Opening with a road rage incident between Amy Lau’s (Ali Wong) white SUV and Danny Cho’s (Steven Yeun) ragged truck, the new A24-Netflix show urges its audience to cry out, “It’s so relatable!” The finale, however, lands in a jarringly alien world of fantasy. Crows chatter on a moonlit branch, the two protagonists vent in hallucination, and a gun is pointed—the very gun Amy masturbated with before being interrupted by her first encounter with Danny.
“You’re born, you make choices, and suddenly you’re here,” Danny sighs. “Great summary,” Amy sneers. No, life does not happen miraculously like that. The two end up alone in the middle of nowhere, lying in the ruins of a kidnap-to-robbery melodrama, because the show is incapable of making them converse as sane, socially-engaged humans. Their endless stream of regret and sorrow and cynicism only comes to light when total seclusion forces them into honest self-confrontations. Beef lets Amy recount her childhood after staring at a painted witchy face as her own in the mirror. The crooked witch looms from little Amy’s picture book, declares her unworthy of love, then smiles with bleakly white cheeks, a giant hooked nose, and lips blackened as if by fresh-dried blood. This thriller scene only haunts Amy for one episode, like a disposable vape quickly tossed after a few puffs, in order to make room for newer, buzzier flavors.
Beef pieces genres together as if it is a jigsaw puzzle—outright realism hooks the audience, violent melodrama handles the adrenaline, disquieting thriller decodes the past, and forlorn fantasy culminates in the denouement. This strategy has succeeded before, most recently in the Oscar sweep of A24’s hot pot of genres, Everything Everywhere All at Once. What differentiates Beef from these flagships is that the puzzle pieces hardly fit.
If a genre works well, why not keep its presence consistent in the show? If the daily experience of vacuous loneliness draws the audience, why not tell a story fully grounded in reality? If piecing genres together provides the easy way out whenever a conflict threatens to veer off the rails, where can innovation emerge in the artistic language of storytelling? Beef’s intermittent genre changes create an eerily decorated Christmas tree, colorful but nothing merry.