By Jason Adams | TV | April 5, 2023 |
By Jason Adams | TV | April 5, 2023 |
Traffic in Los Angeles, am I right? Honestly, I have no idea, having only been in Los Angeles for about twenty-four hours total in my life. But that’s the city’s reputation—a knotted coil of expressways so bogged down with Beemers that traffic jams are part of its love language. Everything from the matchmaking road-work sign in L.A. Story to the Old-Navy-esque musical number that opens La La Land to the “Californians” skits on SNL underline the City of Angels as a life lived locomotively. Heck, even in City of Angels itself it’s a log truck that runs over Meg Ryan—tell me that’s not true romance!
Enter Beef, creator Lee Sung Jin’s new ten-episode series for Netflix starring dreamy Steven Yeun and Ali Wong as disparate Angelenos who meet whatever-the-opposite-of-cute is in a big box store parking lot as their vehicles nearly slam into one another. Yeun is Danny Cho, a self-employed handyman of many trades who’s overworked himself into a frazzle and a frenzy trying to build his parents a house and bring them over from Korea. Wong is Amy Lau, the owner of a chic plant business who’s about to sell her company for a gigantic pile of cash to a hilariously out-of-touch billionaire (Maria Bello).
The both of them have about five thousand little voices nattering and nagging away in their ears on that fateful day in that parking lot. And all it takes is that one inciting incident, like the adorable little dog stepping off the board in Beetlejuice, to send them spiraling into chaos together. Like Gandalf and the Balrog tumbling through the center of the earth and hell and out the other side, fists locked in endless combat, all Danny and Amy needed was the other to provide the lil’ shove. Through fire and flame they might perchance be reborn or destroyed on the other side—who’s to tell? A little of this, a little of that, a little pee on the refurbished oak floors, an armed robbery or two—who can guess what humiliations and revelations await when we allow our ids to rampage right over the flower beds of the upscale suburbs forming our modern panopticon?
Over the course of its ten episodes, Beef charts its course of chaos up and down its little paved-over patch of western seaboard—there’s not a whiff of glitzy Tinseltown in sight; only the desert encroaching on mall sprawl and two metastasized melancholics ready to tear the other’s throat out with their bare teeth. As is typical with these stories, it ends up being the similarities these two come to discover between their buried selves and their mortal enemy that comes to fuel the fury—only Danny and Amy see in that moment past one another’s masks to the bottomless rage bubbling beneath, and in that they find an outlet for every doubt and panic-attack currently plaguing them. It’s a grand romance of bile and beautiful vitriol—candy hearts made out of meat, valentines of purest venom.
And then there’s also a pile of unfortunate side-pieces who find themselves pulled into the gravitational periphery of this duel. Amy’s married to a gorgeous air-headed artist named George (Joseph Lee) who’s been coasting on slash burdened by his famous father’s furniture legacy (a definite riff on George Nakashima, right down to a very funny joke about the form of his best-known chair being built around George’s mother’s bare-ass). Her marriage to George is as strained as Amy’s smile; their adorable daughter June (Remy Holt) seems to be the only thing they can agree on.
As for Danny, he’s got a ne’er-do-well younger brother Paul (Young Mazino) who’d rather be playing video games, and an ex-con cousin Isaac (David Choe) who’s there to offer Danny a side door to the criminal element. And that will come in handy as Danny’s beef with Amy escalates beyond childish pranks toward nothing either of them could’ve possibly imagined at its start.
But those folks are just small meat and potatoes for the series’ central grinder, which is Danny and Amy’s stubborn inability to take any more bullshit from anybody, least of all some nobody from nowhere who dared see straight into the deeply familiar horrors of their true selves that they’ve each spent so much energy stuffing down down down deep. Through the surprises and twists and turns that the series takes us through, it’s the fierce chemistry between Yeun and Wong that keeps us invested—you almost want to call it anti-chemistry, but that’s what the best chemistry is sometimes. A blaze ignited by the other’s prying eyes; two matchsticks making love in a fireworks factory.