TV Review: Beef
Published 5:00 pm Friday, April 14, 2023
I have been obsessed with the A24/Netflix series BEEF since I first saw it in January. A group chat with two of my best friends has pretty much revolved around us discussing the series for the last several months, excited for others to see it. Going into the series knowing nothing, I was shocked when it quickly became one of the best pilots I have seen. It is one of those shows that will stick with you and make you keep thinking about the episodes weeks after you’ve watched. It’s hard to perfect the right tone of a dark comedy, but from the pilot’s opening scene to the credits, showrunner Lee Sung Jin perfectly introduces what this series is all about and the complicated, insane, cringy, hilarious whirlwind you are going to get swept up in.
I dare anyone to not bingewatch BEEF in one sitting. With how much the pilot and subsequent episodes are going to suck you in, it is an impossibility to not let the series keep running, so make sure you carve out a good chunk of time in your schedule.
I don’t want to give away too much about the plot because I want you to go into it knowing as little as I did. But to whet your appetite, this series centers around Amy (Ali Wong), a wealthy businesswoman who seems to have it all, including a handsome husband, adorable kid, and beautiful house. But despite her put together persona, there is something dangerous bubbling under the surface that is catalyzed when she is involved in a road rage incident with Danny (Steven Yeun), a downtrodden contractor that seems to be striking out at every corner. The conflict ignited between the two jolts them out of their normal lives and gives them something to obsess over, a “beef” that escalates beyond what even they could imagine.
And the series is actually inspired by a real life road rage incident that happened to Lee Sung Jin (who the cast refers to as Sunny). I had the awesome opportunity to attend a virtual press conference for the series, where Sunny talked about the incident.
“It was a typical road rage thing where the light turned green and I didn’t go fast enough. It was also a white SUV, a BMW though. And they honked at me, said a bunch of things, and I was like eh I’ll follow ya. I didn’t really have a plan. In my mind, I was justifying it like I am on my way home and I have to be behind you. And I’m sure for that person, it felt like I was tracking him the whole run of the 10 highway. So I thought there was something there about people who are very stuck in their subjective views of reality and projecting assumptions onto the other person. So yeah, that was the kernel of the idea and I’m very thankful for that incident.”
Lee Sung Jin’s perfectly paced script is at times hilarious, at times dark, and always incredibly smart. The episodes are unpredictable, not only in the ways Amy and Danny try to ruin each other’s lives, but also in the ways that we gain insight into the backgrounds and motivations of the lead characters, showing that their surface-level persona is not who they actually are. Pressure from external sources, such as Amy’s pretentious and cringey potential business partner Jordan (Maria Bello) and Danny’s criminal cousin (David Choe), create chaos in each character’s world. And it gets to the point where the only consistency and release of tension for them is the acts of revenge against each other.
Yeun was also engrossed in Sunny’s brilliant script. “For me, what was really exciting was to get the scripts and see the dialogue. What Sunny wrote, yeah you have an idea where the plot’s going to go but you read the dialogue and you’re like wow this feels so real. It’s such easy, but difficult vernacular… it’s written in a way where Sunny was there in the room as a fly on the wall and heard the conversations and wrote it that way. When you get dialogue like that, for me I’m just like this is going to be so fun.”
I am a sucker for a story about enemies who also have undertones of a dark obsession with one another (I’m looking at you KILLING EVE). And that theme falls perfectly with the relationship between Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, who have some of the best chemistry I have seen on-screen in a long time. Even the times they aren’t sharing a scene, it’s clear their actions are building toward their next interaction… and you better believe I was counting down the seconds until their next sizzling, intense in-person encounter. What initially appears to be an oil and water rivalry actually becomes a deep acknowledgement that the only people that truly understands them and their dark tendencies is each other.
Without getting into spoilers, the thrilling final episode is going to leave you begging for more and I can only hope this isn’t the last we are seeing of Amy and Danny. Wong had a hilarious story about filming that action-packed final episode.
“I was excited about the whole thriller element, but when you’re actually doing it you’re like this is scary. It was nice because I was with Steven but he had been on THE WALKING DEAD for seven seasons in the suburbs of Atlanta running away from zombies. So he was hopping around in the forest like it was his playground. It was so interesting to see him so at home, in the forest, at 2 in the morning… while I was like Shelley Long in TROOP BEVERLY HILLS. [laughing] I was like ugh get me out of here. But it was really fun. What was challenging was hiding how terrified and uncomfortable I was the whole time and trying to be a fraction as tough as Steven.”
More than the show being one of the best I have seen in a long time, I also love that the 10-episode series features an almost all Asian American cast, led by an Asian American showrunner. This is the kind of diversity that I think streaming services can really help promote and I hope we see more and more of in the years to come.
Each episode of BEEF is only about 30 minutes, sometimes less. So don’t be surprised when you are engrossed in your fifth episode in a row and get the notification from Netflix asking if you are still there and watching. It is an engrossing, entertaining, intelligent, and unpredictable series that is going to leave you shocked and ready to recommend it to your friends so you will have someone to talk to about it.
My Review: A