The man may just be an idiot, but this bizarre TV show is worth its weight in gold.
I don't feel strongly either way for Jeremy Clarkson as a person. Yes, I've followed Top Gear over the years, and dipped my toes in The Grand Tour, but I'm neither particularly invested in his success, nor the exact opposite. I take categorical exception to the utterly stupid things he has written over the years, and here I certainly include the column about Meghan Markle, and think his stance on looming climate change and green transition for years has been damaging to progress, and the public spirit.
So why have I been glued to the screen now through two seasons of Clarkson's Farm, which in a way places the very man I have a mildly Greek Catholic relationship with in the middle of the shot 95% of the time? Well, that's hard to answer. Maybe it's because entertainment value doesn't always have to be loaded, maybe there are just certain concepts, certain structures, certain compositions that hit a chord?
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Clarkson's Farm shouldn't work. Jeremy Clarkson is apart from his two regular Top Gear/Grand Tour co-hosts. There are no Lamborghinis or explosions. He is, in other words, alone, exposed, and he even has to try to run a commercial farm, with all that that entails. Again; it shouldn't work. But it does. Maybe it's coincidental, maybe it's because the team Amazon has put together to organise and film is downright brilliant, or maybe it's because this is precisely the job Clarkson was, in fact, born to do - either way, Clarkson's Farm is brilliant, investing, rich and entertaining television, which has the fun, probably unintended side-effect of instilling a renewed respect for crops, farm animals and the work that goes into producing... well, everything we take for granted.
Clarkson has for many years run a large country estate in Chipping Norton, northwest of London, and in the second season, which has just landed on Prime Video, the challenges, the heartbreaking moments and the small victories run on for both Clarkson himself and his loyal entourage of tough locals, from Caleb the farmer to Charlie the economist. This time, bird flu, bovine tuberculosis and rising costs from a messy Brexit ravage the country, and Clarkson navigates it all with a lack of grace to say the least, but a seemingly genuine desire to... well, create something.
Of course, as a viewer you're always looking for the seam in documentaries like this, to spot how much it's all been organised, but to be honest there's an air of authenticity about Clarkson's Farm, a realism not previously seen in Top Gear, and certainly not in the much-staged Grand Tour. Here you get right under the skin of a project, and follow the ups and downs in a far more invested way as a result. My girlfriend Klara and I have been glued to the screen since Friday, saying "f*ck" when Pepper the heifer turns out not to be able to conceive, or cheering when the rapeseed oil harvest has turned out a solid return.
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We don't normally get so heavily invested in farm TV, to be blunt, but both times, a year and a half apart, I felt a genuine connection to the struggle of these relatively ordinary people to carry on doing what they love, and at the same time I have to say that Clarkson's enthusiasm for the craft rubs off like gold. It makes him neither a good, nor a bad, person, but it does help give him a dimension not had before amidst the tire smoke and the glaring resonance of the word "power".
Clarkson's Farm is just, mysteriously, damn good television, and it's recommended for anyone who's a little at a loss as to what to throw their love at. It is, in a way, empty calories, that's for sure. But sometimes, only empty calories will do.