You know that feeling of arriving at a restaurant enticed by one item but, by the end of the night, you find you’ve eaten down a delicious rabbit hole filled with items you didn’t even expect? Great television does something similar. It can take a unique premise in its pilot, and then through subsequent episodes, pull out a shovel and go deeper into places you never considered.
Beef is a new Netflix original series from Lee Sung Jin (Undone, Tuca & Bertie) and produced by A24. It isn’t about the meat you would find in a restaurant, as one might guess from its title, but it does start with an interesting premise and constantly finds ways to surprise.
The show follows two protagonists: Danny (Steven Yeun) is struggling to make ends meet as a contractor while living with his brother Paul (Young Mazino) in a tiny apartment. Meanwhile, Amy (Ali Wong) is dealing with a stressful deal to sell her business, while trying to balance life at home with her husband, George (Joseph Lee), and daughter, June (Remy Holt).
The strain of their individual lives has both Amy and Danny at the end of their rope. A chance encounter through an incident of road rage causes these ropes to snap. Soon after, a tense rivalry begins interlocking their lives in ways they cannot imagine.
Beef is a show that thrives on upending your expectations. Just when you think you have it figured out the show will pivot to an unexpected story beat or character moment. Keeping us grounded throughout the constantly upending plot are Amy and Danny, who are both fantastically drawn. Both are complex individuals at opposite ends of economic comfort. However, they share a commonality in dealing with loneliness and holding in the frustrations of life.
Wong and Yeun are exceptional in these roles, and the script asks a lot of them. They deliver as their characters shift between being confident, vulnerable, and messy as all humans are. The characters may hate each other, but as an audience member, you can’t help but love them.
While Beef is centered around Amy and Danny, the series surprisingly gives other characters nice moments of depth. Joseph Lee, Young Mazino, Patti Yasutake, and David Choe are all great in their roles. Each helps flesh out the story well.
Lee Sung Jin’s Beef is simply one of 2023’s best television shows. It captures what makes great television great in its ability to take you to the unexpected. More than just a tale of an intense rivalry, this is a show that touches on themes of happiness/fake happiness, finding connection, loneliness, and even generational trauma. Within its 10 episodes, it packs a lot in and packs a memorable punch. It’s a thrill ride just as wild as the one that instigates the story, one with exceptional talent behind the wheel at that.
Beef is now streaming on Netflix.