Beef Review: Ali Wong and Steven Yeun are Nemeses on Netflix

Implicit in every viral road rage video is the same question: What is fake with these people? BEEF, a savage dark comedy from debut creator Lee Sung Jin that premieres April 6 on Netflix, delves deep into the sources and fallout of the fury of two Los Angeles motorists. Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) is a struggling entrepreneur wracked with guilt following the involuntary return of his immigrant parents to Korea. Amy Lau (Ali Wong) longs to sell her thriving houseplant business and stay home with her husband George (Joseph Lee) and young daughter June (Remy Holt). Their confrontation in the parking lot leads to a ridiculous chase through the suburbs, then to months of ever-escalating attempts to ruin each other’s lives.

At first, this simple but fun premise seems better suited to a 90-minute feature than a 10-episode Netflix series. But it soon becomes apparent that Lee is doing more than just live action. looney tunes bit. Between all the vicious pranks, we get a glimpse of both characters’ misfortune. Desperate to maintain the serene front that is vital to her brand identity, Amy quietly seethes over an intrusive stepmother (Patti Yasutake), the manipulations of a billionaire (Maria Bello) who flirts with acquiring the business, and George’s insistence on following in the footsteps of his artist father despite his obvious lack of talent. Danny is indebted to a potentially abusive cousin (played with wildcard intensity by artist David Choe) and feels responsible for his lazy, cryptocurrency-obsessed younger brother, Paul (Young Mazino). “That’s what’s wrong with the world today: they want you to feel like you have no control,” he fumes.

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Steven Yeun, left, and David Choe in BEEF

Andrew Cooper—Netflix

As it progresses, the series not only fleshes out its leads, but also their families, who face stressors and disappointments. The irony is that despite their atrocious behavior, Danny, Amy, and most of the people around them aren’t inherently evil. Everyone is capable of kindness. But by failing to extend empathy to the other characters in pain – and to recognize the root causes of their anger – everyone ends up contributing to a rapidly accelerating crisis.

One of many upcoming TV projects from A24, the studio behind the Best Picture winners Everything everywhere all at once And Moonlight, Beef is the kind of series – a smart, sophisticated comedy with an ideal cast, shrewd direction, careful production design – that Netflix has all but stopped producing. It is also the rare sight which, like All, honors the class, ethnic, and personality differences that make each of its primarily Asian-American characters unique, rather than flattening them in an idealized exercise in “positive portrayal.” It’s a remarkably confident start to David And Fact veterinarian Lee, and one who continues to up the ante to the bitter, big-hearted end.

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