Steven Yeung and Ali Wong deliver in this dark comedy-drama that is one of the best series of 2023.
Plot: Follows the aftermath of a road rage incident between two strangers. Danny Cho, a failing contractor with a chip on his shoulder, goes head-to-head with Amy Lau, a self-made entrepreneur with a picturesque life. The increasing stakes of their feud unravel their lives and relationships in this darkly comedic and deeply moving series.
Review: Beef is a series that seemed to come out of nowhere. The trailer, which debuted just a few weeks before this week’s series premiere, instantly buzzed around the internet. With a darkly comic sensibility, Beef appeared to be a hilariously twisted dive into the minds of two people who were contending with trauma, stress, and anxiety precipitated by a road rage incident. Having seen the entire ten-episode run of Beef, I can say that this series is much more than just a comedy. Thanks to stellar turns from stars Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, Beef is a look into the emotions and struggles everyone deals with daily but compressed into two similar yet completely different individuals living in Los Angeles. Beef kicks off immediately, never lets up, and will instantly become one of the year’s best series.
The trailers and the clip below center around the feud between Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong). When Amy blocks Danny from backing out of a parking space, their disagreement escalates into a road-rage chase that leaves both enraged. Danny, a struggling contractor living with his younger brother Paul (Young Mazino) and trying to make ends meet, wants to find the driver who flipped him off in the incident to avenge his lot in life. Amy, a successful business owner she is trying to sell, wants nothing more than to find happiness and balance in her life and takes out her frustrations as a boss, mother, and wife on the guy in the pickup truck. As each episode progresses, Danny and Amy vent their emotions from the almost accident while also discovering ways to face the things that truly make their lives miserable. It is a wonderful dichotomy to see these two people despise each other even though they have much in common.
As the tactics Danny and Amy use against one another spiral into more ridiculous extremes, the glimpse into their personal lives remains fascinating throughout the entire season. Danny wants badly to succeed and finds every imaginable obstacle in his way. Feeling out of control, Danny expresses his anger on his brother Paul while scheming with his recently paroled cousin Isaac (David Choe). While Danny tries complex ways to get back at Amy, he is deeply sad and struggling with his demons. Steven Yeun, who began his career pursuing stand-up comedy, has proven to be an incredible talent in everything from his breakout role as Glenn in The Walking Dead to his Oscar-nominated turn in Minari. Here, Yeun gets to exercise the comedic skills he honed early in his career and all of the dramatic weight this role demands. Yeun delivers a stunning performance here that runs the gamut of his range and is impossible to look away from.
Ali Wong, another comedic talent, has also stretched herself into a more dramatic arena beginning with 2022’s short-lived Paper Girls. Wong’s performance here blows away anything she has done on screen before as she balances Amy Lau’s personal and professional lives. On one hand, Amy is a successful career woman who wants badly to sell her business to investor Jordan Forster (Maria Bello) so that she can be a stay-at-home mother to June (Remy Holt), and reconnect with her artist husband, George (Joseph Lee). The road rage incident shows Amy that she may not be as happy as she tells herself, and her revenge tactics connect her more deeply than she was prepared for. Ali Wong gets to stretch her acting skills just as strongly as Steven Yeun and deliver some empowering and highly charged sex scenes. Wong gets to channel her comedy differently than we have ever seen, and it is stunning to watch.
Each hour-long episode balances Danny and Amy’s arcs and how they interconnect with one another, the stakes escalating with every subsequent chapter. Series creator Lee Sung Jin has a background predominantly in comedy, having written for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Outsourced, Silicon Valley, Dave, and the animated Tuca & Bertie. All of those series give him and his writing staff an edge to their humor and the ability to blend the darkness of funny moments and the searing dramatic elements to them simultaneously. While Lee Sung Jin directs one episode, the remaining nine are spread between Hikari (Tokyo Vice), who directs three, and Jake Schreier (Brand New Cherry Flavor), who directs the other six. The stories carry the presence of Asian-American culture, including Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, but the series never feels like an “Asian” story. This is a quintessentially American story about haves and have-nots that also benefits from pulling from a multi-ethnic backdrop.
Beef occasionally feels mired in the repetitive formula of Danny and Amy feuding back and forth with each other. Still, I cannot find anywhere this story could have been truncated. The ten episodes encompass a huge amount of character development for each protagonist individually and with each other before coming to a head in the final chapters. I can think of a few series that can compare with the amount of funny and tragedy in Beef while presenting two equally stellar performances from the lead actors. Steven Yeun and Ali Wong had already proven themselves talented, but Lee Sung Jin’s Beef elevates them to a new level. Beef is an incredibly engrossing series from the very first scene and is sure to have everyone talking when it premieres on Netflix. Beef is not the series I was expecting it to be based on the trailer, but it is so much better than I was hoping for.
Beef premieres on April 6th on Netflix.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/beef-tv-review/