You find yourself becoming slightly addicted to these characters and their rotten lives, and it will leave you wanting more as the episodes go on.
BY JOHN MCDONALD APRIL 14, 2023
Beef: a term that young people made popular to describe having a problem with someone – it really doesn’t make that much sense, but it’s since become a mainstay in the English language. And now we have Beef, the new Netflix series about two people having beef with each other over the smallest thing. Both are as stubborn as it comes and unable to back down from a conflict that could destroy their lives. On one side of the feud is Amy Lau-Nakai (Ali Wong), whose successful plant business has given her the most idyllic life with her husband George (Joseph Lee) and their adorable little girl. Her new rival is Danny Cho (Steven Yeun), a struggling “contractor” who seemingly can’t catch a break and a man whose wits are at an end.
Their encounter is the work of pure chance as well. Even though they might be cut from a similar cloth – they’re both of East Asian heritage and born in the same era – but they are worlds apart in reality. Amy rubs shoulders with the elite of her Calabasas neighbourhood; living the life of luxury in a self-designed house and on the brink of a multimillion-dollar deal to sell her small business. Danny’s world is full of depression, regret, and Burger King sandwiches, and his parents' disappointing gaze affects him greatly. They have no right in crossing paths with one another, and yet, the most random incident has started a beef too meaty for any of them to handle.
Even though they’re on opposite sides of the social class line, both Amy and Danny share so many characteristics with one another, and the series expertly shows them at their absolute worst, which is quite rare to see in a television series. Steven Yeun and Ali Wong give the performances of their careers to portray these two narcissists too. Not only are they despicable characters, but we also get to explore their maddening complexities - there are even moments that become almost melancholic at times like a weight has been lifted. Yeun and Wong share a magnetic chemistry with one another and steal every scene they are in while accessing everything needed to make the characters work in this unique way – it’s
some of the best acting in TV this year, and indeed both actors are in for some Emmy shouts, without a doubt.
This A24 production (yes, it’s not just the film industry that this popular indie company dabble in from time to time) harbours everything that has made the company such a hit in its short life. First, it’s that quirky type of funny, and that can be difficult to consistently achieve in an episodic comedy drama. Whether it’s humorous interactions between characters, or Danny’s cousin Isaac (David Choe) and his funny one-liners, there’s even some slapstick action that brings a chuckle as well. It helps that Lee Sung Jin’s impressively watertight script has all the bells and whistles on it to make it stand out as something different, and everyone seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet. It’s in the mould of the fantastic Atlanta with its topical take on social commentary, and Beef uses a mix of great aspects that let it blossom into something quite special and highly entertaining.
But this is a multi-genre spectacle though, and there needs to be a fine balance between everything else – was that ever in doubt though? Beef perfectly captures the hardships of life (with a slight magnification of course) and it plays around with some of the worst-case scenarios for our very own entertainment. Danny is a lost soul and someone who wants to be remembered and is terrified of being alone, but the constant failures of life are making it increasingly more difficult to even carry on. Whereas Amy is a woman who seemingly has everything but is internally unhappy with her own life too; full of self-destructive tendencies and impacted by her own upbringing, the two characters' misery is what ultimately ties them together until the end.
Beef is such a binge-worthy little series, not only because of its bitesize episodes (ranging from between 30 and 40 minutes) but the content is so easily digestible that it’s a tough ask not to stuff it down your throat in multi-episode sittings. You might even find yourself becoming slightly addicted to these characters and their rotten lives, and it will leave you wanting more as the episodes go on – just try not to deal with small incidents in your own life like these two nutters do because it will land you in a world of trouble.