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So, after the BBC2 nonsense of 'Roux's Service', a reality show that had the audacity to use our licence fee cash to try and turn chavs into head waiters (yes waiters) for six whole shows, they have redeemed themselves slightly with a more interesting challenge, here offering a successful couple the chance to run their own small-holding, picking up the bill for the first year, a more fitting programme for these austerity times.
The host is Jimmy Doherty, pseudo cockney and Jamie Oliver's big mate, the two sharing a noticeable similarity in appearance, and Doherty the star of the 2007 series 'Jimmy's Farm', which Jamie hooked him up with. That one was about virgin farmer Jimmy's endeavour to start a pig farm with his city slicker girlfriend out in the Essex sticks, of which he succeeded, of course, and so an ideal host for this show, the format seeing ten couples chasing the prize, a couple evicted every week, perming one from three at the end of the show. He is an amiable but quietly serious chap and so works well as the head judge and host. Its unclear if he left the wife home alone to run their farm while he does his TV work.
The series tests the contestants with various challenges, the ability to have a good idea and how to make money the most important. Simple things like getting your feed quantities right to livestock ratio so you can grow enough on site to sustain your animals, it being more expensive to buy in feed, meaning the animals will end up costing you money if you get your sums wrong. The tasks should ascertain which couple is best suited to the farming challenge and who isn't, enough of the pairings suitably hopeless to make the show entertaining, of course.
Jane and Ray
The Geordie working-class hero's decided good old northern hard work and corner cutting was the key to success, which it wasn't, of course.
Dean and Joe
An African Caribbean fireman and an Essex beautician try their hand at farming, the shows perfunctory hunky couple.
Ian and Steven
A gay city couple are the drama queens for the show to ensure tears and tantrums.
Ed & Alley
The eco sexy middle-class couple are up for living the good life in the sticks but want to apply modern methods.
Ian and Sue
Ian, a sculpture, and Sue (retired), are the oldest and so most practical couple in the show, husband Ian showing tears after witnessing his wife's excellent ploughing skills. This is an equal relationship and woe betides if Ian shows his wife up, a stone bust off the rack (the stone version) no doubt heading his way fast.
Mike and Angela
A City couple and very competitive, perfectionist and no expense spared, Angela token totty and up for instructions.
Sisters Linda and Michaela
The shows useless pairing squabble a lot, only picked because they had zero farming skills and a distinct lack of communication skills.
Maria and Helen
The lesbian couple work in the city in recruitment and certainly look like farmers.
Will and Bryony
The young middle-class professional couple have just returned from living in the Alps for a year and so ready to live the Good Life of self sufficiency and clean air. Why rural Essex beats the Alps is another debate. Did they come back just to be on telly? Bryony looks every inch the blonde milkmaid, if you get my meaning.
---The Opening Episode---
With a budget of just £1200 the first task was to build a mini farm around your farming idea, each pair given a chunk of field and left to their own devices to decide what they will stock or grow and what to do with the land to make money, the obvious picks being arable or livestock, and with just three days to complete the task. Pigs are great value as they have five different ways to make money from, whilst a crop can bring in good money if there's demand. Cows and sheep are harder work.
As the couples set about buying animals and feed, organising fencing and setting up shelter and ploughing fields, the dramas begin. Maria and Stephen get first crack with the tractor and soon turning the field into a scene form the Somme, deep trenches everywhere, hibernating Badgers fleeing for their lives, this, clearly Steve's first plough. Ray and Jane, meanwhile, have decided to save money on the fence posts and have bought only half of the required plastic posts for the electric fence, improvising with one in every three posts being wooden ones. Wood is a conductor. The fence has no power. Maria and Stephen, on the other hand, have not skimped on fencing and bought brand new timber poles, which need to be hammered into the ground, all day, and the next day, meaning blood sweat and tears smashing the bloody posts into the ground. Stephen wants the posts to be dead straight. It's unclear why the sheep would care how straight the posts are. Stephen makes good money in the city and so those poles will be straight, even if it takes him all night, which it does, his dipsey PR girlfriend cooing at his leadership.
Yuppies Maria and Stephen had buggered up the countries banks so why not the countryside, a spark from the tractor setting fire to a hay storage area. Luckily fireman Dean was on hand and stopped the inferno spreading, the TV show just four hours old. You do wonder what the poor farmer was thinking at that point after letting these city clickers lose on his property. Bloody townies! Sisters Linda and Michaela were the first evictees, Jimmy telling them to go as they were bloody useless at farming, and without humour.
The second episode was all about how to get the best out of your animals and how to plant your crops to maximise yield. Will feigned illness to avoid cutting his first dead pig, his veggie girlfriend Bryony given the task instead, and the other couples getting to grips with how to get the best value of their commodities, the trotters and testicles going in the broth. Bryony starts balling, city folk in the country always emotional, yanking guts out of a pig too much for her.
