Jeremy Clarkson may be familiar to some U.S. viewers because of his Top Gear show, on which, paraphrasing one of his colleague’s criticisms, he proceeded to fly all over the world driving very fast cars and contributing to global warming.
His latest show, Amazon Prime’s Clarkson’s Farm, is much more bucolic — well, at least on the surface. With the farmer who had previously looked after his very large Cotswolds farm retiring, Clarkson suddenly finds himself needing to take care of thousands of acres himself. Or, never the shy type, it’s a good excuse to get the cameras in and film himself doing so, at least.
The show host has brushed with controversy, shall we say, a number of times in his career. For example, he found himself unpopular with his then-employer, the BBC, for making off-hand comments that were ignorant, bigoted and offensive to some parts of the British population, particularly minorities. The BBC eventually canceled his contract in 2015 after he assaulted a Top Gear producer while filming the show on location.
Aggressive behavior aside, the private-school bluster and privilege, and ability to be unfiltered, is what makes Clarkson Clarkson. Some people like it, some people not so much.
But He Grows on You
As someone who knows about Clarkson’s past and finds it less than appealing, I must admit I warmed to the newbie farmer as he hilariously struggles to adapt to life on his farm in this one-season show. Or maybe it’s more of a case of him just being stubborn and pushing ahead, come what may, rather than adapting. He has so little patience he just blithely ignores small inconveniences, like government regulations and planning permission, for example, the illegal building of his Diddly Squat Farm Shop in a matter of days being a case in point.
Impatient and irascible he may be, but there are some incredible challenges he has to deal with along the way. Not to mention the unpredictable and highly inconvenient British weather, plus badly behaving sheep and hard-to-figure-out tractors – maybe that’s because he insists, of course, on using a Lamborghini tractor.
There is something very admirable about his refusal to give in to such challenges. If nothing else, this show does make you appreciate just how tough farming can be, though I suspect many farmers will question much of its authenticity. There is a lot of truth, however, in Clarkson’s observation that “there’s always one big job” to do daily, and sometimes there’s much more than that.
Can’t Do It Alone
To help him through such an exhausting first year of farming, which includes the small matter of pandemic lockdown, Clarkson has hard-working, knowledgeable, patient people around him.
There’s “Cheerful” Charlie, who brilliantly advises him on practically everything related to the farm in a very relaxed but firm way. There’s Kaleb, the local lad who sure as hell knows about farming, but doesn’t know quite as much about getting around London, where he hilariously fails to make any solid deals on some of the farm produce with restaurant owners in the big city.
Then there’s Clarkson’s long-suffering girlfriend, Lisa, who seems to sell his homegrown potatoes all day on the opening day of the ill-fated farm shop, while he, in his own words, acts as front-of-house manager. Not forgetting the completely incomprehensible farm worker and general factotum, Gerald, whom Clarkson affectionately praises in the final episode for never missing a harvest at the farm in 50 years.
Revealing Hidden Depths
Clarkson does occasionally revert to type, railing annoyingly against Twitter, for example, for being full of left-wing people talking to other people about how left wing they are.
But he also reveals himself to be a bird lover and conservationist, taking great care to encourage insect life on his land to ensure the survival of the ecosystem. And he does seem genuinely upset when one of his two rams dies and some of his lambs are sent to slaughter.
Clarkson, for all his flaws, is funny. And yes, some of the scenes look staged, but how could they not be? However, his interactions with the cast of varied characters he obviously cares about are also hilarious and often very human and touching.
And there is a serious note to consider toward the end when Cheerful Charlie and Clarkson sit down to discuss how much profit they made for the year. Farmers are really struggling and are increasingly looking for other ways to generate income. This struggle is, in some ways, revealed when all Clarkson’s farm could generate in net income was a miserable GBP 144 (about $200).
So much bluster and work, and so little money.
Clarkson is lucky in that he presumably has sufficient financial assets to be able to have such a terrible year financially and make such a show, something that would likely be out of reach for most farmers in the U.K. and elsewhere.
Despite the farm’s lack of financial success, and the show’s obvious flaws, Clarkson’s Farm is entertaining and will make you laugh out loud. Just remember, there’s also a serious message underneath, when it comes to appreciating what’s on your dinner plate tonight.