It takes a certain strength of stomach to tune in to Beef, the new Netflix series starring Steven Yeun and comedian Ali Wong. The characters these two play, to put it bluntly, are mad as hell, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Ignited by a road-rage incident that involves them both, they erupt into a conflagration of aggression, directing their ire at the villain they have made the other out to be. Subsequent perceived slights (or obvious attacks) are met with escalating retaliation, leading to a domino effect of bad decisions. If some entertainment (think Analyze This or The Office) can make for an uncomfortable watch by invoking a visceral awkwardness, this show offers an even more heightened form of visceral viewing. It made my skin crawl—and I couldn’t turn away.
Beef begins when a down-and-out contractor, Danny Cho (played by a truly amazing Yeun), almost backs his pickup truck into the luxury SUV driven by Amy Lau (Wong) in the parking lot of a Home Depot–like supply store. It’s an experience most of us have had, and most of us will recognize the fiery surge of fury that such an encounter can elicit: How dare you, anonymous idiot behind your killing machine of a vehicle, threaten my well-being?! That kind of interaction was also the subject of a brilliant recent SNL skit with Quinta Brunson, parodying the antics involved when people yell at one another from within the hermetically sealed compartments of their cars. Not to be too much of a downer, but this sort of isn’t a laughing matter: Road-rage incidents (including ones that result in shootings) have been up dramatically in recent years. Chalk it up to the long antisocial tail of the pandemic, but many of us, it seems, are teetering at the edge.