Clarkson’s Farm is a brilliant eight-episode reality series on Amazon Prime whose central figure does a spectacular job making himself look absurd. Jeremy Clarkson — a national treasure in Britain, still little known in the U.S. — is a soft-bellied, PC-hating, extremely wealthy 58-year-old fellow who made squillions hosting Top Gear, then was fired for punching a producer, then launched a knockoff show called The Grand Tour. He is also beloved for the curmudgeonly humor columns he writes for the British Sunday papers.
Clarkson’s farm is a thousand-acre spread in the Cotswolds in southern England. One day its owner (or more likely, a canny TV producer) decided that he, himself, would actually try to farm the farm, guessing that this would be highly amusing to watch. He guessed right. Cue the theme from Green Acres. Then slowly fade in the screaming chaos of “Gimme Shelter.”
Jolly and bluff and unerringly confident in his ability to manage situations about which he knows absolutely nothing, Jeremy obligingly steps into the time-honored role of the clueless metropolitan — the city slicker/sucker — who ventures out into the land of the rubes and finds that, in important ways, they’re the clever ones and he is utterly useless.
Come the apocalypse, for instance, the people who know how to make food are going to be a bit more important than the people who know how to host Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? And yet it’s the latter group that get paid millions, while the former struggle to get by.
To share the workload, and also to teach him how to do everything, Jeremy brings on an uneducated 21-year-old blond hayseed named Kaleb who sports a series of increasingly dire haircuts as the series goes on. Ah, but Kaleb, for all of his bumpkin airs, grew up in these parts and knows absolutely all there is to know about farming. Naturally, Jeremy keeps ignoring his advice. Jeremy’s other key adviser is a bald little numbers gnome, an agronomist named Charlie who keeps popping in to give Jeremy grim news involving bookkeeping. I don’t know what an agronomist is either, but he is forever explaining to Jeremy, with a balance of patience and disbelief, why Jeremy’s schemes won’t work, why his crops can’t be sold, or how he is running afoul of regulatory standards and could well find himself jailed. Jeremy calls him “Cheerful Charlie.”
Also there’s a woman, Jeremy’s girlfriend Lisa, an Irish actress, but instead of taking on the standard sitcom role of the buzz-killing hausfrau who won’t let the boys go ahead with their moronic plans, she’s actually helpful and upbeat and spends surprisingly little time rolling her eyes at the various Jeremy-induced emergencies.
For additional comic relief, there’s a fellow named Gerald, an old hand who has worked on the farm for 50 years. Whenever Gerald turns up, he mutters something utterly incomprehensible in his thick country accent. Jeremy looks baffled. I was equally baffled. You’ll be baffled. Even the folks who do the closed captions can’t figure out what he’s saying.
I keep saying Jeremy, by the way, because he just isn’t mature enough to be referred to by his last name. Would you call a little boy by his last name? I kept thinking of Daddy Pig on the Peppa Pig cartoon: the least mature figure on the show, the one who in each episode bustles in with unshakable faith in his own ability to tackle a given problem, then makes it much, much worse.
Deciding that the cute fuzzy owls he finds on the property need a habitat, Jeremy tries to install a 40-foot telephone pole with a forklift and drops the pole on a fence, which destroys it. Then he blames Kaleb for all of this. When he finally gets the pole upright, he notices that he’s forgotten to put the owl box on top of it, which was the entire point of the exercise, and the pole is leaning over at a precarious angle anyway. Pure Daddy Pig incompetence, except with swearing. (Come to think of it, an R-rated Peppa Pig would be loads of fun. I’d watch.)
When Jeremy is told that, in order to farm, he will need something called a “tractor,” he goes off and returns with a Lamborghini-made one. It’s the size of a brontosaurus, it’s so big that he can’t fit it in his barn, and it has more controls than NASA headquarters. Jeremy can barely use the thing without bashing through a wall. He takes water from the spring on his property, sells it at his farm stand in bottles under the label It Hasn’t Got S**t in It, then finds out that it has, rather, got quite a lot of s**t in it. He decides to make some homemade candles inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow’s line of vagina-scented merchandise, but somehow the label he puts on them, This Smells Like My Bollocks, doesn’t have quite the same appeal. He is sad when told he has to cull some damaged lady sheep who are incapable of reproducing, but the episode concludes with him eating the lamb stew he makes from their corpses. “It’s delicious!” he declares.
All hilarious as set pieces, and it’s easy to laugh off Jeremy’s pain because we know he’s worth $60 million. He never seems distressed for long, not even when he’s crying out, “I’m f***ed.” At the end of the series, he’s as hearty and game for anything as he was at the start, and so, good news! A second season is coming.
But it’s not the many individual catastrophes that make the show so delightful; it’s the comic superstructure that sells it. Jeremy is every middle-aged man fighting time, bureaucrats, machinery, markets, pests, and God. He is a comedy Job for our times, and he serves as a lesson for all of us who have ever thought of embarking on a bold new project well outside our comfort zone: Don’t do it. You’ll probably fail. There’s a corollary to that, though: What you’re doing now is probably as good as it gets for you, so be happy with your lot. At least you’re not in London attempting to sell the wasabi you so proudly grew on your farm and discovering it’s worth a fraction of what your parking ticket just cost you.