Lee Sung Jin
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh, or involve urgency, like chase scenes or other physical activity
“It is selfish for broken people to spread their…brokenness.”
Few experiences encapsulate displaced anger as clearly as road rage incidents. Whether they act on it or not, most people see a road rage incident in the news and can recall being that infuriated. I’ve always perceived this anger as being confined to that specific moment. Driving a vehicle is the most dangerous activity most of us ever do, and a close call due to someone’s negligence can bring that to the forefront of our minds. As I get older, I realize that the close call itself is likely the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes, frustration from our personal lives boils over, and we use a stranger who (in theory) we will never see again as the outlet. Cooler heads usually prevail, but every now and then pettiness wins. Danny (Steven Yeun, Blue Bayou) and Amy (Ali Wong, Big Mouth) in the new Netflix series Beef show us the catastrophic results of such an instance.
Beef’s inciting incident, a close call in a parking lot, serves as a gravitational pull into a game of one-upmanship for the two protagonists. After unsuccessfully attempting to return supplies to a department store, Danny nearly hits Amy’s SUV as he reverses out of his parking spot. She honks and flips him the bird before heading off. It is clearly the wrong day for Danny, who pursues her for no apparent reason other than sheer frustration. After a dangerous back-and-forth of trying to run each other off the road, they go their separate ways without having caught a glimpse of each other. Unbeknownst to either of them, the incident was caught on tape and goes viral. What ensues is a series of escalating pranks and sabotage attempts between the two that begin to involve loved ones, culminating in darker and darker consequences.
Danny and Amy play off each other perfectly, as they do not appear to have anything in common. Amy is a wealthy business owner in Calabasas with her own family, on the precipice of a deal that will make her even richer. Danny is a single, down-on-his-luck contractor taking care of his aimless younger brother Paul (Young Mazino, Fish Bones). He resents Amy’s financial status, profiling her and going on several tangents about what he assumes her background to be. As it turns out, they both have similar frustrations with how their lives are going. Danny is strapped for cash and cannot seem to impart his wisdom or work ethic onto Paul. Amy feels disconnected from her husband, her plant business and a wealthy potential investor (Maria Bello) that she must continually schmooze to win her over. The repressed anger and depression of both characters fuel their childish pranks and quests for vengeance on one another.
After a few episodes, Beef makes it obvious that the back-and-forth between Amy and Danny provides each with a strange catharsis. Even though they are both engaging in juvenile and, at times, criminal behavior, it grants them a departure from what is unsatisfactory about their personal lives. Their petty endeavors are not only selfish but eventually begin to put their loved ones in harm’s way. Neither of them is wise to the repercussions because they have gotten swept up in their own adrenaline rushes. In a way, Danny and Amy have developed a contentious, unorthodox romance.
Beef consists of a predominantly Asian cast, with Danny and Amy playing Korean characters while Amy’s husband is Japanese. The series differs from many others in its representations of such characters by allowing them to be individualistic, angry and petty. Often, Asian characters are depicted as docile and adhering to a collectivist mindset. For many decades, Asian-Americans have been referred to as the “model minority,” a back-handed compliment that subtly characterizes them as being subservient. Beef deliberately depicts Danny and Amy as selfish and fueled by an inner rage, showing that diverse representations do not always have to be based around positive attributes. The protagonists are not perfect, endearing or admirable; they’re simply flawed in a way that we are not used to seeing.
While not a TV series, the project most similar to Beef from a premise standpoint is the early 2000’s thriller Changing Lanes. Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck play two members of a road rage incident who let a feud develop between them. Though it does not hit on the same class, gender, or race differences as Beef, both involve flawed characters who let petty emotions take them down dark paths. The message in both stories is to always let go of your fleeting road rage before it devolves into a much bigger issue.
Or just Uber everywhere (shrug).