The new Netflix dramedy thriller, Beef, is a meaty anomaly in the TV landscape of more straightforward narratives. The show starts small, with an incident of road rage, and expands outward to include the lives of everyone affected; the little dark comedy becomes a highly perceptive, emotional, and almost cosmic look at the human condition.
Steven Yeun and Ali Wong star as Danny and Amy, respectively, two people whose lives are inextricably linked after one honks their horn at the other and flicks them off. Soon, Danny’s brother, Paul (Young Mazino) and Amy’s husband, George (Joseph Lee), are dragged into this blood feud which threatens to destroy them all. Mazino and Lee spoke with MovieWeb about the new series, which is available on Netflix beginning April 6.
Young Mazino on His Beef Character
Paul and George are sometimes framed as more compassionate and “good” people compared to Danny and Amy, who ultimately fear they’re “bad” people incapable of being loved. While ultimately, everyone is identified as all too human on the even playing field of suffering in Beef, it is interesting how each character feels like a kinder counterpart to the two leads. Paul is a “crypto bro” whose life has stagnated after never leaving his family and their motel for greener pastures. He’s sweet but naive, good-hearted but somewhat guarded against reality.
“I think Paul is blissfully ignorant of the real world and kind of has his own tunnel vision going on.,” said Mazino. “For the most part, he means well, but I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily good, but more so just trying to figure himself out and focusing all of that energy on himself. And in some ways, he’s selfish, narcissistic to believe that he is the protagonist and maybe his brother is the antagonist. I don’t think I approached Paul with the sense that he’s the more morally grounded person, he’s much more loose than that.” Mazino elaborated:
He just hasn’t been tested by reality enough to know his own mettle. All he knows is the negativity route, the toxic route which he sees his brother on, ignorantly, he sees that and wants to get away without realizing that if Paul looked at Danny with much more empathy, he would realize Danny is also just the product of his own environment.
“I think Paul is one of those characters who is unaware that he is the butt of the cosmic joke,” continued Mazino. “In his world, he’s like a protagonist and everyone else is an NPC [Non-Playable Character], and he tries to play by that, and when he gets burned, it starts to change him. I wanted to approach it with as much empathy; it’s so easy to judge a character like Paul […] but approaching with empathy is always the right place to start. And everything that happens, he’s only reacting to it as best as he can with what he has.”
Joseph Lee on His Beef Character
George is the son of a famous Japanese artist, whose doting mother loves him but also doesn’t respect his talent. There is a sadness and insecurity beneath George, and a bit of emotional adultery, so when he speaks Buddhist and Zen-like maxims, one imagines that Beef will reveal him to be a fraud through a cynical comedic lens. But that revelation never comes; George is just a human being with flaws who is trying to be kind, who wants honest connections with people, and who’s striving to be a better person. Like Paul, he is sweet, lonely, and a little oblivious to reality.
“For me to play George, in a good sense, I think you have to more so wrap it around specific points of his life, and then that means — how am I as a husband? How am I as a father?” opined Lee. “If I can wrap my entire identity around those things and really concentrate on being those two things that are good in my life, then that kind of just bleeds out into everything else. And so I think George really is somebody that suppresses himself and his own needs in support of his entire family. And I think that’s how he would see himself, as doing good.”
“I think the starting point is him covering up his own pain and some self-hatred that he has,” continued Lee. “I think his focus and reliance on trying to be good, quote unquote, I think, for anybody to really kind of profess that and really kind of live by that, it has to be that you’re projecting off of something, or you are covering for something. I think, as the show progresses, you see a lot of those cracks coming through and, all in all, it was a very human experience to be able to play that.”
Netflix’s Beef Is Relevant Throughout Human History
Lee Sung Jin create and co-wrote an incredible and philosophical series here, and every character of Beef seems to reflect facets of our fractious world in extremely enlightening ways. “Sunny [Lee Sung Jin] is extremely thoughtful, and his brain is going a million miles per hour. But he gives you what you need, and he’s not going to fill you up with anything else that could either saturate your brain or your process of coordinating,” said Lee. He continued:
I mean, he’ll he’ll give you snippets of certain concepts or certain ideas that’s kind of going on in his brain, but to actually shoot the scenes or when we’re having conversations about each character, he’s very intentional, and I think it allows us to also be more focused and just to kind of trim the fat on all the other things that we should be worrying about, and just tell the proper story.
“I think it’s a show that people will realize that they didn’t know that they needed,” continued Lee. “I think it really comes to the credit of Sunny not executing a lot of these subjects and themes in a way that seems too aggressive or forceful. There’s a subtle dance to everything that he plays with. I feel like it allows the audience to be able to then take it at their own pace and formulate their own kind of thoughts and ideas about the show.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I’m sure you can extrapolate a lot of stuff that would make sense as a perspective on the socioeconomic state of the world,” added Mazino. “You can tie some things, but overall, the tone is speaking volumes on the irrationality of the world that we live in, where we are in the state of almost end-stage capitalism and what’s going on with the banks right now.”
“One of the central themes,” concluded Lee, “is this idea of kind of human folly, of being so cemented in your worldview of something that’s happened, and your inability to be able to break out of that and let in the thoughts of other people. And that’s something that I feel like will forever be somewhat relevant throughout human history.”
From Silly Pipe Dreams, Universal Remote, A24, and Netflix, all episodes of Beef can be streamed on Netflix beginning April 6.