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Beef: Netflix Series Review

Netflix ’s Beef is a darkly funny meditation on pent-up grief and how much of it we’re willing to exploit.

Beef validates our ill-tempered desire for retribution when waking up to burnt toast and an empty milk carton can feel like the end of the world. The series follows the aftermath of a road rage incident between Danny (Steven Yeun, of Minari) and Amy (Ali Wong). They begin a senseless feud, pursuing each other in bonkers scenarios like posing as a handyman and urinating all over the others bathroom floor. This simple and ridiculous premise may seem like it came straight from the writer’s room at SNL, but Beef evolves into much more than we’re led to believe, harnessing a deeper conversation about how we choose to air out our grievances.

The series was inspired by a real-life incident that creator and showrunner Lee Sung Jin experienced. After being berated on the road, Lee Sung Jin impulsively decided to follow the driver, unaware of the awry consequences that could’ve transpired. ‘I didn’t really have a set plan,’ he told Netflix, ‘I just wanted him to feel fear.’

Danny is the first-born son of Korean immigrant parents who raised him with a concrete idea of the life he should lead. He runs their families struggling contractor business with focus on supporting his unambitious younger brother Paul (Young Mazino). With his parents’ narrow path instilled in him, Danny was never free to pursue a life for himself and often finds that he’s surrounded by those succeeding where he’s failed, rubbing salt in the wound he’s become too sour with vengeance to lick and let heal.

In the opposing car is Amy, who’s tired of trying to hold together her white-picket fence. She’s stuck in what feels like a transactional marriage and is constantly criticised by her commanding mother-in-law Fumi (Patti Yasutake), who we meet with a stern stare beneath Ursula-like eyeshadow. Amy’s grievances have been tucked neatly upon her uncluttered shelves, only for the incident to set those feelings free.

Danny and Amy have both been cheated by life in different ways, but rather than facing their frustrations head on, they choose to indulge their petty need for revenge.

loud and clear reviews beef netflix ali wong series plant
Ali Wong as Amy in episode 101 of Beef. (Andrew Cooper / Netflix © 2023)

I’ve never been much of a stand-up comedian fan. It can be difficult to get an unbridled chuckle out of me but I found myself drawn to Wong’s raw wit after watching Always Be My Maybe and later, her Netflix specials Baby Cobra, Hard Knock Wife and Don Wong. Wong, who executive produced four of the ten episodes, was the initial draw to watch Beef. She offers a refreshing realness that’s hard to find in a world where comedy is now being formulated on short-video sharing apps. Wong’s good at being blunt about hard truths, an attribute she brought to her more biting performance in Beef. Yuen cemented his Emmy nomination early on in an episode aptly titled ‘I Am Inhabited By a Cry’ with an emotional scene in a church. ‘I think I just needed a good cry or something’, said Danny, cheeks glassy with dried tears.

Beef is by no means light entertainment. It can be a little weighty to swallow, often coping with matters of depression, abandonment and infidelity, but it never wains from letting us laugh about the hard stuff. Sung Jin was inspired by the way crime-drama The Sopranos uses comedy to grin along with ‘the broken ways we all think’.

Yes, Beef is a delicious feast of sharp comedy, but its most succulent ingredient is its ability to capture the unbridled essence of rage, grief and anger, and how we intend to project our pent-up sorrows. ‘It is selfish for broken people to spread their brokenness’. Spoken sullenly by Amy, this line of dialogue affected me so much as a viewer that I rewound the scene and listened carefully to the assumption behind the words.

Is it okay to project our feelings on others? If not, how should we deal with these things? We tend to project difficult emotions onto others in order to make them more tolerable, rather than acknowledging them. I’ve found myself quick to voice memo a friend, bombarding them with unconscious grievances, unsure of what I’m expecting in return for my unrehearsed truthfulness. I was acting out of instinct. In Beef’s case, Danny and Amy have instinctively taken unwanted feelings and attributed them to one another, but instead of a voice memo, it’s a rampant tit-for-tat. Beef deserves a pat on the back for recognising our impulsive desire for projection.

Beef is a darkly comic series wrapped in an unexpectedly profound outer shell. Yuen and Wong’s excellent chemistry make the absurdity of their vengeance feel grounded and deeply relatable when it comes to matters of self-pity and simmering rage. You never know how people truly feel inside, but Beef validates our need to relish in those emotions.

Beef is now streaming on Netflix everywhere. Read our reviews of more great Netflix series: Heartstopper, Young Royals, Stranger Things, The Crown.

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