'BEEF' Sizzles with Rage and Surprising Tenderness

Created by Lee Sung Jin

Starring Steven Yeun, Ali Wong, Joseph Lee, Young Mazino, David Choe, Patti Yasutake, Remy Holt

BY Rachel HoPublished Apr 6, 2023

Who hasn't had a fit of road rage once (or twice) in their life? For most of us, it's a momentary lapse in judgment and we move on with our lives; in Lee Sung Jin's series BEEF, though, a run-in at a hardware store parking lot becomes an all-consuming affair. BEEF goes in many directions — all a little bonkers and all surprisingly heartfelt. Saying it's one of Netflix's best TV shows in recent memory isn't a particularly high bar to clear, but BEEF is riveting and endlessly intriguing.

On the surface, the series embodies the saying, "You never know what someone is going through." In that split second when Danny (Steven Yeun) decides to pursue Amy (Ali Wong) after car honks and bird flips are exchanged, he let his bad (to put it lightly) day dictate his response. For Amy's part, her bottled up frustrations about her life push her to engage with Danny's antagonizing actions, rather than just drive away. Of course, their road rage incident gets caught on a doorbell camera and goes viral online, although their faces are obscured. As the neighbourhood hunt begins to figure out who these two maniacs are, Danny and Amy wage a battle of their own.

What makes Lee's series so uniquely compelling is how the story cleverly splits the two protagonists. Danny, a down-on-his-luck handyman, simply adds this event to his laundry list of why his life sucks despite being a dutiful son and brother. Amy, in contrast, seems to use the road rage as an outlet for an anger she thinks she can't exhibit in the perfectly minimalist designer house she shares with her handsome husband (Joseph Lee) and adorable daughter (Remy Holt). While they each process the incident differently, they both escalate things beyond repair and do so with astounding narcissism. 

Lee throws a lot of themes into BEEF and starts a lot of conversations throughout the 10 episodes. Matters of generational stress, mental health, familial obligation and others are thoughtfully explored, with no one issue feeling underdeveloped or brushed over. The most interesting of these was the overriding notion of being seen. An expression that's become comically overused in the last few years, it resonates deeply in BEEF where, ironically, Danny and Amy are only able to be their true selves with each other, the only person who has seen them at their absolute worst. 

By nature of the series and its diverging storylines, Yeun and Wong don't share as much screen time as one might assume, but when they do come together, it's pure magic. The two play off each other like fireworks — crackling with violence but delightfully entrancing to watch. Individually, they're stellar in their roles, playing the characters with a personal touch and understanding. Yeun continues on his impressive run of impeccable turns in well-chosen roles and projects. As for Wong, this is arguably the first role to truly test her acting abilities, and she passes with flying colours in a career-best performance. 

BEEF is the kind of series where it feels a shame for Netflix to do its customary dump of all the episodes on one day. While it's certainly binge-worthy, each episode deserves its own time to be pored over and discussed. But perhaps for a show of this calibre, it doesn't matter. Lee weaves together a captivating narrative with interesting visuals and reference points that demand further investigation. And the two lead performances ground the series in such a way that audiences will want to revisit them multiple times. Undoubtedly, BEEF is a show that will be talked about and discovered throughout the year, and will surely land on many "best of" lists come December.

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