Netflix's Beef Puts Asian American Experiences At the Forefront of Entertainment
Netflix's Beef fantastically depicts the internal fight between classism, culture, and mental health.
Beef premiered on Netflix on April 6th and quickly skyrocketed to one of the streaming service's most-watched tv shows. Beef is a dark comedy and psychological thriller starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong as adversaries after a road rage incident. The ten-episode season shows the pair's year-long feud escalate from petty pranks to increasingly dangerous situations.
When Yeun's character, Daniel Cho, fails to return some hibachi grills, he hops into his beat-up old pickup truck, smacks the steering wheel, yells some profanities, and tries to pull out of the parking spot. At the same time, Wong's character, Amy Lau, was driving out of the parking lot in a luxury white SUV and honked for far too long to prevent Danny from hitting her car. Before pulling out of the lot, she stops and sticks her middle finger out the window for Danny to see, leading to a chaotic and destructive car chase as the start of their feud.
Initially, this obsession with one another feels like machismo and classism. Danny is bothered that some guy in a nice car bested him. When telling his brother, Paul (Young Mazino), in their crappy motel apartment, Danny changes the story to make himself look better. In her newly renovated suburban home, Amy doesn't even get the chance to tell her husband before he completely shuts her down, telling her to focus on the positive. The sight of their homes and differing relationships with their loved ones set the stage for each to release some stress. Amy can act out in a way that her husband won't allow her to, and Danny can prove to his brother that he is a man worth looking up to despite their financial situation.
Part of what makes the show so original is the distinct Asian perspective. Not only are all but one of the characters Asian, but many of the people behind the scenes are Asian as well. This level of representation means each character has a fully realized personality with distinct backgrounds rooted in actual lived experiences. Amy Lau is a first-generation Chinese and Vietnamese American with a strained relationship with her parents and therefore feels like an inefficient wife and mother. Daniel Cho is the oldest son of a Korean American family who used to own a motel but has since fallen into hard times because of his cousin's illegal endeavors on the property.
However, the show's representation is much more nuanced, not necessarily putting a spotlight on their ethnicity. Despite some blink-and-you'll-miss moments that only resonate with the Asian community, the central couple could've been of a different race, and it wouldn't have mattered to the story. That's part of what makes this show so unique—creating characters whose entire storyline doesn't revolve around their culture.
That's not to say their culture doesn't play a pivotal role in the character's arcs. When referring to therapy, Danny says, "Western medicine doesn't work on Eastern minds." Danny doesn't confide in anyone despite struggling to feel like enough because his efforts aren't getting him where he wants to be. Amy meets with a therapist but holds back in fear of judgment. Despite reaching society's version of success, she admits nowhere has felt like home. It isn't until the two of them are stranded on the side of a cliff, injured, dehydrated, hungry, and high off wild berries, that these two eastern minds expose their true selves. These characters then become examples of the mental health issues that arise when growing up with traditional values and model minority stereotypes.
Beef delicately dances between the struggles of classism, culture, and mental health while continuously raising the stakes in an entertaining and anxiety-inducing and entertaining way.