Beef TV series posterSee how the pilot of the Golden Globe and Emmy winning series Beef hits the Save the Cat! story beats!

Created by: Lee Sung Jin

S1 E1: “The Birds Don’t Sing, They Scream in Pain”

The World: A black comedy/nightmare version of striving for the American Dream in the mean streets of Koreatown and chichi lanes of Calabasas, Los Angeles.

Franchise Type: Buddy Love, aka, A Match Made in Hell

Pilot Episode Genre: Trapped Together

Platform: A Netflix A24 Production

TV Genre: Comedy/Limited Series (possibly an anthology series, if renewed)

Story DNA:
Heroes: Danny, a Korean-American man drowning in debt and family troubles, and Amy, a successful Chinese-American woman who masks her anguish with a shiny smile
Goal: To gain control over their lives
Obstacle: Families, money issues, and their own broken compasses
Stakes: Their livelihoods, and ultimately, their very lives

Opening Image: More of an attention-grabbing Opening Sequence than a single image, we begin with a close-up of Danny Cho’s (Steven Yeun) miserable face as he waits in an interminable line at Forster’s, a home improvement store, and then is shamed by the cashier for not having his receipt ready for a product return. Danny swallows his rage, stalks to his beat-up truck, and tries to calm down. But while backing out of his parking place, he nearly hits a white SUV and the driver (whom we do not see) lays on the horn for a verrrry long time, followed by a middle finger salute.

Danny looking back out of his car window
Danny, backing into trouble

Danny immediately leans into his broken compass by choosing (and justifying) his own road rage; he takes off after the SUV, cursing a blue streak, and escalates the situation into a destructive car chase that nearly gets him killed. The rousing Opening Sequence ends with revealing the mystery driver—the tiny, bespectacled Asian-American Amy Lau (Ali Wong)—and a smash cut to title card, “BEEF”, superimposed over a garish illustration of a slaughterhouse.

Amy behind the wheel in her sedan
Amy, not smiling

Theme Stated: As Danny tries to put on his seatbelt, his agitated, jerky motion causes the belt to jam—a small annoyance that speaks volumes. Through gritted teeth, Danny spits out, “It’s always fucking something.” The series arc of Beef promises to deliver a funhouse mirror of life—those seasons we all endure at times—when indignity after indignity is piled on with no relief in sight and, truth be told, we’re causing much of the chaos ourselves.

Set-Up: Amy Lau, still shaky from both her wild ride and the event that preceded it—trying, yet again, to secure the sale of her business to the owner of Forster’s, Jordan Forster (Maria Bello)—attempts to have an honest moment with her relentlessly upbeat husband, George Nakai (Joseph Lee). She ventures to share how overwhelming her life is, but as her anger rises over the road rage incident, George interrupts, “Maybe we should start doing the gratitude journals again.” Amy resorts to her broken compass, swallowing down her emotion and faking a big, shiny smile; we will only see the genuine side of Amy when she’s with her 5-year old daughter, June.

Danny Cho, a struggling contractor, returns to his tiny apartment in Koreatown, where he lives with his much younger brother, Paul, a mid-20s ne’er-do-well who plays video games and trades crypto all day long. Danny’s rant about the “guy” who honked at him turns into a character-revealing diatribe against the world and how “they want you to feel like you have no control.” And in sly nod to Amy’s things that need fixing, “I’m so sick of smiling!”

The promise and story engine of this series will be the increasing confluence of these two wildly broken and fascinating characters, a genre journey that will be, at turns, thriller, comedy, tragedy, and love story.

Catalyst: Danny receives a call from his parents in Korea, where they had to return after the failure of their motel in America. As they mercilessly guilt-trip Danny for not providing for them, Paul appears, bragging that he’s wearing a neck chain he purchased for two grand. At Amy’s home, George asks her to sell his latest sculpture at her plant/design store, Kōyōhaus, and the sheer butt-ugliness of the piece strikes Amy at her very core.

