Polish up those Emmys for the year's best and most addictive new series. In 10 terrifically fierce and funny half-hour episodes, "Beef" -- now on Netflix -- shakes the cobwebs off TV formula and rockets us into the bliss of rule-breaking experimentation. You won't know what hit you.
"Beef" starts in a burst of fury. We're in Los Angeles, in the parking lot of a big-box store. When Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) nearly backs his truck into the Mercedes SUV being driven by Amy Lau (Ali Wong), road rage bubbles up in both of them, inciting a tale of vengeance that won't quit.
Standard action pulp? No way. Series creator Lee Sung Jin ("Dave") careens from the specifics about the haves and have-nots in a mostly Asian community into a universal tale about the barely contained anger festering inside a modern world divided by poverty and privilege.
That's a tall order. But in a cast headed by the superb Yeun, a best actor Oscar nominee for "Minari," and Wong, a stand-up comic whose dramatic chops are revelatory, "Beef" -- which stands for their blood feud -- takes a big swing at making art out of what lies beneath the fake smiles we paste over the mess of real feelings.
So hop on board the bandwagon for "Beef, from A24, the cool-kid studio behind two Oscar-winning films, "Moonlight" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once." Here's a groundbreaker that revels in finding the logic in the random, the beauty in the broken.
"Beef" is quick to warn us about first impressions, the kind that make us see both Danny and Amy as hotheads, as he tries to run her down on the streets of LA for the sin of flipping him off. As the plot swells with their mutual animosity, the series takes the revolutionary step of asking us to dig inside ourselves to find the empathy that will let us see them as people.
There's Danny, running a failing contracting business, trying to raise money to bring his Korean parents back to the states while caring for his handsome, scarily immature kid brother Paul (Young Mazino) and catastrophically turning for help to his ex-con cousin Isaac (David Choe).
On the other hand, the Chinese Vietnamese Amy seems to have it all, a superficially caring Japanese husband in George (Joseph Lee), an adorable daughter in Junie (Remy Holt). Yet Fumi (Patti Yasutake), Amy's wealthy, controlling mother-in-law, makes Amy eager to build her own fortune by selling her thriving plant business to uber-rich Angelino Jordan (Maria Bello).
In lesser hands, these would be stock characters. Instead, they emerge here with startling dimension and vibrant depth. Even when Danny and Amy escalate microaggressions into career-and-life destroying acts of violence, you root for their bruised humanity.
Yeun and Wong could not be better. Watch Yeun as Danny chokes down fast food burgers or fails to nourish his soul by singing in a local church choir. He's a consummate actor. And Wong nails every subversive impulse under Amy's sunny exterior in an indelible performance.
What Amy and Danny don't see until much later is that, internally at least, they are the same person, each able to drop their inhibitions only in an honest, often horrifying demonstration of hostility, something they can't show to fellow humans out of fear of not fitting in.
In the last two episodes of "Beef," the whacked-out dramedy brings its dual protagonists together in a hallucinatory meeting of the minds that holds the fragile promise of reconciliation while threatening to send the entire series off the rails.
It doesn't, of course. "Beef" is all of a dazzling, darkly comic piece. Any lapses in clarity seem a small price to pay for the emotional impact of the experience. You can discover a lot about yourself by getting lost in "Beef." It grips you like a dream that won't let go. One thing is for sure: Nobody who sees it is going to stop talking about it.