‘Beef’ review: Ali Wong, Steven Yeun set fire to an overcooked Netflix show

Like the two leads in “Falling Down,” Lee Sung Jin’s tense series features numbers feuding with strangers who are bound together by more than just road rage.

A blaring horn. A resisting cry. Middle finger raised. Drivers around the world know this simple sequence of events all too well, yet it continues to generate heated debate, lingering animosity and considerable anxiety. In retrospect, road rage often seems inexplicable. Why was I so angry? What made me say this, do this, or take things to this point? At best, such questions can lead to introspection: What really made me react like this while driving? At worst, the questions are drowned out by resentment, and we just keep speeding down the road of anger.

In Lee Sung Jin’s new Netflix series Lee Sung Jin and cool kids’ studio A24, the ramifications of a honking, shouting, and flipped bird combination are far-reaching as Amy (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven) Yeun) gets involved in an escalating interpersonal dispute that should have ended in the parking lot of the hardware store. They know this. We know. But everyone also recognizes the irrationality and almost inevitability of road rage. Once you feel let down, it’s hard to back down.

As the title fight drags from its opening moments to days, weeks and months, “Beef” does a great job of balancing Amy and Danny’s practical intelligence with their impractical passions; their bitterness toward the other driver ebbs and flows as their personal lives improve or worsen, and it’s in these moments that the half-hour drama thrives. The series is not interested in selecting pages. It is designed to evoke empathy in each warrior while revealing their shared humanity and collective hardship. Along the way, their anger leads them to make shocking decisions—some justified by character and circumstance, others feeling compelled to raise the stakes—but even when “Beef” goes too far, Wong, Yeun, and the understanding that this anger doesn’t always make sense.

Beef Ali Wong Netflix series

Ali Wong in Beef

Andrew Cooper/Netflix

Only after Amy and Danny’s initial fight (which you can watch for free via YouTube) do we find out that each driver in addition to their own vehicle Amy is the owner of her own business, whose plant and household goods store is about to sell big. She’s been wooing a rich buyer for quite some time (Maria Bella played with blissful credentials), and aside from a tauntingly massive check, what Amy really wants is freedom. She wants time for her daughter, without constant interruptions from work. She wants time to be a parent like her husband George (Joseph Lee), who is June’s loving, patient and attentive day-to-day caretaker. She also wants to not be weighed down by her mother-in-law’s constant judgments that always ignore Amy’s contribution as a provider.

Amy feels increasing pressure to prove herself as an entrepreneur and mother, and Danny, despite having no kids or partner of his own, is in a similar, hotter boat. The demands of your one-person contracting business are demanding in many ways that can make the job seem permanent (managing Yelp reviews, hiring part-time help, finding clients, etc.), but you do a lot of them, too. puts pressure on himself. Danny claims that his family forces him to work so hard, and at first there is some truth to this point of view. With a brother like Paul (Young Mazino) – who is more interested in encryption schemes and networking than helping out with the business – and parents who are always complaining, his immediate relatives play a role in his unhappiness.

But Danny is fighting an unwinnable war. As much as you want your brother to care about the same things as Danny, they are different people, just as wanting to build a house for your parents is an admirable but unlikely goal for a working-class 30-something. Los Angeles area. Lee and his writing staff skillfully inject Danny and Amy’s class differences into their growing battle—without making it the central conflict. He builds their argument from layer of “beef” to layer of surprise, poking at their pride while raising the stakes. Lee seems most interested in what demons Amy and Danny are chasing behind the wheel, and his scripts excel at drawing parallels between the two leads—commonalities they desperately want to recognize in each other, beyond the fog of white supremacy. hot anger.

Wong and Yeun shine throughout, especially when called upon to express their characters’ hot frustrations while pretending to be good. Danny, quite purposefully, is not far from the typical complacent man, but Yeun so keenly conveys the little things that hit Danny where it hurts. His exasperation is perfect, sliding effortlessly between comic irritation and malevolent machismo – always able to find the series’ shifting tone. (“Beef” often feels like a black comedy, but it’s ultimately defined by long stretches of pure drama.) Early on, there’s a scene where Danny breaks down and the director Jake Schreierhis camera is pressed tightly against Yeun’s face. Danny is very resistant to letting go, but he’s been holding back his emotions for so long, he just can’t hold them in anymore.

Beef Netflix Series Steven Yeun as Danny in episode 106 of Beef.  BC Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Steven Yeun in Beef

Courtesy of Netflix

It’s a beautiful moment, Wong soon echoed. As the primary spokesperson for her brand—from taking selfies with clients to cracking jokes at industry panels—Amy often has to grin and bear it. His fight with Danny offers him a chance to unleash himself in ways he might not otherwise, and Wong takes to his scariest scenes with giddy satisfaction. And yet, it leaves a much more noticeable mark when Amy dials it down and opens it. A quiet arc involving Amy’s own mother is as memorable as any of Wong’s outlandish attacks.

With so many busy little moments, it’s only when “Beef” kicks into overdrive that it loses its story. Lee’s scripts lose control in the final hour, raising the stakes too high for a resolution that requires a certain level of intimacy. Some audiences may enjoy getting caught up in the journey, but the series loses its grounded realism in too many unbelievable moments, and the conclusion is too much in there where it could have been accurate.

“Beef” remains highly watchable (as long as your nerves can handle such unnecessarily risky behavior), and its engaging performances make the five-plus hours a worthy investment. The limited series may poke the shark in the rear, but it also mimics the conflicting emotions associated with its core conflict: Road Rage can turn us all into extreme versions of ourselves, and “Beef” plays the shocking. the outrage felt so keenly from the first horn to the last outstretched finger.

grade: B

“Beef” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Festival. Netflix will release the limited series on Thursday, April 6.

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