'Beef' on Netflix: Less joy, more grief

Created by Lee Sung Jin, 'Beef' is a comedy series currently streaming on Netflix, starring Ali Wong and Steven Yeun. A review

Beef, now streaming on Netflix
Beef, now streaming on Netflix

Subhash K Jha

Beef as a word to describe “aggravated conflict” came into the popular desi lexicon only very recently, when Priyanka Chopra Jonas admitted she had been maltreated in Bollywood.

I felt the same watching 10 lengthy, self-important, titillating and superficial episodes of Beef on Netflix, about a group of Korean-Americans who seem fixated on creating unnecessary and totally irrelevant problems that could easily be avoided. 

The premise of a man and a woman—Danny and Amy, played with grating casualness by Steven Yeun and Ali Wong—getting into a twisted battle after a road-rage incident should have made a watchable, if not an extraordinary, romcom. However, Yeun is no lover-boy actor; he is best suited for roles that require him to eat, sleep, fornicate, repeat. Any extra layering in his characters is impractical.

With lead actors who are dull and pettifogging, Beef causes more grief than joy. It is overblown and undernourished. The skeletal plot scarcely manages to rise above the mundane. Most of the time we are left wondering what the fuss is about.

The writing is clearly infantile. It wants us to embrace Amy and Danny’s temper tantrums. But we can’t as the writing doesn’t evolve or involve us as spectators. Very often, it feels as if scenes are being written solely to let the two protagonists create embarrassing situations for themselves.

Beef is riddled with problems that are not problems at all. It relies heavily on situational swipes at suburban conventions, but fails to give us a valid motive for the characters’ collective premature midlife crisis. Consequently, it feels overburdened with no substance.

The twists in the plot and the jibes at the characters’ sense of self-importance eventually begin to wear very thin. We are finally left looking at people who add shades of dark to their spick-and-span lifestyle out of boredom.

At some point, the battle between the two road-ragers dissolves into some kind of a codependent relationship, which is absurd really. If Beef is trying to say two superficial unhappy people are likely to be happy together, then its sense of collective misery is so nebulous that it can’t tell a fun battle of the sexes from a dreary war of nullity, gender be damned.

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