Road rage as a sociological concept—as a damning manifestation of present-day temperament—has, perhaps, seen its heyday come and go. It was a hot-button topic in the early years of this century, back when most blowups weren’t happening online. The late-night monologue jokes have since died out, for the most part, but of course the real problem persists, as America seems to get angrier and angrier, tenser and more atomized with each crack of society’s bedrock. So, the new series Beef (Netflix, April 6) feels entirely timely, a look at one moment of outburst that causes terrible ripples in the lives of two people.

The series, from creator Lee Sung Jin, contextualizes a specific social ill amidst a host of modern anxieties. When down-on-his-luck general contractor Danny (Steven Yeun) has a scary roadway encounter with uptight boutique owner Amy (Ali Wong), a deep class conflict immediately presents itself. Amy, charging around in her fancy white SUV, is an emblem of enviable Instagram lifestyle. She lives in a stylish Calabasas home with her handsome husband, George (Joseph Lee), and their adorable young daughter, June (Remy Holt). Danny, meanwhile, is stuck in a dumpy apartment with his slacker brother, Paul (Young Mazino), as both struggle to make ends meet and dream of the glamorous life so luxuriated in by people like Amy.

Well, at least, one would imagine that Amy is content in her blessings. In truth, she’s a nervous wreck, so obsessed with amassing money and maintaining status that she has no time—nor, maybe, desire—to enjoy any of it. Her brief act of aggression against Danny seems to free her from that gilded cage, while Danny sees himself as a righteous have-not going to battle against a particularly obnoxious have. And so a feud commences, one that starts out petty and silly but, as Beef’s ten episodes unfold, grows operatically dire.

The show’s intended tone is a tricky one to get right. It must be funny in its satire of capitalism’s rot, but also take seriously the real humanity of its characters. For the most part, Lee and his writers succeed. Though some of the show’s more elaborate jokes are strained, Beef otherwise has a taut, offbeat humor that distinguishes it from plenty of banally crude we-can-say-swears comedies that have clogged up premium cable and streaming services in the last ten years. And when Beef explores its emotional terrain, it often does so with a delicacy and poeticism that pushes the series into the dreamy realm of the metaphysical.

Yeun and Wong are compelling leads, allowing Danny and Amy to be both irksome and pitiable, toxically selfish and plainly sympathetic. Wong is mostly known as a standup comedian, so it’s a thrill to see her explore her range and come up with a character so complicated and slippery. She’s particularly adept at showing Amy’s fraught code switching, between a breezy Angeleno glide at work (particularly when she’s negotiating the sale of her business to a narcissist zillionaire played by Maria Bello) and the wounded, furious person within.

The entire acting company operates at that nimble level, from Mazino as a sensitive and misbegotten himbo to Patti Yasutake as Amy’s formidable mother-in-law. Beef is a grand testament to how much underutilized talent exists beyond the periphery of Hollywood’s white gaze—this is an ensemble of mostly Asian actors hungrily seizing dynamic material worthy of their talent.

That material takes them to strange and frightening places, as Danny and Amy’s war escalates into a struggle for survival. Or, at least, a struggle for some kind of justice, for a feeling of belonging in an indifferent world. Maybe in a future season this will all be revealed as a love story, of two people whose passion for one another shifts from hatred to hard-won affection. But the show isn’t looking for any kind of happy-ish ending just yet. Beef keeps its flinty edge even through a surrealist finale episode in which some walls come tumbling down.

That episode represents the show at its wackiest, which is not my favorite of its modes. The series takes wild swings, and not all of them connect. But the show remains propulsively engaging throughout, always finding a way to return—through intricately mapped plotting—to the core fire of Danny and Amy as they tear at the fabric of their existences. It’s not exactly cathartic to watch them release their ids. But there is some satisfaction in holding them up as safely fictional proxies for our own envy and resentment, our own feelings of being denied or owed or unfairly estimated. And, of course, there is the instructive power of remembering that neither is the real enemy. Maybe next season, they’ll point their rage where it belongs.

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