Despite its awareness of class distinctions, Beef is not particularly economical in its storytelling. The 10-episode series, created by Lee Sung Jin, centres on two people involved in a minor road rage incident that balloons into a full-on feud involving a comical amount of collateral damage. The show is at turns funny and dark (and darkly funny), but it’s fair to ask: could this have been a movie?
Owing to its length—and, sure, to its credit—Beef’s character development is really allowed to marinate. At the show’s heart are Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong), two So-Cal residents from different walks of life (she’s wealthy, he’s not) whose individual ongoing existential crises lock them into what feels like a battle to the death. With episodes directed by Lee, Jake Schreier, and Hikari, the show balances these absurd, escalating stakes against the common frustrations and disappointments of everyday life—yes, for both rich and poor—and the familial history that often bears down on people, even when they try to resist it. For his part, Yeun proves once again he’s one of the finer actors working these days. His Danny is crafty, pathetic, angry, and sympathetic—sometimes all at once; as Amy, Wong isn’t quite his equal, particularly in her emotive range, but her live-wire energy and expansive rage serve the story well. With its stars playing off some strong supporting performances (like a pitch-perfect Young Manzino and David Choe), the show has enough depth of field to fill its ranging length. Still, the show’s thematic elements do end up feeling like they’ve been stretched to the limit.
It’s not so much that Beef strains for profundity, it’s that for all its carefully curated tension, the series becomes a revenge dish served cold because of how long it takes to get delivered. While the signifiers of its quality are there—some great performances, sharp direction, a well-assembled soundtrack, etc.—the narrative drag is real. That’s just one man’s opinion though, please don’t shoot the messenger.