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Television review

Beefcake and plenty of cheese in 'Farmer'

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / April 30, 2008

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When the 10 bachelorettes first meet Farmer Matt on the CW's new dating show, "Farmer Wants a Wife," he just happens to be riding a tractor shirtless in the sun. Yup, just a regular guy doing his daily chores, certainly not attempting to show off his solid steel abs, or his swollen bi- and triceps, or his bronze tan, which glows like a beacon across Missouri's amber waves of grain. Yup, just a local fella out to till the fields, bump into a few ladies, and whatnot.

I love Matt's feigned nonchalance at the gawking women in that scene. He is profoundly casual about their drooling attentions, and their collective gasp, lest anyone in the viewing audience think that a man who puts himself up as a dating-show prize might be too eager. For the extended Playgirl-centerfold shoot that is "Farmer Wants a Wife," tonight at 9 on Channel 56, Matt is taking a method-acting approach. No time for vanity out here amid the hungry animals and the manure.

And that was about the only delicious moment for me on this show, which is "The Bachelor" meets Paris Hilton's "The Simple Life." "Farmer Wants a Wife" is bad, which can be good on reality TV, but it's just not bad enough to be really good. It's entirely paint-by-numbers, a formulaic dating contest colored in with all the too-familiar characters, from the butch Matt to each of the ladies, city gals looking for a real man who doesn't bother with all that metrosexual nonsense. This is reality by rote.

We meet the spectrum of stereotypes, from the virginal Lisa to Kanisha, who seems to imbue everything she says with lust. "I was ready to pass out," Kanisha says about meeting Matt. There's spoiled Stacey, Ashley the career gal, and, of course, Josie the beyotch. Josie talks trash about everyone to their faces and spews inflammatory statements to make sure the producers forbid Matt from ousting her. She's clearly desperate to be the breakout star from "Farmer Wants a Wife," and I foresee a bunch of stunts in her near future - crying, slapping, falling down drunk - that will assure her a place on the commercials and coming attractions for the show.

Like the single women on "Rock of Love" or "The Bachelor," the women on "Farmer Wants a Wife" are fully prepared to sacrifice their dignity, to cluck on command. Yes, reality TV is directed by the producers, but at this point, the contestants already know enough about the expectations of the genre to improvise without guidance. And Matt, 29, is fully prepared to pretend that despite his physical perfection, and his confidence, and his super-white teeth, he's lonely and looking. All parties submit to what is the contemporary American equivalent of arranged marriage.

The show is brimming with country kitsch, including a hay ride and an elimination ceremony involving chickens and eggs. Alas, it does stop short of letting Matt wake up his harem every day with a piercing "cock-a-doodle-do."

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.