“Beef,” a product of a collaboration between Netflix and A24 seemed promising with a darkly thrilling premise: two deeply unsatisfied people that get into a road rage incident with one another that brings out their worst impulses. Co-starring Ali Wong (Amy) and Steven Yeun (Danny), the chilling thrill that plays during the grotesquely gorgeous title cards throughout each episode tantalize you with this vision. The first couple of episodes deliver just this, as right after the incident Amy and Danny start an escalating series of aggressions against each other that slowly consumes them and their personal lives. But then abruptly, it stops.
Viewers may make a connection to “Changing Lanes,” the 2002 movie with a similar premise as “Beef,” touching on class differences and the lengths one will go to for revenge. Unlike “Beef,” “Changing Lanes” is a thriller that benefits from a fast, tense pace. “Beef,” however, meanders quite a bit in the middle. Instead of keeping the focus on Dan and Amy, the story expands too much to secondary characters who affect the plot too much, such as the unsatisfied housewife Naomi (Brenda Song) and Danny’s lawbreaking cousin Isaac (David Choe). They take too much of the story away from Dan and Amy’s tense rivalry, preventing the taut, dark story of two people letting their darkest impulses get the best of them that “Beef” should be.
However, there are positives as well. Ali Wong, known primarily for her comedy, shines in a dramatic role. Her tense microexpressions perfectly convey the frazzled entrepreneur who’s tired and angry with the high-stakes business world she occupies. It feels like the kind of role a man would normally play in this kind of story, but showrunner Lee Sung Jin takes the opportunity to showcase how women swallow down their rage everyday in favor of making others happy. Steven Yeun is brilliant as well as the beaten-down Danny trying his hardest to fix his mistakes, usually by making some more. Danny, along with his brother (Young Mazino) and his cousin Isaac capture a very specific subset of Asian “bros” not often seen on screen.
Amy and George’s dynamic is one of the best parts of the series. You can see that there are parts of Amy and George that desperately want their marriage to work, but they’re both too disjointed to do so. It’s one of the main sources that feeds Amy’s raging feud with Danny, and you can see why. Unfortunately, the good parts of “Beef” are drowned out by the unnecessary scenes that bloat the show, making it difficult to parse through. Had it been a movie with tighter pacing, it might have worked, but as it stands, even an explosive ending could save this series.
Verdict: Though it starts off promising with great performances and interesting dynamics, “Beef” suffers from too much miniseries bloat to truly stand out.