Netflix's BEEF (2023-) Review - SXSW 2023
Netlfix's Original Series have taken risks throughout the years, attempting to tap into a diverse array of audience interests through different forms of appealing content. Not every Netflix Original Series has succeeded on the platform, whether it be due to a lack of an engaging premise or memorable moments that explode into virality (on a positive front). A24 and Netflix's road rage dramedy BEEF is an answer to what the streaming service has been missing.
Opening each episode with a dramatic, philosophic, and upsettingly cynical phrase, Netlfix's BEEF sets the tone for itself in a jarring manner that earns the shock value it demands. The series is wickedly intelligent when navigating through life's most challenging lows while addressing the harsh realities of depression, rejection, defeat, and the endless strife of feeling trapped. BEEF's pitch-black tone is dark with a purpose and subverts the expectation of intentional edginess. Netflix's triumph becomes so comfortable with the uncomfortable, the crisis it may spark is worth igniting the kindling of such a poignant, smartly satirical approach to our most unspoken woes. A dreaded sense of emptiness and the torture of vulnerability are spilled across the screen in such a way that no matter how blunt the show becomes, it carries itself with a refined sense of self. It isn't often that a series remains so confident while being polarizing - and that's exactly where BEEF finds its strength.
Ali Wong and Steven Yeun are brilliant, both in comedic beats and gut-wrenching displays of despair. Both are commanding of the screen, yet neither of their characters is truly pleasant, and that repulsive air around both of them echoes the dejection that they take on so masterfully. Focusing a series on unlikable protagonists is a great undertaking, and BEEF rises to the challenge with ease. BEEF markets itself as almost cinematic, but the decision to break the first season into 10 episodes is a praiseworthy choice. It forces the show to weigh down on its audience and face the ramifications of each episode. Each episode is incredibly necessary and tactfully builds upon itself before exploding into the season one finale.
Creator Lee Sung Jin sought inspiration for the series from his own road rage and has since fleshed his unpleasant exchange into something even greater. The means of capturing the reality of life through complex, anguished characters that illustrate all-too-familiar scenarios that may be a bit extreme, yet at points, understandable. It's the magnitude of the series's most outrageous moments to its most self-reflective pinpoints that cast magnetic energy across Sung Jin's televised triumph.
Atop biting humor that is sharp as it is bleak, Netflix's BEEF is a striking commentary on social class, mental health, and race relations. Pitting two socioeconomic opposites against one another to draw complete emphasis on the misery in both wealth and poverty provides an incredibly much-needed contrast to demonstrate class hierarchy in the United States. The show expertly dives head-first into intense subject matter without burying the honest truths that come along with the reality of living. It captures the essence of rage and betrayal, grief and anger, and the sense of mourning for what life could have been if played to one's fortune. Above all, Netflix's BEEF paints a portrait of how we treat one another, and how we treat ourselves. 8.5/10.