Grudges consume everyone in Beef, the new Netflix series starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun as people locked in an escalating feud. Indulging a series of increasingly deranged and petty revenge fantasies — road rage, suspected arson, an (accidental) kidnapping — seems to be the only way the characters know how to cope with life’s mundane annoyances and deeper disappointments, from a near fender bender to emotionally unavailable parents. All of this is set inside an extremely accurate depiction of the self-seriousness and pretension of the art-and-design world — a solipsistic billionaire’s Brutalist mansion in Simi Valley and a sterile gallery space. Beef has design beef.
Wong is Amy, a successful small-business owner who sells plants in terra-cotta pots at her store, Kōyōhaus, which is really selling a Zen lifestyle targeted to the Moon Juice set. Her luxurious home, in Calabasas, is Kinfolk incarnate — an aspirationally minimalist space with stucco walls, concrete kitchen counters, and earth-toned furniture. But Amy’s dream house actually owns her, not the other way around. It’s a reflection of her social ambitions and debilitating perfectionism, which begin to crack just as her plumbing springs a leak. She is consumed with anger after Yeun’s Danny — a struggling contractor she flipped off in a parking lot, leading to a car chase — pees all over her bathroom floor. (“It’s European oak!”) It’s not the only time the too-perfect house is marred by the messier realities of family life. June (Remy Holt), the daughter of Amy and her husband, George (Joseph Lee), eats too much chocolate and throws up in the living room. As George scrapes her puke off an otherwise pristine white-wool carpet, he tells her, “When Daddy feels sick, he vomits on the wood floor.” (Then he accidentally flings a hunk of it onto Amy’s face.)
Gloopy ceramics are also a subject of Beef’s withering attention. The trend, with its blistery surfaces, has consumed collectible pottery for the past ten years, from Seth Rogen’s ashtrays to the Met. “It looks like herpes poo-pooed!” says a thief who breaks into Amy and George’s house looking for expensive items to steal. George — in the shadow of his father, Haru — wants to be a great sculptor, but his mother, Fumi, doesn’t think highly of his work, and Amy openly hates it. Beef’s production team made his ceramics specially for the show and imagined what George would do “if he had Play-Doh in his hands.”
In Beef, characters mistake their tastes for a certain kind of virtue, but of course, it’s a commodity. Amy is on the verge of selling Kōyōhaus for a cool $10 million to Maria Bello’s Jordan Forster, a billionaire collector who wants to buy the Tamago, a chair that George’s late father made from green stone. There’s a small indentation on the seat that’s supposedly modeled after Fumi’s backside — a potently funny and personal detail. George is emotionally attached to the chair and doesn’t want to sell it, which jeopardizes Amy’s deal. Jordan is shocked that she can’t just name a price and wants it even more after George declines her offer. She wants it because it is rare. Eventually, George gives in, siding with Amy about how maintaining their lifestyle is more important than keeping an object that makes him feel closer to his family. In the tug of war with the Tamago, status trumps sentimentality. But it hardly matters in the end: The chair ultimately becomes a weapon chucked at Jordan in a botched home invasion.
Jordan is a megalomaniac collector who’s obsessed with owning everything, including cultural artifacts she had to repatriate to their home countries. She lives in a Brutalist mansion somewhere in the hills around Los Angeles (which was actually filmed at House of the Book, a performance hall at the American Jewish University in Brandeis, California) complete with a panic room that she flees to during a home invasion while being chased. An old design joke is that only evil people live in modernist homes. Meanwhile, only the very rich and paranoid build panic rooms. Jordan happens to be both. But before she can get inside, her girlfriend shuts its steel doors, violently crushing her body over and over again. In Beef, architecture gets retribution too.