Review: Clarkson’s Farm Series 2
The unexpected farming tour-de-force returns for a second season, and sees the controversial former Top Gear presenter goes from bumbling oaf to agricultural activist, writes Harry Craig
Has any television personality undergone as radical a transformation in the past decade as Jeremy Clarkson? Ten years ago, he was a motoring journalist, spending his life going sideways around a track and travelling all across the world, from Ushuaia to Iraq, for Top Gear. Then came his sacking from the BBC in 2015 and a revived career for Amazon.
In recent years, however, Clarkson has kept his sports car garage firmly locked. Since regular episodes of The Grand Tour (Clarkson’s car show reboot on Amazon Prime with colleagues Richard Hammond and James May) ended in 2019, Clarkson has sought a new endeavour – taking over the day-to-day running of his farm near Chipping Norton in rural Oxfordshire. Ever the opportunist, Clarkson turned this pursuit into a documentary series for Amazon, and the first season in 2021 received near-universal acclaim.
However, the arrival of the second season in February 2023 has not come at a good time for the Clarkson brand. He ignited understandable anger at the end of 2022 for his misogynistic comments about Meghan Markle, for which he has since apologised. Nonetheless, the Clarkson we see in Clarkson’s Farm – the one who is so emotionally attached to one of his farm’s cows that he adopts it as a pet rather than sending it to slaughter – is very different to the Clarkson we have become accustomed to.
This latest season of the show centres mostly around Clarkson’s attempts to convert a former lambing barn into a restaurant, to make his farm more profitable. It is surprisingly gripping viewing – a local council meeting hasn’t been made this exciting since Jackie Weaver. Of course, the show does not present a completely objective narrative, but there are some important political points here, demonstrating how red tape, bureaucracy and NIMBYism is holding back farmers all across Britain from developing their businesses.
The classic comedy elements of Season One are all still here – Clarkson’s farming advisor Kaleb constantly pointing out whenever Jeremy makes mistakes (there are plenty of opportunities); the complete inability to understand what Gerald, who is responsible for maintaining the farm’s dry-stone walls, is ever saying, and Kaleb’s fear of venturing any further than Chipping Norton. However, this season does seem to take on a more serious demeanour than before.
There are some important political points here, demonstrating how red tape, bureaucracy and NIMBYism is holding back farmers all across Britain from developing their businesses.
Clarkson is well aware of the huge platform his fame and popularity gives him, and has remodelled himself as arguably the face of British farming; he and Kaleb even won the “Flying the Flag for British Agriculture” at the recent British Farming Awards. Consequently, this second season presents Clarkson less as the bumbling oaf, but more as the voice for how hard things have got for the farming industry. This really hits home when one of Clarkson’s neighbouring farmers says she would have gone out of business if not for being able to sell her milk at Clarkson’s farm store.
This does not mean this new season is devoid of any funny moments or humour; otherwise, it simply wouldn’t be a Clarkson show. At its best, this harks back to the classic days of Top Gear – in recent years, some of the humour in The Grand Tour felt somewhat forced, but it always feels genuinely authentic in Clarkson’s Farm. This really shines through in Jeremy’s relationship with Kaleb – the pairing bounce off each other very well, and their evidently close relationship makes their banter, like Clarkson’s humiliation of Kaleb for missing a patch in one of the fields, even more meaningful.
This latest season of Clarkson’s Farm is considerably different from the first, but the quality remains impeccably high. The protagonist’s role has switched – no longer is he the layman being lectured at by the experts, but instead the expert lecturing us, the viewer. The comedy elements are still there, but underneath lies a crucial message about the plight of British farming. Jeremy Clarkson: motoring journalist, farmer, activist?