with Danny humiliated by a cashier and goes right to the inciting event: Amy and Danny just narrowly escaping what would’ve probably been a relatively minor fender-bender, and quickly escalating things.
Before the Beef premiere has ended, Danny has tracked down Amy’s home and delivers the next strike in what will wind up being a long and obsessive duel between them. Amy catfishes Danny’s younger brother over Instagram for days with no clear goal in sight, while Danny goes so far over the line he comes frighteningly close to unintentionally killing Amy’s daughter.
What will attract you to check out the Beef premiere is the insane conflict between Amy and Danny, but the meat (no pun intended, but nevertheless accepted and embraced) of the series is found in the relationships between the leads and the people in their lives. Danny preaches motivation and business savvy to his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino), who is doing just fine without much effort. He treats the same cousin Isaac (David Choe) who made his parents penniless as a confidant, in spite of the cousin slowly taking ownership over everything Danny has.
Meanwhile Amy feels trapped in a passionless marriage with George (Joseph Lee), and is lost in her negotiations with the eccentric and flighty Jordan (Maria Bello).
This is what makes the Beef premiere, and everything that comes after, feel like mandatory viewing. The series is ultimately about relationships and what you soon come to realize is that in spite of its obsessive and destructive nature, the vengeful game between Amy and Danny is the only genuine relationship either one of them has.
Danny and Isaac constantly dance around the latter’s culpability in the former’s current situation. Almost every conversation between the two includes a complaint from Isaac that his cousin wants him to get to the point without preamble. Similarly, Jordan seems much more concerned with the faux “friendship” she’s building with Amy, at one point even lecturing Wong’s character about how business is supposedly done more leisurely in China.
The Beef premiere, and the series overall, is filled with people who refuse to be honest about what they want. But between Amy and Danny there is no preamble, no social niceties, and no pretense. They each want nothing from one another but payback, nothing but pain for one another, and they’re always dangerously honest about it.
That’s what renders Beef a modern-day Fight Club. Amy and Danny’s acts of revenge upon one another give them the same catharsis that the characters of David Fincher’s classic feel after going a few bloody rounds with another club member. That’s why after Amy ruins Danny’s night out by vandalizing his car, she seems as calm and serene as if she had a morphine drip attached.
All the performances of the Beef are top notch. I’ll be honest; I’m not overly familiar with Steven Yeun’s work. When people eat other people, I go elsewhere, so I’ve watched precious little The Walking Dead, but if Beef doesn’t premiere the performance of Yeun’s career, then clearly I need to put my cannibalism issues aside and watch more of his stuff. In particular a scene in which Danny, at the end of his rope, goes back to the kind of church he used to attend when he was younger is shockingly effecting.
The Beef premiere, along with the entire first season, is streaming on Netflix right now.