This isn’t what RuPaul had in mind at all. Before the drag race begins, two tractors, one containing a farmer called Bucky and his non-ironic mullet, the other helmed by the current Miss Northamptonshire, roar on the rustic grid. Now British agriculture is unsupported by EU subsidies, while fruit withers unpicked on the proverbial vine and dairy farming recovers from Veganuary, this show demonstrates how to repurpose a beleaguered sector.
In truth, tractors do not go fast, as anyone knows who has spent half an hour behind one on a Devon lane with their bladder clamouring for attention. And yet this is the premise for The Fast and the Farmer-ish (BBC Three), a competitive tractor-racing show whose daft title suggests the unsought spiritual union of Vin Diesel and the Wurzels. Only Hugh Bonneville’s bonehead W1A lackeys would see fit to commission such obvious nonsense.
Welcome to the antidote to University Challenge. Watching it, I feel the same rustic stupefaction Jarvis Cocker described on the Pulp song Sorted for E’s & Wizz: “Mother … I seem to have left an important part of my brain in a field in Hampshire.” The Fast and the Farmer-ish is a post-industrial mash-up of It’s a Knockout and Total Wipeout. It is Robot Wars with barely more sentience or Top Gear with, at least in this episode, as much oestrogen as testosterone.
It is lads against lasses, explains overexcited host Tom Pemberton, a farmer-turned-TV-presenter who is here given his first opportunity to shout commentary at farm vehicles on national television.
The men’s team is called Check Shirt Choppers and, while I don’t want to labour the hairdo issue, two thirds of the team are made up of unacceptable mullet wearers. Two of the three rival Diva Drivers team are called Ellie. “We’re going to bring all of our feist,” explains one of the Ellies. That’s right. Feist is a word. Deal with it.
Incredibly, the Mullets’ trash talk is worse: “She’s got a rubbish tractor and it’s pink,” says one. “No way I can be beaten.”
What better way to finally decide whether men are better than women than a tractor race across a field divided by a bog, the tractors sprayed by water cannon, the country air filled with toxic diesel fumes and lame heteronormative bants?
Literally anything. But let’s park the needle of our cynicism in the haystack of our scorn. The Fast and the Farmer-ish is what British sports fans need right now. Think of it this way: Britain’s Lewis Hamilton was bested by a flying Dutchman. British interest in the recent tennis ended before on-court barley water dispensers were filled. Anyone, even a team of limbless knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, could beat England at cricket.
Now is the time for Britain to play to its strengths. We’ve never been any good at playing sports, but quite handy at inventing them. A TV tractor drag race is just the latest instance of native creative acumen, one that will, when franchised internationally, produce enough export earnings to plug Nadine Dorries’ anti-BBC cry hole. True, in the fullness of time, British tractor teams will be thrashed by teams from countries that don’t even have tractors right now. But today, happily, it is a domestic affair, Mullets against Divas for the right to stand in pomp atop the hay bale podium.
In the second round, called The X Tractor, the teams drive up and down a large X shape cut into a field that is booby-trapped with tyres, toy pig mobiles and other obstacles, while, for bonus points, singing songs of their own choosing. Bucky, heroically, interprets Shania Twain. “I feel like a woman!” he sings as he reverses.
The decisive final round is British farming’s belated homage to The Big Lebowski. Each contestant must drive their tractor at speed, brake sharply and release a rolling wheel of rubber towards sheds arranged like skittles in a bowling lane.
The Fast and the Farmer-ish shows the British countryside is not the bucolic idyll evoked by Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, but seethes with toxic fumes, sublimated rage, burning rubber, sexual tension and yokels in bad hair bawling supportively from the sidelines to their demented coevals. Can’t wait for the semi-finals.