You have an opinion on Jeremy Clarkson. This is understandable. He has been around and part of British life since the late 80s: first as a leather jacket-clad BBC Two curio, and then as the spearhead of the turn-of-the-millennium Top Gear resurgence, and then as one of the bestselling authors in the UK, and then he punched that producer, and then he ended up on Amazon, and now, somehow, he presents Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and wears bracelets a lot. Been a long 35 years.
But by now, you know vaguely how you feel about Clarkson. Either you think he’s absolutely bloody brilliant, doing all the things provincial dads wish they could get away with but can’t (He smokes! He makes digs at Greta Thunberg! He has a girlfriend!); or you think he’s a puce, unbearable boor who is almost single-handedly responsible for the enduring car culture in this country, something we will never shake as long as we all shall live, amen. For my part, I cannot deny Jeremy Clarkson has charisma, and I’m not going to pretend he doesn’t make for good TV, but I have found my patience for his “Now I’m making a joke … and you know it because I dropped my voice down” delivery has worn down to the steel.
Anyway, here he is … on a farm. The rough idea of Clarkson’s Farm (11 June, Amazon Prime Video) is that Jeremy Clarkson – absurdly wealthy from years of writing books about how disgruntled he is, and running production companies to make shows where he drives cars around and says “Wow!” – owns a farm. This has been fine for 11 years, but now the farmer who was running it has retired … and Jeremy Clarkson’s going to run it instead. The only possible drawback? [Hooked finger to mouth, stout jeans pose, pause for realisation] He’s never run a farm … in his life.
It is a flimsy premise, sure, but the slight change in tack is actually what makes this work: after years of TV that painted Clarkson as a sort of all-knowing, jeans-and-a-blazer dad-god, he is now the blundering idiot, constantly on the back foot while surrounded by farm folk who actually know what they are doing. He leaves a ton of seeds by the edge of a barn and they knit themselves together like a carpet, for instance. He buys an overly complicated tractor that no one knows how to use. He installs his own electric fence and – yep, yes – electrocutes himself. He is in the mud, not haw-hawing in a studio with a celebrity, and it’s quite fun to watch.
Am I allowed to say that? In the Guardian? That the new Jeremy Clarkson show is enjoyable? I have emailed ahead and apparently it’s all right, so: without the posturing and with just the right amount of glorious shots of the British countryside in summer and autumn and spring, this show really works. It also helps that, shorn of May and Hammond, Clarkson has found the perfect foil in Kaleb Cooper, a local, no-mucking-about farm boy who speaks to Clarkson with a complete and disarming lack of awe.
If you have an opinion about Jeremy Clarkson – and, as discussed, you do – this isn’t going to change anything about that. But if you like him already, you’ll really like him mucking a farm up. It’s simply, just … really good TV.