Debate: Danny lays into Paul about how he makes his money and Paul counters with accusing Danny of causing their parents to lose the motel in the first place by allowing their criminal cousin Isaac to run his “shady shit” there. Danny burns with shame and impotence; unable to strike back in any meaningful way, he insists that Paul turn over all his crypto passwords.

At Kōyōhaus, Amy agonizes over whether to display George’s sculpture at a time when she’s trying to land the sale of her business, all the while fielding comments from employees and customers about her “perfect” life.

Break into Two: Danny charges into his work with renewed fervor (read: desperation), negotiating a job trimming trees for a client, even though it’s painfully obvious he has no idea what he’s doing. Amy stands up to her snobbish mother-in-law, Fumi, reminding her and George that she’s the only breadwinner in the family.

Fun and Games: Danny and Amy go for the full-court press with their respective business deals; Danny scores a promise of a cash influx from Isaac, who is recently out of prison, and Amy scores an almost/kinda/sorta promise of a deal from Jordan Forster. The determination of our two heroes is a sight to behold, as they grovel, wheedle, and passive-aggressively demand their due, flaunting both their steel backbones and broken compasses for all the world to see.

B Story: The A Story of this series will be the “beef” between Danny and Amy, but their fraught relationships with their extended families provide a rich B Story that crosses, causes, and loops through the increasingly insane main storyline.

Midpoint: Just when it appears that Amy and Danny are on track to finally have a win in their respective endeavors (false victories), both are individually distracted by an ominous horn beep from a random car passing by. Creator Lee Sung Jin will use this type of allegorical smack-down repeatedly throughout the series, brilliantly reeling in his audience again and again.

Bad Guys Close In: Unnerved by the beeping horn, Danny falls out of the tree he’s pretending to trim; he survives, but is humiliated and gets fired. Just as Amy is about to celebrate her deal, Jordan casually mentions “due diligence,” the thorough vetting that Amy’s life will receive prior to a signed contract, and Amy realizes her episode of road rage could come to light.

All Is Lost: As Danny compulsively binges Burger King and tries to put a bid on a property for his parents, Paul’s crypto account bottoms out and Danny almost pukes up his BK fries. Amy sneaks out of her bed in the middle of the night and tries to get into the family safe for her clandestine stress relief (um, masturbating with a gun, anyone?), but is thwarted as George has changed the combination.

Dark Night of the Soul: Despondent and self-pitying, Danny tries to commit suicide by lighting a bunch of stolen gas grills and breathing in the carbon monoxide. At Junie’s bedside, Amy weeps as she recalls the one time she was happy and at peace, just after June was born and there was a time of “no meetings, no emails… no pretending.”

Break into Three: You can’t keep these heroes down for long, especially when it comes to bravely forging ahead guided by their broken compasses. Danny decides he’s not ready to die and instead looks up the license plate number of the road rage dude; he’s going to take control back of his life if it kills him (or the other guy). And Amy is not about to let anyone steal her little self-care practice; she figures out the combination for the safe.

Five Point Finale:
Gathering the Team: As Amy happily prepares to pistolbate (yes, we made up that word and are proud of it), Danny spends the $79.99 required to get the address connected to the license plate number of his nemesis.

Executing the Plan: Amy does the dirty deed as Danny drives the streets of Calabasas on his hunt to kick some road rage ass. He manages to gain entry to Amy’s home by posing as a concerned contractor that spotted issues with her remodel, for which Amy is grateful, despite the gunnus interruptus.

High-Tower Surprise: Danny realizes that it wasn’t Amy’s husband who drove the white SUV, but Amy herself.

Execution of the New Plan: Thwarted in his ass-kicking plan, Danny does the next best thing: he asks to use the facilities, urinates all over the toilet, rug, and floor, and runs away, giggling like a schoolboy. Enraged, Amy chases him to his truck, where she quickly memorizes his license plate number, a fun callback to the beginning brouhaha.

Final Image: The whiff of change is more like a stiff wind; Amy and Danny have finally found worthy opponents to exert control over and their delight is palpable. We close on Amy’s face as it shifts from rage to, for once, a genuine smile. Oh, it is on, people; the BEEF is on.