By Courtney Thomas
Irreverent television host Jeremy Clarkson’s latest show is worlds away from BBC’s Top Gear and Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour, the popular car shows on which he previously starred alongside Richard Hammond and James May, but Amazon Prime’s 2021 series Clarkson’s Farm proves his talent as a presenter applies to even the country life. Clarkson’s polarizing humor is the principal draw, but the series also includes gorgeous English landscapes and an endearing cast of local characters.
On the surface, fast-driving Clarkson’s decision to retire to work a 1,000 acre farm in the Cotswolds, bringing along a camera crew that would surely disrupt his newfound quietude, is a surprising one. The show’s premise starts to make sense, however, as the prices of the farm equipment Clarkson will need to buy to support the farm start rolling in, adding up to over a quarter of a million dollars even before any crops have been planted.
While a good deal of the show consists of Clarkson tooling around in his impractically large Lamborghini tractor, Clarkson is full of ideas for positive additions to make to Diddly Squat Farm. He introduces sheep, installs beehives, revives an old spring fed water system, and allows nature free rein in certain sections of his land. Still, as he has often been called by fellow Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, Clarkson is a bit of an orangutan. He frequently ignores the advice of local farming experts, and has to pay the price.
The coterie of agricultural associates Clarkson has assembled in Chippy Norton are competent farm hands that serve as entertaining additions to the series. His shepherd, Ellen, teaches him to assist with lamb births, his land agent Charlie serves as a straight man against whom Clarkson’s bravado finds an entertaining level of friction, and a local named Gerald maintains the stone walls on the property while speaking in a regional accent so incomprehensible he might not even be using English. Even Lisa, Clarkson’s girlfriend, pitches in, helping with the chickens and managing the Diddly Squat Farm store.
The local with the most screen time is 21-year-old seasoned farm hand Kaleb. In addition to farming advice and an education in harvesting, Kaleb provides welcome takedowns of Clarkson, berating him for the inconveniences caused by his idiocy. In the months since the series originally aired, Kaleb has become a fan favorite. In the show, he proves to be quite the character himself. He is perpetually planning his new hairstyles and provides fascinating windows into the work-hard-play-hard life of a young farmer, describing rotten potato fights with his friends and showing up to work one day injured but unbothered after his friend “accidently” shoots him in the leg with an airsoft rifle.
Kaleb even gets his own fish-out-of-water spin-off plot line for an episode, driving into London for the first time in his life with the mission of selling wasabi plants from Diddly Squat Farm to upscale Japanese restaurants. Before leaving he’s warned by Clarkson: “Every single thing you can do in the country you can’t do in London.” Kaleb completes the journey, but the trip is less than successful. He only makes enough profit to cover his parking expenses.
In the world of Clarkson’s Farm, however, it isn’t all idyllic pastures and camaraderie. The 2019-2020 planting season was an especially difficult one for British farmers. Unusual weather patterns included eight weeks of rain followed by an intense drought, diminishing crop yields. Then, sales were hurt by the loss of the restaurant market during the pandemic. As novice farmer Clarkson attempts to navigate these unforeseen challenges, the plot starts to shape up into an interesting man vs. nature arc, complicated by Clarkson’s knowledge that unless man cares for the natural world it will only become more inhospitable. This part of the series is full of sublime shots of storm clouds gathering above rolling fields, and it presents a welcome and nuanced departure from Clarkson’s familiar bashing of the activists he has previously called “eco-mentalists.”
This promising storyline, however, is quickly supplanted by a man vs. bureaucracy model, as Clarkson chaffes against government forms, E.U. pesticide restrictions and local building codes. It’s an old formula for curmudgeonly Clarkson, but in this new setting it remains entertaining.
Despite Clarkson’s signature churlishness, the series has surprisingly heartfelt moments. Sheep are notoriously disease prone and Clarkson’s sheep in particular are a money pit, but he develops a real affection for them. It’s an emotional blow when his ram, Wayne Rooney, is found dead.
Throughout the series, Clarkson guides the viewer through the epic highs and lows of farm life. He ecstatically proclaims “I’ve grown a thing” upon harvesting his first crop, and solemnly acknowledges how difficult a year British farmers faced during the filming of the show. It’s hard to imagine what a Season 2 would look like for Clarkson’s Farm, now that Clarkson and viewers have become familiar with the rhythms and tasks associated with maintaining Diddly Squat Farm, but as for Clarkson himself, he ends the show happy with his experiences and optimistic about continuing his agricultural endeavor for another year.