Here’s the ‘Beef’

Netflix gets its groove back, and then some, with a wicked road-rage revenge thriller/farce

 Beef, a wild revenge farce created by Lee Sung Jin —starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun— has just given Netflix a new lease on life.

The 10-episode series is a head-snapping hit, pulling the studio out of a fearsome creative slump. Yes, Netflix, the content mill that’s coasted on bloat for years, who relies on their viewers to be so “chill” they will lack the momentum to quit their subscription, has suddenly done something bad-ass.

Our eyes are wide open.

Beef is the first black comedy Netflix has done right since Bojack Horseman. It’s the single best pilot of the year from any of the major TV content-makers, the most rip-roaring opener Netflix has dropped since episode-one of Squid Game.

Here’s the set-up: a down-and-out contractor named Danny Cho has a parking lot scuffle where he meets “rich-bitch” Goopy striver, Amy Lau. It’s the Costco version of the OK Corral. We’ve all been there!

Amy and Danny are nemeses separated at birth: individuals who put on a pious act for their loved ones, ranting about right livelihood. But when their ids unleash, there is no turning back.

What did writer/director Jin do here? This is a guy who cut his teeth on the great writer teams of Silicon Valley and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Jin told the press he got his Beef idea from a “LA road rage incident”of his own, where some dude yelled at him in traffic. Ho, ho! Today, he thanks the driver who deregulated his amygdala— because otherwise Beef would never have existed.

I believe there’s another strategy at work besides the director’s freeway anecdote. Jin’s series is dripping with cinematic pedigree. On one hand, it’s a Korean revenge drama, the genre pioneered by Oldboy. Contemporary Korean directors became champions of visualizing what happens when mythic enemies “just can’t let go.”

Jin took the K-Revenge genre and fused it, with what else? Classic French farce.

What do I mean by “classic”? Jin is obviously a fan of Voltaire’s mission: the epic screwing of elites. The pompous and righteous are never who they say they are. When the mask comes off— in this, the best of all possible worlds— it is wickedly wonderful.

Like a Cartesian knot, Beef’s plot toys with what should be done (what is proper!) and the most unruly bad behavior.

Yes, we have empathy for our two crisis actors. Danny and Amy can never leave well enough alone. Actor Ben Stiller must watch “Beef” slack-jawed with envy—as in his roles for Flirting with Disasterand Meet the Parents, each scene takes the cast one step further into bedlam.

You may wonder if our two besotted enemies will fall in bed together. Go ahead, young naïf! You can not guess ahead of time the intricacies of how deep they get under each other’s skin.

Close viewers know that Steven Yeun (Minari, Burning, Walking Dead) is always going to turn in Oscar-level performances. Ali Wong, until now best known for her standup comedy, meets Yeun toe-to-toe; they are a marvel together.

Yes, Beef is an actor’s movie. It’s an auteur television series. Not everyone is going to get it, or be prepared to writhe and cackle at the same time. And yes, at 10 eps, it’s lengthy enough to lend tangents that almost lost me a couple times. Then they reeled me back in. I had to don the feathered crown once more. I had to crawl through the Calabasas sagebrush. You’ll see! Every award dinner at the end of the year will nominate their talents.

Others will imitate Beef, but we’ll always remember the first time. Netflix just got her groove back. She better know what to do with it.

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Susie Bright

Susie Bright is an author, editor, and critic known for her work at Audible Studios, The New York Times Book Review, Playboy, Jezebel, Salon, On Our Backs, Talking Points Memo, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Review of Books, Esquire, the Criterion Collection, as well as her contribution to The Celluloid Closet, Bound, The Virgin Machine, Transparent, and the Criterion reissue of Belle de Jour.

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