BEEF is a dish best served by bingeing the entire thing. Which is both possible, since it's a Netflix release, and advisable, because this dark comedy about vengeance run amok is so enthralling, you won't want to turn it off.
Premiere date/time: Thursday, April 6 at 3:01 a.m. ET
Where to stream: Netflix
Episodes: 10 (half-hour)
This is a wild ride that will leave you laughing, gasping, cringing and thinking. Ali Wong and Steven Yeun are electric, both together and separately, as two suburbanites who form a toxic connection after a road rage incident. It escalates into an all-out feud in which each tries to one-up the other, to the point of destroying their lives.
BEEF is like the flip-side of a romantic comedy; instead of a meet-cute, Wong and Yeun hate each other at first sight. Using very dark humor and biting wit, creator creator Lee Sung Jin explores mental health, the pressure to succeed, class differences and Asian American experiences.
It all coalesces into not only one of the best Netflix shows, but one of the best shows on television so far in 2023.
This BEEF review contains no spoilers.
BEEF review: Impeccable performances all around
BEEF's quality relies heavily on the performances of the cast, particularly leads Ali Wong and Steven Yeun. They exhibit a crackling chemistry in the (sadly few) scenes they share, and hold their own in separate storylines.
Wong is known more for her comedic work, and she's as funny as ever here. Yet, she also displays real pathos as Amy, the owner of a successful houseplant business. She's married to a Japanese artist, with whom she has a daughter. They live in a gorgeous, recently remodeled home. And Amy is on the verge of selling her business to a billionaire. Yet, despite all of this, Amy is deeply unhappy and feels disconnected from her family.
Yeun has proven his dramatic chops in Minari, Burning, The Walking Dead and Nope. In BEEF, he's as hilarious as Wong, especially in the moments when Danny flips from being a confident, cheerful contractor to a bitter ne'er-do-well with a massive chip on his shoulder.
The rest of the cast is excellent: Joseph Lee as Amy's beta husband George; Young Mazino as Paul, Danny's freeloading brother; Ashley Park as Amy's seemingly vapid friend Naomi; David Choe as Danny's shady ex-con cousin Isaac; Patty Yasutake as Amy's condescending mother-in-law, Fumi; and Maria Bello as mercurial, wealthy investor Jordan Forster.
They all become embroiled in Amy and Danny's clash, to the detriment of almost all.
BEEF review: Road rage against the machine
The plot of BEEF is incited by a fairly mundane event: a parking lot encounter between Amy in her white SUV and Danny in his beat-up red truck. It's something that happens to people every day, in suburban malls to the streets of Manhattan.
In most cases, people honk, yell, flip a finger ... and go on about their day. Not Amy or Danny. They engage in a full-on chase through the streets of their town. When Danny loses sight of Amy's car, he plunks down money to look up her address. What follows is a series of petty, increasingly elaborate schemes to get back each other.
These alarming tit-for-tat exchanges are a way to delve into Amy and Danny's psyches. These are two emotionally broken people, crumbling under pressures of different kinds. They are both essentially "this is fine" dog in a burning house, come to life.
Amy is juggling her job (which includes wooing prospective buyer Jordan — a caricature of a certain type of rich white woman), her strained marriage and motherhood. All Amy wants is to cash out and enjoy some peace, which is proving difficult to achieve. That lack of control over her life seems to be why she keeps flirting with danger in her stupid quarrel with Danny.
As for Danny, he's broke and feeling tremendous guilt about not providing for his elderly parents. No matter how hard he hustles in his contracting work, it's never enough. His "eat the rich" vendetta against Amy gives him an excuse and cover for his own personal misfires. Why take blame for his life when he can point the finger at Amy?
Their feud gets ludicrous, particularly in the last couple of episodes. It starts to feel a bit repetitive — Amy/Danny feels aggrieved by something in their personal life and take it out in an insane way on the other person, who then comes up with an even more over-the-top form of retaliation. I think we could've done without one or two rounds of this vicious cycle, cutting maybe an hour or so off the show's total runtime.
Still, no matter how outrageous and Amy and Danny's actions get, you can't help but feel sympathy and empathy for both of them. That's a testament to the deft writing. There are no villains in this BEEF, just humans who are trying to do their best. That's all any of us can do. Yet, as much as I enjoyed the show, I felt like it could've been pared down by an hour.
BEEF review: Verdict
BEEF is utterly riveting, from start to finish. The half-hour episodes set a relatively brisk pace, which means it's also easy to binge. Wong and Yeun dazzle as the leads, and my only gripe is that I wish we could've seen more of them on screen together.
While the plot can veer into the absurd, the show stays grounded by focusing on human emotions. Ultimately, BEEF is a tragicomedy about how we all have inner rage that needs to be let out sometimes. Saying "this is fine" while your life figuratively burns down around you isn't going to solve anything. It might just build up your inner rage until you enter a destructive feud. Take this side of BEEF as a cautionary tale.