Metro Weekly

‘Beef’ Review: Enraged

'Beef' bills itself as a comedy, but it works better as a drama about the burning anger we confront in everyday life.

Beef: Steven Yeun -- Photo: Courtesy of Netflix
Beef: Steven Yeun — Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Lo and behold, another drama dressed up as a comedy, one sure as hell to make it an Emmy hit, or maybe even give it something far more elusive — a second season renewal from Netflix.

In trailers, the A24-produced show portraying a spiraling road rage incident seems like a standard-issue comedy, but in reality, Beef (★★★★☆) is a highly complex and layered story about two people who find joy in their unhappy lives by embracing their rage. The series, from first-time creator Lee Sung Jin, and starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, is a wild odyssey into the depths of unhappiness that keeps you on your toes.

Danny (Yeun) is a struggling contractor, juggling his parents’ dreams for him, his uninterested brother Paul (Young Mazino), and his fresh-out-of-jail cousin Isaac (David Choe).

The intersection of crises sets him off when a random woman, Amy (Wong), cuts him off in a parking lot, leading to a high-speed chase fit for John Wick. After breaking various laws and ruining multiple lawns, Danny stops his pursuit after finally getting her license plate number.

Amy, meanwhile, is enthralled by her actions, breaking up the constant stress of her job as a plant store owner trying to sell her company to spend more time with her oblivious husband George (Joseph Lee), her untrained child (Remy Holt), and her disapproving mother-in-law Fumi (Patti Yasutake).

This moment of parking lot rage infects their lives, slowly, as the show isn’t a joke-a-minute comedy, but a deeply empathetic drama that takes its time laying down all the pieces. What comedy there is surfaces as pitch black, with the two central figures getting to revel in the chaos and jaw-dropping escalation of the petty events that come after the incident.

Amy has it all on paper, an amazing husband, a successful business, but cannot find the happiness she was led to believe she deserves, while Danny, who financially struggles to achieve his dreams, feels like the hero of his not-great story, and places the blame on everyone else around him.

Of course, when these two inevitably meet, the sparks fly. Their limited interactions do well to make things tense, with each episode ramping up the stakes. However, in this high-intensity plotting, there are complex observations that subtly point out the real villain in this story: the American dream.

Capitalism has dug its way into the two protagonists’ lives and it’s eating them alive, even as it shows repeatedly that nothing good will come of it. Amy is on the cusp of financial security for life, but can’t escape the feeling that it’s only a bandaid for a bigger, more personal problem. Danny, meanwhile, feels like he is one big paycheck away from happiness.

When his brother tells him off for caring too much about the money, Danny gives him a no-shit-Sherlock speech, because to him, everything is about money. This core principle of Beef brings our leads down to their knees constantly, with each new tidbit endearing us even more to two deeply flawed people.

Beef: Ali Wong, Ashley Park -- Photo: Andrew Cooper/Netflix
Beef: Ali Wong, Ashley Park — Photo: Andrew Cooper/Netflix

Being marketed as a comedy is a deficit for the show. The laughs don’t come enough and are instead filled by “Oh please don’t do that” moments where the person you were rooting for gets ripped from their bliss. Before I laughed, I almost sobbed, because the veritable monsters in Beef are so frighteningly real that even worlds apart, you’ll see glimpses of everyday life in ways that most shows fail to achieve.

Yeun and Wong do their best work when the evils get to them and the cracks show. The humor works best if you like morbidity, like trying to kill yourself with Hibachi grills or playing Russian roulette while touching yourself, and although it appears in small doses, never really shines as the pitch-black comedy it wants to be — which would be a shame if the show didn’t succeed as a drama.

The prime beef between Danny and Amy creates an anger that, while providing momentary joy for the two, ends up bleeding into their lives and the surrounding people. Even as episodes become nerve-wracking, the decisions that they make don’t always make sense.

Their beef, while entertaining, constantly leads to breaking laws and coincidences that go against what works. The first couple of episodes suffer from how slowly the choices they make unwind, which slows momentum.

What ends up making Beef work is its commitment to showing why its characters are so angry. Wong and Yeun are spectacular in their roles, especially the former, whose notoriety comes from stand-up, while Yeun is once again proving he’s one of the most underrated actors of his day.

There’s a lot to love in Beef, even if some of the subject matter makes it hard to watch‌. However, if you stick with it, you’ll no doubt be enthralled by the story it tells.

All ten episodes of season one of Beef are currently streaming on Netflix. Visit

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