‘Beef’ series review: Ali Wong and Steven Yeun throw an irresistible petty party

‘Beef,’ Lee Sung Jin’s cinematic exploration of the human condition, serves as a microscopic study of the motivations that drive people’s choices and decisions

Updated - April 12, 2023 04:48 pm IST

Published - April 09, 2023 05:26 pm IST

Ali Wong in a still from ‘Beef’

Ali Wong in a still from ‘Beef’ | Photo Credit: Netflix

Only when it seems like we have the coronavirus under control, does a new wave of anxiety about the global economy overwhelms the human mind; “there’s always something,” mutters Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) while backing his car out from a parking lot. His thoughts come to an abrupt end when Amy Lau (Ali Wong) cuts him off in a white SUV before showing a middle finger and leaving the scene, kickstarting an intense car chase on the streets of Los Angeles that ends with Danny memorising her car’s license plate to exact revenge off the road.

Danny, a Korean immigrant working as a contractor, wishes to bring his ageing parents to the United States and gift them a comfortable life. But the fact that his brother Paul (Young Mazino) spends his time gaming and investing in cryptocurrency makes his dream only harder.

Amy, on the other hand, is a rich entrepreneur stuck in a miserable marriage with her stay-at-home artist husband George (Joseph Lee). She earns a living by making a name for herself in the opulent hallways of the high-art industry — there are chairs you cannot sit on and phallic pieces of pottery costing millions — but her mind is preoccupied with finding ways to compensate for her absence in her daughter’s life.

Beef (English)
Creator: Lee Sung Jin
Episodes: 10
Cast: Steven Yeun, Ali Wong, Joseph Lee, Young Mazino, David Choe, Ashley Park, Maria Bello, Mia Serafino
Storyline: Two strangers get into a road rage incident that brings chaos into their lives.

The ‘almost accident’ in the parking lot seems like a legitimate incident to validate and express the simmering anger for both parties involved. Danny hunts down Amy’s address and urinates all over the bathroom floor while Amy tries to bombard his business with one-star Yelp reviews. The feud provides the duo with a space to remove their social masks, and channel and project their anger; making us witness to infidelity, motor accidents, and sloppy kidnapping attempts that end in a bougie panic room.

Yeun and Wong stage their characters with great caution and never overdo the stereotypes associated with the socio-economic class theirs characters are a part of. Throughout the ten episodes, we feel like we’re getting to know two different people who are reflections of the bitter parts of ourselves that we are almost always too keen to hide. They are mad, angry and unwilling to take the high road when it comes to each other and in the process end up understanding the other better than everyone else.

Danny and Amy strike bargains at their weakest to go back to their lives riddled with insecurities, only to find their way back to each other; a cycle they break free of only when they are on the verge of losing everything they love.

The title sequence art begets a special mention for setting the mood for the rest of the episode; it serves as a welcome invite and a cautionary tale simultaneously. And like the colours and monotones of the paintings, the show shifts between genres comfortably and even tricks the viewers with its narrative choices.

Lee Sung Jin’s cinematic exploration of the human condition is also a microscopic study of the motivations that drive people’s choices and decisions. In the final episode, Danny says “You are born. You make choices. Then suddenly you are here,” and I hope this review serves as a motivation for you to stream the show at the earliest.

Beef is currently streaming on Netflix

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