Farmer Wants a Wife, reviewed.

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May 7 2008 6:22 PM

Farmer Wants a Wife

Gets Carrie Bradshaw wannabes instead.

Farmer Wants a Wife (The CW, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET) moseyed onto the air last week bearing the best title of any pop-culture commodity of the year to date and, given its standard-issue inanity, a surprising subtextual richness. The initial impulse is to capsulize this reality show—starring one rural prince, an ever-dwindling cast of urban-dwelling maidens, and a barnyard of docile livestock—as The Bachelor-meets-Green Acres. It strikes a bit closer to the mark to label it a synthesis of the first season of The Simple Life (in which Paris Hilton and her dearest frenemy did not quite deign to immerse themselves in agrarian matters) and those episodes of Sex and the City involving Aidan's country cabin (on which Carrie could not, despite a sincere effort, accommodate herself to things rustic). Farmer Wants a Wife stands as an exploration of the tensions between red and blue America and a treatise on contemporary (wo)man's alienation from nature. But it is first and last a cheesy dating show, one equipped with its own cheddaring machine.

Matt is a third-generation family farmer in Portage Des Sioux, Mo. His style sense is less "hick" than it is "Kansas City metrosexual." His hair is expertly gelled, his soul patch assiduously tended, his chest flagrantly smooth. Boldly, the show introduced his mother, herself a city-bred woman who said goodbye to all that, 13 minutes into the debut—both a hint that family values will be a subtheme and a promise that, in reward for attempting to coop up chickens while wearing Daisy Dukes, the gals might be rewarded not only with E-list celebrity status but also with the love and stability only a mama's boy can provide.

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The female players all come, in Matt's phraseology, from "the city," as if Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas were all the same place, an impersonal Sodom and Gomorrah megalopolis fueled by greed and Pike Place Roast, which maybe they are. Stephanie: "Everybody looks at me and they think, OK, she has everything she wants!" Ashley: "Guys are shady!" Stacey: "Christian Louboutin!" Et cetera. For variety, the producers have tossed in two virgins, one a theology student, and they allow them to offer some cogent sound bites about the value of celibacy before cutting to the eye-rolling reaction shots.

I'm rooting for New York bartender Christa—"Christa with a C-H"—winner of the first solo date, partly because she has evinced an interest in staying out until 8 a.m., partly because she was the lone dame with the good sense to wear flat-heeled shoes en route to the initial meeting with Matt. She stepped off the prop plane in sneakers and stood there in them, cool and natural, as he shirtlessly piloted a John Deere tractor into the frame. Where the other girls are essentially doing drag performances—flitting about in a hair-tossing projection of Carrie Bradshaw-style femininity—Christa is pretending to keep it real.

Her opposite number would be—no, not blowzy Josie, who has said, "I think of myself as a 10-plus. That's part of being Republican. I feel like a winner." Josie is amusingly demented, sui generis. Rather, Christa exists in starkest contrast to Stephanie, the first eliminee. She first sunk a 4-inch heel into a cow patty, then recoiled at the sight of those chickens, which she feared would attack. "I like seeing things," said Stephanie, "and I definitely need my eyes." This called to mind The Birds and Hitchcock's declaration that Melanie Daniels—the Tippi Hedren character, the prank-playing socialite encountering chaos in the country—represented "smug complacency." We urbanites can thank Farmer Wants a Wife for encouraging us to examine our reflexive self-satisfaction. And also for delivering the best reality-show dismissal sequence of the year to date. "One of you does not have an egg under your chicken," said Matt. "That's the gal who's goin' back to the city."

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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