‘Farming for Love’ Is Reviving the Messy Gay Dating Show

Farming for Love wasn’t always a bastion of homo-insanity. Its origins were fairly straight-laced, dating back to the 2001 U.K. reality dating show Farmer Wants a Wife. That iteration didn’t stick, but its straw-sucking, cowgirl-wooing international counterparts have lingered for years. There’s even an American reboot, which just wrapped its second season on FOX. It’s Yellowstone, if Kevin Costner was looking for his forever girl. Betraying its roots, the Canadian edition added a new twist: dumping in a wagonload of gay men.

The CTV hit introduced Farmer Kirkland for its second season, a strapping rodeo champion in search of a loyal second set of hands (and abs) to help tend to the ranch. There’s a lot to love about Kirkland: the wells of his dark eyes, the thick brown beard, the fact that he can up and straddle a horse like it’s nothing. Just look at his sweat-glistened face, appropriately soundtracked by Tinashe’s “Nasty.” Kirkland is also proudly Indigenous and identifies as Two-Spirit, giving the reality show a surprising amount of depth. Notably lacking in that depth, then, is his gaggle of twink suitors.

The boys have all the trademarks of a standard issue Bachelor cast: They giggle on majestic private dates, they moan with pouty eyes at the prospect of lost love, and they bicker about just who’s smacked lips with Kirkland. (Spoiler alert: Kirkland isn’t holding back with his bestowal of kisses.) All of this is done in sleeveless knit vests and polos two sizes too small. It’s part Love Island, part Brokeback Mountain, but with drama you’ll only see in the bathroom line at a Charli XCX concert.

There’s also the issue that, as happens with 20-something gay men, they somehow all look exactly the same. Issa is a bearded Greg; Greg is a brown-haired Carson. Seeing another blonde twink enter the dating pool, Carson can’t help but jab, “It’s giving dollar store.” This homogenous smattering of gay men makes the drama even more nonsensical. It’s the one with the buzz cut who upset Kirkland by saying the barn needs painting? Or was it the one with the single ear piercing? Or maybe the one who’s always wearing flannels? They’re all semi-cloned versions of each other, ladeled in vocal fry.

It’s that light, meandering gay drama that places Farming for Love at the perfect score on the Richter scale of messiness. It’s almost nostalgic, dating back to the days of stand-alone gay episodes of raucous MTV reality shows. One clip from Next seems to spread around X once every six months; Evan, a curly-haired dance-enthusiast, shoves off a suitor after he offers a “limp dick” handshake. Room Raiders also had some gay one-offs, including one where a sassy pre-law student described his love for checking out “the meat market” to see “what tastes good” in his opening package. These episodes were little epicenters of chaos, both cutting and painfully earnest.

Nowadays, gay reality television has a high-low problem. On one end are the upscale, public-facing shows. There’s The Real Friends of WeHo, MTV’s failed Housewives-style series about a group of successful “friends” in the entertainment world. They were sanitized, publicly consumable gay men (so long as you don’t look into how Todrick Hall allegedly treated his backup dancers.) Because the show tried so hard to be elevated, it ended up irrefutably stale.

Then there’s the low-brow, those shows with premises so out-there that any emotional heft is excised. For the Love of DILFs asks an important question: What if we took a handful of young himbos and combined them with the horniest daddies alive? All that, hosted by Stormy Daniels. It’s shocking, funny, but never effectively tugs at the heartstrings as a good dating show should.

Farming for Love perfectly sticks the landing between the two. It’s not vapid and airless like some of Logo’s hunkified attempts at reality TV (see: Finding Prince Charming, Fire Island.) Still, there’s no outlandish premise conceived in the darkest pits of writer’s rooms, a la Couple to Throuple. As Farmer Kirkland leads Greg in a horse-riding lesson, noting that the steed’s lubed-up mouth demonstrates his soft hands, you can’t help but feel something.

That’s what’s gained Farming for Love some online virality, expanding the show’s reach far beyond its Canadian broadcasting zone. Commenters aren’t just laughing at Issa’s dig at Kirkland for a “bold” pink set of board shorts; they’re also cheering when Kirkland sends Issa packing, because he deserves better. Of course, Kirkland is only one of four farmers in the show’s second season, but his clips are getting some of the most fan engagement online. It’s no wonder why; gay viewers, those hopeless romantics and sinister drama-fiends alike, are starved for content. Farmer Kirkland, stud that he is, provides the perfect level of unmanufactured mess as he paws at his boy toys.

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