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Writing for TV: Beef Pilot

The streaming era has led to more television series than ever before, with Netflix being at the helm of some of the best to come out in the history of television. While there are more shows to keep track of, plenty stands apart, with 2023’s 'Beef' being the year's standout.

If you don’t know, 'Beef' is a comedic drama series developed by Lee Sung Jin exclusively for Netflix. Initially announced in March 2021, the project, spearheaded by Lee Sung Jin and featuring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, was secured by Netflix for television rights.

Shows like 'Beef' excel at inspiring others to craft and develop scripts to the highest magnitude, perfectly blending drama and comedy, resulting in one of the best shows of the year. There’s plenty to analyze with the show, so let’s discuss what we can learn as writers from it, specifically its pilot.

Still from 'Beef'. Photo credit: Rolling Stone

Compelling Plot

You can’t sell a TV script without a compelling plot. As obvious as that may seem, many people forget about the importance of having an appealing script and not just a conglomeration of a vision. With 'Beef', the show is a captivating tale of conflict between two Los Angeles locals, Danny Cho (played by Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (portrayed by Ali Wong), triggered by a heated road altercation.

Amidst contrasting lifestyles, both protagonists are dissatisfied in their careers and personal lives. Danny, a struggling contractor, navigates the challenges of job hunting, while Amy, a thriving businesswoman, juggles a fulfilling marriage and parenthood.

Plenty of relatability and appeal make the show accessible to pitch. We’ve seen this story arc before, but the intricacies and exciting writing set it apart from other shows. Much of that relates to the show’s characters and, most importantly, how we’re introduced to them.

Great Introduction

The primary goal of character introductions is to acquaint the audience with the characters. When executed effectively, they achieve several vital outcomes: directing the audience’s focus towards essential aspects and captivating their interest in the character.

In 'Beef', we’re introduced to Danny while he grapples with returning hibachi grills to Forster’s supermarket without a receipt. Danny faces ridicule from the cashier and his frustration mounts. Exiting his car, he encounters a driver obstructing his path, who flips him off.

A subsequent pursuit unveils the car’s owner: the accomplished entrepreneur and devoted mother, Amy Lau. This serendipitous encounter sparks a feud that rapidly escalates, pulling viewers into the intricate narrative of 'Beef'.

At its essence, crafting a stellar introduction necessitates a deep understanding of your character. Dedicate time to flesh out their personality and dive into the emotionally impactful aspects of their backstory until your characters come alive with their agency and unique voices, similar to how 'Beef' did so.

Realistic and Relatable Characters

The best way to craft a television script is to develop relatable characters who offer something the studio will find appealing. Crafting relatable characters is significant for writers because it captivates audiences, fosters empathy, establishes memorable personas, propels the plot forward, and infuses the narrative with an air of authenticity.

For example, Amy lives with her husband, George Nakai, and their daughter, Junie. Amy presides over a prosperous business as a self-made entrepreneur, projecting an image of a flawless life. However, as the episode progresses, cracks in her seemingly perfect facade begin to surface, shared across many picture-perfect families.

In contrast, Danny shares a home with his younger brother Paul, who grapples with a quarter-life crisis and finds himself at odds with his brother. Danny's parents are stranded in Korea following the loss of their motel due to unethical dealings by Danny's cousin, Isaac.

Both of these characters have personalities, have living situations, and make decisions that audiences can relate to. We want to see how this story unfolds because all of us can see a piece of ourselves in Danny and Amy. A good rule as a writer is to ensure the characters resonate with your target audience by sharing similar life experiences or viewpoints.

What Are Your Themes?

The inherent human drive to seek meaning in events and deeds underscores the importance of imbuing a script with a clear theme and message. A screenplay that resonates with deeper meaning is inherently more satisfying to read than one lacking substance.

When writing on speculation, your script's primary objective is to compel action from the reader. While an intriguing premise or well-drawn characters may capture attention, without a thematic core, it risks being overlooked.

A script infused with a solid thematic essence is far more likely to garner attention. Not only does it showcase your prowess as a promising writer, but it also fulfills the expectations of both producers and agents seeking substance in scripts.

With 'Beef', there are many potential themes related to the show, causing many to debate its true meaning. For example, some argue its central message revolves around personal responsibility for happiness rather than blaming external factors.

Amy and Danny initially attribute their unhappiness to their work and relationships, only to realize later that they were their most significant obstacles. True fulfillment comes from introspection and addressing internal issues rather than seeking external validation or success.

Setting Up The Future

Even though 'Beef' is an anthology series, there’s still a lesson to be learned about setting up your show in the future. The future of 'Beef' will feature entirely different characters and a story—similar to shows like Fargo—but its ethos is set up so that people will want to see it continue.

Writing more episodes than you intend is invaluable practice with countless benefits. In my view, there's always value in continuing to write. It allows for the expansion of your story world and the development of your characters.

Through this process, you may stumble upon new storylines and opportunities to incorporate foreshadowing or subtle details into earlier episodes. Be mindful of your show’s length and the proper way to end it, but always intend for more if a studio executive or agent asks about the potential future during a pitch.


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