The one about food is not titled ‘Beef’.
Beef Season 1
Beef is the best thing Netflix has put out since the last season of I Think You Should Leave almost two years ago. Shit, it’s one of the best things Netflix has ever produced, period. A perfectly paced, unpredictable little morality tale with complicated but never convoluted characters brought to beautiful fruition by two excellent performers at the absolute top of their game. It’s no secret that Steven Yeun is one of the best working actors of his generation, but the real headline here is that stand-up comedian Ali Wong is equally as good. A strong case could be made for both getting Emmys and the fact that series creator Lee Sung Jin has submitted Beef under Limited Series/Anthology instead of Comedy Series means that’s what probably going to happen. I’m predicting a near clean sweep for Beef in its categories, you know, unless people are really feeling the 9000th adaptation of Great Expectations.
Beef follows two incredibly flawed people from opposite worlds. Amy (Wong) owns a bougie plant nursery that looks more like a dumb-ass art gallery than a place where you’d get something nice for the foyer. She’s a stressed out workaholic, married to an incredibly nice but talentless artist (a wonderful Joseph Lee) whose father was a world-renowned artist who made ugly chairs. This places the financial burden entirely on Amy who not only has to deal with an invasive mother-in-law (Patti Yasutake) but also with her nursery being bought up by a pretentious and disgustingly rich furniture mogul (Maria Bello – welcome back!). Somewhere on the other end of the wealth spectrum is Danny (Yeun), a struggling handyman who is trying to earn enough money to move his parents over from Korea. He lives with his seemingly aimless younger brother (Young Mazino) and also deals with his reputation being somewhat destroyed by his criminal cousin (a remarkable David Choe). Both Amy and Danny’s paths cross during a road rage incident outside of a hardware store that starts with a middle finger and ends in a high-speed pursuit that takes Reddit by storm.
From there the story expertly heightens to unpredictable places, all the while managing to never demonize this two deeply flawed central characters. They do some awful shit, and I do mean awful, neither of them make great choices but that’s how Beef chooses to see it – they aren’t terrible people, they just make terrible choices out of desperation and sometimes utter stupidity. I feel like if this plot were developed twenty or so years ago it would be a really dumb crude comedy movie about two people trying to fuck each other over. Maybe like a two pronged Dirty Work, where neither characters are particularly believable or well developed, but there’s a couple of really raunchy set pieces. Thankfully, Beef never pulls it punches, making it not only one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year but one of the most disturbing and thought-provoking. This is storytelling at its finest led by two of the best performers working today. It’s just about perfect. Grade: A (Netflix)
The Bear Season 1
I was wrong. I hate writing those three words but when I initially started to binge this kitchen-set dark comedy while suffering through Covid-19 last summer, I wrote it off as melodramatic and self-important. I think my severe lack of energy clashed with loud Chicagoans screaming the f-word at each other as loud and as fast as they could. That and I had just abandoned my quest to finish Showtime’s Shameless, another Chicago-set dramedy heavily centered around people screaming the f-word at each other as loud and as fast as they could, also starring Jeremy Allen White. Revisiting this super tight and thematically rich set of eight thirty-or-so-minute episodes has made me see the error of my ways. The Bear may not be perfect but it is honesty one of the most riveting and well-crafted “comedies” currently streaming.
White plays Carmy Berzatto, one of the most celebrated young chefs in the world who leaves his well paid, high pressure position as a chef de cuisine in NYC micro-green palace for a poorly paid, even higher pressure position as chef, owner and operator of his deceased brother’s beef shop. It’s a failing business but he feels a family obligation to keep it going, even if he has to deal with his brother’s best friend, Richie (an excellent Ebon Moss-Bacharach) and a bunch of line cooks used to a less tighter ship. Just as things look real bad in walks a heaping pile of hope in the form of a talented young sous chef named Sydney, played by a stellar Ayo Edebiri, who functions as the heart of the show. The Bear follows a lot of very familiar beats for this type of underdog redemption story, but the real flavor (ughhh it was either that or “secret ingredient”) of this show comes from the wonderfully detailed and nuanced characters that we become heavily invested in.
The cast, writing and directing are top notch, including a brilliantly rendered single-take episode about a kitchen disaster, but so much of this show falls on White‘s shoulders and he delivers ten fold. Even watching him on a show like Shameless, that constantly failed to rise to his level, you could tell he was a great performer but this is the part that really solidifies him as an acting force. He’s the best part of a show that takes a familiar if a bit cliched premise and breathes new, exciting life into it. I can’t wait for Season 2. Grade: A- (Hulu)
OTHER NEWish TV STREAMING
Swarm (Amazon Prime)
Milf Manor Season 1 (Discovery+)
South Park Season 26 (HBOMax)
The Last of Us Season 1 (HBOMax)
Poker Face Season 1 (Peacock)
Pressure Cooker Season 1 (Netflix)
From Season 1 (MGM+)
Tulsa King Season 1 (Paramount+)
Mythic Quest Season 3 (AppleTV+)
Industry Season 2 (HBOMax)
The White Lotus Season 2 (HBOMax)
This Is Going to Hurt (AMC+)
Interview with the Vampire Season 1 (AMC+)
Atlanta Season 4 (Hulu)
Chucky Season 2 (Peacock)
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix)
28 Days Haunted (Netflix)
The Midnight Club (Netflix)