‘Beef’ Review: Mad in America

A thrilling dark comedy explores the complexity of anger, through a road-rage feud between two drivers who are more alike than it seems.

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By James Poniewozik

“I’m so sick of smiling,” says Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) in the first episode of Netflix’s “Beef.” You may have noticed that he’s not alone in this. Blame it on the pandemic, the culture, the economy, but people are mad right now, on planes and on trains and — like Danny and his car-crossed antagonist, Amy Lau (Ali Wong) — in automobiles.

“Beef,” a dark comedy about a road-rage incident that careers disastrously off-road, has good timing, but that’s not enough to make a great TV series. What makes this one of the most invigorating, surprising and insightful debuts of the past year is how personally and culturally specific its study of anger is. Every unhappy person in it is unhappy in a different and fascinating way.

Amy and Danny’s high-speed chase through suburban Los Angeles, following a run-in at a big-box-store parking lot, sets the tone for all 10 episodes (which arrive on Thursday). The show floors the accelerator with heedless gusto, racing a course of revenge, subterfuge and terrible decisions.

But what gives “Beef” its interest is its attention to the motivations that brought the pair to that parking lot in the first place.

Danny, a hard-working, hapless contractor saving to build a house for his Korean parents, is trying to return merchandise while fretting over his family and finances. Amy, an entrepreneur who married into art-world money, is trying to sell her small business to the big store’s owner, a deal she hopes will finally allow her to exhale after years of pressure. Each is this close to breaking, and each, after their near fender-bender, ends up being the other’s last straw.

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