A silly task is then introduced for 'telly' reasons, the couples asked to show pigs at the county show, which includes being taught how to beat them with a paddle like a jockey does a horse to get it to move around the ring. Pigs were not designed for that Jimmy.
The second evictees were Maria and Helen, failing to control their pigs or produce anything decent from the meat and so not farming material. Two shows gone and four women out already. No comment.
Week three and the teams are tested on sheep in general, from herding to shearing, but expected to learn all the skills pretty sharpish, leaving room for more embarrassing mistakes to put in the show. Fragrant middle-class girl Ally quickly cut her finger and reassigned shearing duties to her eco husband, who fastidiously cut every inch of the fleece off, taking 35 minutes! The poor sheep had never felt so vulnerable and naked.
To make the task more interesting the producers decided farmers need to know their modern marketing skills, the couples asked to design a poster to sell mutton, an under loved meet, apparently, all very Apprentice. It was interesting to see how the more working-class competitors had the most imaginative posters. But it was Ed and Ally who failed miserably in all the sheep tasks, their dog shepherding skills dreadful, too nice to be gnarly farmers and so asked to leave the show and head back to the Alps.
Week four was farmer's market time, setting up their own stall and finding a unique product to sell, the show increasingly becoming The Apprentice for young farmers. Our rather fragile gay couple suffered Ian detaching his retina in the field from attempting physical exercise, a nasty injury that needs treating, forced to have an op at Ipswich hospital and so out of the show. The fact he worked as a television program director suggested a conflict of interests and so for the best he left.
Poor old Dean is being bossed around by his misses on camera and not happy, West Indian boys very much the boss in their own space and women. Jo, Ugg Boots and big hair, continued nagging her man, and leaving their stall unattended. But when people's egos and image is at stake they will give it a go, especially on telly. Dean and Joe were bottom for takings on the day. Will and Bryony took the most money on the day. You don't see many black guys in the country but you will see more of Dean as Jimmy in this show as Jimmy offered them a wildcard to continue because the gay couple left the show, the tears milked.
Episode five concentrated on poultry, 830 million chickens eaten every year in the U.K. and so a very competitive industry, but chickens and their eggs not the only country fare out there that can be enjoyed. The contestants were asked to come up with an innovative poultry related product that will sell, alongside building the chicken coup.
Jane, Geordie wife to Ray, was asked to help inseminate a chicken during a demonstration at a battery farm, which involved sucking the seamen from the bird down a tube connected to its women, effectively sucking a chicken off on BBC2 at 8pm on a weeknight! Ray couldn't wait to do the jokes, quipping that a bit of more practice and she may be able to pull it off! Even Jimmy guffawed at that one.
In heavy rain the couples had to build those chicken coups, fireman Dean and his beautician girlfriend grabbing the chance to express their talents in a wet t-shirt contest, why they really came on to the show one suspects, impressive chests indeed. The results were mixed, the fox having a good laugh and rubbing his belly for the meals to come from most of the pens.
Mike and Angela and Will and Bryony were the bottom two this week, but Mike and Angela really irritating Jimmy with their poultry concept to make money, simply presenting a duck in a cage and just one egg, the idea being budding Good Life families buy a duck to get their own eggs, lazy indeed. Will and Bryony's coup was dreadful but heir duck pâté pasta a good one and so surviving, Mike and Angela were on the next tractor home.
Its one of those shows you can get on with other things and still watch it. With a mix of contestants that are mostly not suited to farming and have a whole different understanding of the acronym D.I.Y. its predicable stuff as far as incompetence and schadenfreude goes. Rather refreshingly there are no deliberately horrid contestants there just to rile people up and everyone sees to get on, winning more important to posturing from this lot. Un-needed time pressure is applied to tasks to stack the pressure on the contestants to get them ratty but you wouldnt expect anything less, and the contestants know the score too.
With two episodes still to go the victorious couple have been obvious from the first show, the oldest couple clearly the most level-headed and practical and so ideal for farming.
The narrator is irritating as he box-ticks essential tension builders in the reality genre, constantly reminding us that 'the dream will be over' if they don't get it right and that 'farming is all about selling product, which we know mate. That aside we do learn some little nuggets about farming (if we should ever want to be a farmer) and Jimmy Doherty is intent on making the show be about its subject matter rather than another step up in his career towards the inevitably diversification and travelogues.
The show airs on Tuesday nights at 8pm and too late to get into it if you haven't. All you can hope is this is the future model for these BBC reality shows and they are more educational and centred on the task in hand than about dumping precious and irritating members of the public on telly to save money by not employing actors. Jimmy is a decent presenter and let us hope these eventual reality winners make the most of the chance they have been given on your licence fee money, unlike our head waiters...