Jeremy Clarkson was always an asshole. That’s the not-so-secret truth that any fan of his long run on the BBC’s Top Gear will tell you. He was always rude to people on the show, he was always immediately dismissive of things he didn’t like, and he always had an air of completely unearned superiority. He’s a man who traveled the world and had fantastic adventures and experiences with other cultures and other people, and the only thing it ever taught him was that his experiences with his culture and his people in England were far better than anything anywhere else. But he can also be very funny, and he’s self-aware enough to recognize that making himself the butt of the joke is really entertaining, which is the whole appeal of his current show, Prime Video’s Clarkson’s Farm.
The reality series, which kicked off its second season on February 10, chronicles the former motoring journalist’s attempts to maintain a working farm near the small village where he now lives. Clarkson doesn’t know anything about farming and is just kind of picking it up as he goes, so The Joke is that he oafishly bumbles around at, say, putting up a fence, and then some competent farm person (usually a young worker named Kaleb who has lived in the area his whole life and was the breakout star of the show’s first season) comes by to fix his mess and call him an oaf. He knows that looking stupid or incompetent is funny, which is a neat trick for a guy who’s extremely wealthy and has a huge fan following.
That same routine is why the classic Top Gear combination of him and fellow presenters Richard Hammond and James May (later transplanted to Prime Video’s The Grand Tour) was so potent: At any point, they could all turn on each other and really underline what was stupid about the others. Yes, Jeremy Clarkson was an asshole, but through some alchemic magic it became okay because everyone he interacted with on TV would happily tell him that he was an asshole—and then he would agree, with a big dumb smile on his face, just like he does now on the farm.
But letting Jeremy Clarkson pull that gag in 2023 requires a lot more work on the part of the viewer than it did in the early 2000s. He was fired from Top Gear in 2015 for getting into a fight with a producer over catering (Clarkson was unhappy with the meal provided for him), and that one incident crossed a line for the BBC that evidently hadn’t been crossed by the many other things he got in trouble for doing during his time on the show—the casual racism on his Top Gear is just astounding, going way past Clarkson’s gleeful xenophobia right into the use of actual racial slurs.
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But last year, coming forward as the spokesperson for white people who despise Meghan Markle for “no reason” (we all know the reason), Clarkson wrote a column for British paper The Sun in which he described laying awake at night, unable to sleep because he couldn’t stop thinking about how much he hates Markle (“on a cellular level”) and how he wishes she could be paraded naked through the streets like in Game Of Thrones, all because she … uh … well, nobody knows! Just kidding, it’s because she’s Black. And American. And, hell, a woman. How dare she … exist … and have zero impact on Jeremy Clarkson’s life. Yeah, she should be ashamed!
And if the column didn’t turn everyone against Clarkson, his response to the overwhelming backlash—it received a record-breaking 25,100 complaints from readers and is now being investigated by the U.K.’s media watchdog organization—should be the final nail in that coffin: Pressured to apologize to Markle, Clarkson initially issued a private apology just to Prince Harry. He couldn’t even bring himself to say sorry to the woman he had attacked in the press; he had to talk to her husband first. It may have been, without exaggeration, the biggest piece of shit move in the history of pieces of shit.
Which brings us back to Clarkson’s Farm. Is there any reason to continue putting up with his shtick? He’s been given more chances than most people get in their whole lives, and he’s offered no indication that he’s ever going to change his “ain’t I a stinker” act. Amazon has effectively cut ties with him, saying that it will still release the projects they’ve already agreed to (another season for Clarkson’s Farm and a few more Grand Tour specials), but that will apparently be it, and this new—now-penultimate—season for Clarkson’s Farm doesn’t exactly make a powerful case for giving him more attention.
Watching it now, with all of this context, Clarkson’s Farm is more self-indulgent than self-aware. Clarkson throws in The Who needle drops, he takes time to hit right-wing talking points (the government telling him how to run his farm is a major plot point), and the whole thing is very clearly a commercial for his farm shop and a restaurant that he’s trying to launch on his land. To the show’s credit, this season regularly reckons with the fact that nobody in the surrounding area likes Clarkson, since his cows keep getting loose and his shop is so popular among his fanbase that it creates constant traffic jams when it’s open. The townspeople are mad because he’s completely upending their quiet countryside lives with his boorish shenanigans and vanity projects, all so his farm can make money that he doesn’t even need because he’s a rich TV personality, and they are 1,000 percent correct to be annoyed.
And Clarkson is not shy about the fact that he hates the townspeople as much as they hate him, so unlike the Top Gear days where everyone was laughing at themselves, Clarkson tries to come through all of this as the protagonist. He’s trying to seriously get this farm going, and they’re not giving him a chance! He’s doing everything he can to appease them, and they’re not being fair! One sequence in the new season that is probably more uncomfortable to watch than the producers intended involves Clarkson getting into an argument with his girlfriend, Lisa Hogan, because she’s not doing a good job managing the muddy mess in the field where customers at his shop are supposed to park. She explains that he gave her the job of running the shop and that’s it, plus cooking for him, and then he snidely notes that she doesn’t even do that often enough. He’s mad about not being fed! That’s what got him fired from Top Gear!
The real damning thing about Clarkson’s Farm is that it would probably be better if he weren’t there. The people who know what they’re doing would get more done, certainly, and even if you somehow still have patience for Clarkson, it’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for the rich guy who is constantly buying expensive new farming equipment that he doesn’t know how to use, breaking stuff, and then complaining about how nobody understands how hard he’s working. To put it simply, he’s just an asshole. And now he’s not even a funny asshole.