Beef (Season 1) Review
THE mainstream success of film production company, A24, has been a joy to watch in recent years. Despite their movies and shows being critically-acclaimed, viewership on both fronts has been underwhelming, but the recent successes of Euphoria and the historic Best Picture win for 2019's Parasite has opened people's eyes to the quality of product A24 produces. Netflix is the latest to ride the success train with Beef, an in-depth analysis of rage that's handled in a convoluted yet satisfying manner.
After two strangers -- struggling repairman Danny (Steven Yeun) and successful entrepreneur Amy (Ali Wong) -- get into a road rage incident, the two's lives become intertwined as they let their emotions get the better of them, soon spiralling into an unforeseen butterfly effect that begins to effect their friends and families.
The concept of anger management turning into something much more is nothing new, but the manner in which Beef handles its story is wonderfully relatable - almost to the point where it becomes less comedic and more scary. Danny and Ami's lives represent two sides of the same coin; Danny is the down-on-his-luck everyman while Ami is the prospering business owner creates a clear contrast right off the bat. But the further the story progresses, you begin to learn how parallel their lives are behind closed doors, with the opening road rage scene being the catalyst for their emerging similarities.
There is no denying that Amy and Danny are terrible people, but that's one of the great things about this show: it doesn't portray them as being nice. The premiere episode cuts back and forth between the two, showcasing the downward trajectory their emotional states are taking, all leading to the big blow-up in the form of a simple carpark misunderstanding. Each person is in the wrong for the way they treat the situation, yet in their respective minds, they are the hero. The timeless quote of "every villain is the hero of their own story" has never been more true than in Beef, especially when Danny decides to douse fuel on an already burning incident. The series does unfortunately suffer from over-exposure in the first two episodes, showing off its most captivating scenes so audiences don't become bored straight away, leading to poor pacing during the middle portion of the series. This minor problem is solved by the time episode 7 rolls around, but it's a long road to get there which thankfully feels shorter due to the terrific performances by our incensed leads.
Comedian Ali Wong and Best Actor nominee Steven Yuen combine their well-established talents to create a unique dynamic that doesn't feel forced or unrealistic. The subtle expressions from each lead brings weight to the ceaseless drama they are suffering from, never failing to make you feel sympathy for their situation despite the unquestionable malevolence that exudes from their, ultimately, petty personalities. Yuen has proven his talent time and time again, but the actor delivers, arguably, his best performance in Beef. His dishevelled appearance throughout the series never feels out of place and suits every scene - even those where he's supposed to be hitting a high point in his life. Towards the end of the season, there is a scene he shares with Wong which hits a bit too hard for comfort, but just enough to where it does a complete one-eighty and turns into beauty rather than disgust. Very few shows have been able to replicate this feeling of anxiety and sadness despite their best attempts, but Beef knocks it out of the park with superb direction and writing courtesy of show creator Lee Sung Jin.
Beef felt like a fever dream during most episodes, rarely stepping off the gas to jump from scene to scene in order to cram as much drama as you can into a 30-minute episode. There are times where the short length of each episode hurts its quality, but by the end of the series it becomes evident why the episodes were so short when compared to similar dramedies: pacing. And while some episodes struggle to remain engaging due to this pacing problem, Beef still manages to stand on its on two feet as being light years ahead of recent Netflix shows and movies in terms of sheer quality. The performances carry the first episode, but by the time you're watching the season finale, you'll begin to appreciate the show thanks to its simple yet sophisticated story of how one argument and change your entire life and being.