If you come to Farmer Wants a Wife, Fox's new reality dating show, with expectations of Hallmark-level romance and Yellowstone -calibre scenery, you're sorely mistaken. Hosted by Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, the series follows four farmers looking for love in the heartland. Over the course of six weeks, each farmer must choose a wife from among five female contestants. It's big-city-girl-meets-country-hunk, minus most of the spontaneous charm (and nearly all the hunkiness). Despite the show's deeply odd, chemistry-deficient quality, it's worth a watch for the simple fact that it manages to undercut its own premise. Farmer Wants a Wife is selling a pastoral dream, but the overwhelming feeling coming out of the show is how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen ... well, the farm?
There's a gaping black hole at the center of Farmer Wants a Wife that threatens to suck up anything that might make the heart flutter. Reader, these men have no game. Farmer Ryan, 32, far and away the most suave of the group, actually tells one woman, "You have brown eyes." She blushes and thanks him for the compliment, at which point I nearly spit out my Aperol spritz. Farmer Landon (yes, each man's name is styled this way) is probably the next best thing. A 35-year-old cattle rancher from Oklahoma, Landon is immediately smitten with single mother Ashley. Without so much as blinking, he turns to the camera and says, for all posterity, that Ashley is "just cuter than a speckled pup sleepin' in the shade of a wagon wheel."
Farmer Hunter, 31, is a fifth-generation cattle rancher from Georgia who, like every Dutton ever, realizes that ranch life isn't worth it if he has no one to share it with. Those of us who bristle at phrases like "forever person" find some respite from all the sap in the curmudgeonly farmer Allen, a 32-year-old cattle rancher from Tennessee who's so low-energy that it's a wonder he agreed to appear on the program. After one high-energy contestant practically squeals upon meeting him, Allen whispers to a producer, "I'm not really good at being super sweet. I'm more of a 'Hey, let me go wash your car' or 'Let me go get you gas' guy." My Aperol spritz is gone.
Oddly enough, Allen's aggressively normie energy provides opportunities for reality TV gold -- only the show is either too wholesome or too boring to till the fertile ground he's unwittingly treading. In the first round of eliminations, Allen cluelessly picks lifetime New Yorker Ariana, who "once rode a donkey in Mexico," as his first choice despite their gratingly awkward first date. Ariana politely declines Allen's invitation, and he's obviously rattled by the rejection. Host Nettles steps in to clarify that "mutual connection" is the goal of the program. Unlike most dating shows, Farmer Wants a Wife makes a point of having each woman agree to remain in the competition each week. Even so, the episode goes down like a lead balloon. Worse, it almost happens twice to our guy Allen. He chooses the bubbly Cassidy Jo to bring to his farm first, and she can't hide her disgust when she sees his cornflower-blue kitchen cabinets. Later on, Allen reveals that his ex-wife is responsible for the kitschy paint job -- a bombshell for Cassidy Jo, who doesn't "believe in divorce." What would have been a clutch-your-pearls moment on any other dating show is quickly smoothed over as Cassidy Jo graciously amends her deal-breaker list to make room for the stiff divorcee she's known for precisely one day.
Momma didn't raise no quitter, so I forged ahead in the hopes that I'd at least get to see a diverting villain rise from the ranks of painted, perfectly lovely wives-to-be -- the kind of woman who would fill her rival's shampoo bottle with Nair or shamelessly crash another contestant's one-on-one, leaving her running from the hot tub in tears. But, alas, these women are too well-adjusted to ascend the summit of reality dating show notoriety (not a single Tiffany "New York" Pollard personality among them), and there are no hot tubs in the heartland. Most of the contestants are big-city girls in their late 20s who have been unlucky in love, and all of them believe that a "hard-working," "traditional" and "strong" farmer is the key to their life's happiness. They arrive at the guys' farms wearing glamour-puss makeup and some combination of daisy dukes and cowboy boots, oversized flannels and cowboy boots, or lacy rompers and cowboy boots. "I don't need a girl who's a ranch hand; I need a girl who's not scared to work on a ranch," farmer Landon says, twice. Amazing.
There is a certain you can't make this up allure to the prospect of four perfectly nice men wooing women who seem to have more, uh, experience than they do. But the show isn't exactly a car crash, so it doesn't qualify as campy fun. And although the women feel like real people putting on airs -- as opposed to total reality TV inventions -- it's difficult to understand what they see in the guys' underwhelming little cabins. We're talking small-time farmers with modest homes, not sweeping ranches nestled in majestic mountain valleys. This isn't Hallmark -- it's bachelor pads filled with old leather sofas you can smell through the screen and mounted blue marlins that could've been ripped from the wall of any dive bar across the country.
One major thing the show has going for itself is the sheer intimacy (read: claustrophobia) of it all. The contestants are all live-in girlfriends, sleeping in bunk beds in the farmers' homes. It's the antidote to the sexy, far-flung destinations of Bachelor in Paradise. Then there's the it ain't much, but it's honest work half-joke at the heart of the show. Farmers Ryan, Hunter, Landon and Allen expect their wives to pitch in, and the contestants cheerfully roll hay bales, pick up tree branches and mend fences in skinny jeans and crop tops. To quote Sloan from Miami, who was eliminated after failing to partake in Allen's branch-hauling exercise: "So fun."
Don't get me wrong -- there are a few glimmers of hope for those of us craving romance this spring. Farmer Landon made crème brûlée for obvious front-runner Ashley, and farmer Hunter stuffed the bed of a vintage pickup with pillows and blankets for stargazing. But these women are marching boldly ahead for six weeks of farm life with nothing but Nettles' intermittent letters to guide them. How long before the magic wears off?
New episodes of Farmer Wants a Wife premiere Wednesdays on Fox and stream next day on Hulu.
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