Here’s the one about the farmer and the 10 babes in a house down the road. Stop me if you’ve heard it before.
You have heard it before, of course, if you’ve been awake at all this last decade. I won’t be the only writer to describe the new CW reality series “Farmer Wants a Wife,” in which hot city girls vie for the attentions of a hunky country boy, as “The Simple Life” meets “The Bachelor” -- indeed, you may have trouble finding one who won’t. So thoroughly does “Farmer” resemble its overworked models that one can be tired of it almost before it’s begun.
The farmer who wants a wife -- though I’m not sure I believe that he does or that most of the women are looking for a marriage that would require them to live in Portage Des Sioux, Mo. -- is 29-year-old Matt Neustadt (a onetime “Bachelor” applicant, reportedly). He grows corn, wheat and soybeans on land his family has owned since the 1940s, though the show is filmed elsewhere, at a location the producers deemed more telegenic, more like “the country.”
In the first hour we get little sense of him, other than he looks good with his shirt off, seems decent enough and has some talent for play-acting -- it is as plain as the udder on your cow that unseen hands prompt him at every turn.
As described on the CW website, “the show is based on the format ‘Farmer Wants a Wife,’ from an idea in the British edition of Country Living magazine, in collaboration with FremantleMedia” (the company that brings you “American Idol”). But that series, and the British TV show it inspired, and which has already spawned several foreign franchises, were actually about helping lonely farmers meet women -- they posited a social problem. The American “Farmer” is more . . . American: another intermittently nasty competition dating show, with stunt challenges and a ritualized elimination at the end of every episode.
There is, to be sure, a sort of novel moral tone overlaid. The countryside has been considered a kind of antidote to the spiritual and bodily ills of city living probably as long as there have been cities, and the show takes the wholesomeness of rural life as basic to its narrative. The women here are frustrated, or claim to be frustrated, by city boys -- immature and unfaithful, shady and shallow. “Theology student” Lisa, 21, is looking for “a guy with some morals,” because they’re “difficult to find in L.A.” (“And yes, I’m a virgin,” she adds, to the accompaniment of a dreadful boom on the soundtrack.)
For the most part, the women seem sweet and intelligent in varying degrees, and well- to ill-equipped for the country. The mere sight of the farmer’s well-developed bare chest is enough for a few to believe they’re in love, but New Yorker Christa, the only contestant who didn’t arrive in Missouri in heels, is more sanguine: “Just ‘cause you look at him and he’s pretty and he looks at you and you’re pretty, that’s not a connection.” A couple of contestants barely register.
And then there is Josie, from Laguna Niguel, a creature of such fantastic self-deluded self-regard and improbable utterances that I began to wonder if she were not the invention of some clever actress. Josie envisions country life as “riding horses, going to polo matches,” inquires about the maid service and employs the phrase “working class” as an epithet. If there is some warm or thoughtful side to her, the producers have decided to keep it hidden. Though she has no chance of winning this contest, she may be held around for a while to keep things spiky -- nobody likes her.
And is it unfashionably pre-post-feminist of me to suggest that there’s something odd in the sight of 10 women chasing and crating chickens in order to convince a man with whom they have yet to hold an actual conversation that they’re worth marrying? Even if it’s all a game, it doesn’t much look like progress.
‘Farmer Wants a Wife’
Where: The CW
When: 9 tonight
Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)