'Farmer Wants a Wife' plows up old ground with creaky 'city girl/country boy' formula

The new FOX reality dating show, featuring four young bachelor farmers, suggests you can take the girl out of the city, but you might not be able to take the city out of the girl.

Contestant Brittany and farmer Ryan get to know one another while on a speed date during the series premiere of FOX's "Farmer Wants a Wife"
Contributed / Pete Dadds / FOX

As I finally got around to watching the first episodes of the popular reality dating show, “Farmer Wants a Wife” on Hulu, I kept wishing my dad were sitting beside me.

It would be fascinating to see how Virgil Swift, the man who owns maybe two dress shirts and does not suffer fools lightly, would think of these fancified “farmers.”

Many of the marriages arising from the attention Herman, Minnesota, received in the mid-1990s didn't last. But, there are exceptions.

The four farmers featured on this Fox series look more like aspiring country music stars than stewards of the soil. (In fact, one of them, “Hunter Grayson,” actually fronts a band, ingeniously named “Hunter Grayson and the Hat Creek Band.”)

For these four guys — Hunter, Landon, Ryan and Allen — the facial hair is perfectly sculpted, their jeans are meticulously fitted and it looks like they know more about Crest Whitening Strips than they do strip tillage.

Also (at least by North Dakota/Minnesota standards) their farms are tiny. Fifty acres? That’s not a farm. That’s a garden.


The four bachelors on FOX's "Farmer Wants a Wife" are, from left, Hunter, Ryan, Landon and Allen.
Contributed / Michael Becker / FOX

Even so, the trope of a cosmopolitan “big city” gal hooking up with a downhome country dude is as old as Eva Gabor herself. (For young ‘uns, Eva is the ‘other Zsa Zsa’ who starred in “Green Acres,” a 1960s’ sitcom based on that very premise.) Entrepreneurs like Ree “Pioneer Woman” Drummond and East Grand Forks transplant Molly Yeh have even made an industry of it.

Fortunately, “Farmer Wants a Wife” takes a fairly respectful approach with its star bachelors. It doesn’t try to make them look like hayseeds, even though there is literally a shot of one farmer, Landon, chewing on hay as he leans on a hay bale. (Something I'm sure he does all the time.)

Landon, or maybe it's Hunter, chews hay while he leans on a hay bale, just like farmers do all the time, according to "Farmers Wants a Wife."
Screenshot / "Farmer Wants a Wife"

If anything, the producers try to make these guys look a tad too polished. In one scene, Hunter, the Singer So Great His Band Must Bear His Name, supposedly fixes up the box of his pickup for a romantic evening dinner by hanging string lights and floofing decorative pillows.

Considering that one young woman friend told me her boyfriend thought it was “optional” to put soap in the dishwasher or put sheets on his bed, I’m thinking it’s unlikely that a single Georgia farmer is zhuzhing pillows like Joanna Gaines.

But I digress. Beyond the rural settings and hijinks, the show is basically a countrified version of “The Bachelor.” The first episode involves each of the four farmers meeting a different gaggle of eight women who each try to make a great impression during a 10-minute speed date. (It takes place on a hay bale, because hay bale-sittin' is just so dadgum farmy.)

Many of the marriages arising from the attention Herman, Minnesota, received in the mid-1990s didn't last. But, there are exceptions.

Things quickly become competitive, with contestants trying to convince their potential beaus how country they really are. One contestant coos that the farm “is my sanctuary,” even after she totters into the farmyard wearing high heels and a short, strappy dress better suited for a brunch date in the city.

And because the farmer obviously wants a down-to-earth, sturdy-boned, hard-workin' country gal, he picks her.

The bachelors then get right to pulverizing the women’s achy-breaky hearts. They are ordered to pick five of the eight women to travel to their prospective farms to experience rural life. This leaves the three outcasts in each group to stand there and look sad. Once at the different farms, the "lucky" members of the “HeeHaw” harems get to try their hand at farm chores like castrating calves or fixing fences.


"Farmer Wants a Wife" contestants show they are adept at handling the wild and woolly livestock on Hunter/Landon's farm, like this well-fed Corgi.
Screenshot / "Farmer Wants a Wife"

For “fun,” they go country dancing or attend rodeos to discover if there’s a good-natured Minnie Pearl hidden inside that sleek Carrie Bradshaw.

Another farmer (either Hunter or Landon, who looks just like Hunter) makes it clear he is not looking for a “farmhand.” He is looking for a “woman who is willing to help me on the ranch.”

Translation: He is looking for an unpaid farmhand.

I appreciate that the farmers seem more authentic than the overly slick players they roll out on most other reality dating shows. Horse breeder Ryan corners one of his favorites and kisses her because he thinks they are not on camera. His much savvier love interest responds that they are and points to the camera — causing him some embarrassment.

At another point, Hunter/Landon says a certain contestant is “cuter than a speckled pup sleepin’ in the shade of a wagon wheel.”

A quick Google assured me that this is indeed a popular Southern saying, although the statement is wedged so awkwardly into the scene that it had to be a producer's idea.

If you think calf-castration is cringey, it’s nothing compared to the sight of four groups of desperate young women vying for the attention of their bachelor. One woman brags that she was raised on “farms,” although she is now a “spirituality coach” in Miami. When the women are asked to cut up a tree and throw it in a wood chipper, she basically does nothing (Maybe she was actually raised on Pepperidge Farms.)

Other than that, there are too many contestants to keep straight. There are at least two blonde Ashleys. Some of them wear thigh-high boots and Daisy Dukes with boots, which makes for good television but not for mucking out stalls.


The women on the FOX show "Farmer Wants a Wife" prove they are real country girls by dressing like extras in a Carrie Underwood music video.
Contributed / Pete Dadds / FOX

It is most devastating when the less secure and more introverted contestants start to spiral. If they haven’t had enough one-on-one time with their farmer, they wail. “I didn’t come into this to be a background character!” snipes one contestant named Hailashsloansydney, suggesting her motivations may not be true love.

This just magnifies the most glaring issue with dating “reality” shows: It becomes more about “winning” the competition than about thinking if the prize bachelor is really someone you love or even like.

One of my favorite candidates is Cassie Jo, an excitable codependent with magnificent white teeth and the emotional needs of a hormonal 13-year-old girl. It’s love at first sight when she meets Allen, whose stoicism makes Clint Eastwood seem like Richard Simmons on Red Bull.

What could possibly go wrong?

I think this series would be improved by simplifying it — either with fewer contestants or fewer farmers. It’s just too hard to keep track of the female contestants — much less care about them — when there’s a whole swarm of them.

The creators could then let us get to know the contestants better as they launch into a series of realistic rural challenges.

Just think about it: A relay in which the women are sent into town to buy tractor parts and the parts guy insists he doesn’t know what they are talking about. A rock picking contest. A week spraying leafy spurge in 93-degree weather.

Now that, as my Dad would say, is farming.


"Farmer Wants a Wife" airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on FOX. If you want to catch up on past episodes, next-day streaming is available on Hulu.

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