Imagine being a Manhattanite giving it all up to live on a farm. Famed memoirist, Josh Kilmer-Purcell (I Am Not Myself These Days) and his partner, former Martha Stewart Living VP, Dr. Brent Ridge, decide to move to a tiny village in upstate New York to pursue their dream of owning and operating a farm. Kilmer-Purcell recounted their tempestuous lifestyle change in his memoir, The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir. In his book, he recounts how the financial and emotional strain of trying to make it a go with their farming business almost put an end to their decade-long relationship. Along with the memoir, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge star in the basic cable reality show that chart a year in the couple’s attempt to make the farm and its business a success.
As with most reality shows, the actors are edited to the point where they become identifiable characters. Ridge, who left his job with Martha Stewart to live and work on the farm full-time, is the anxious and obnoxious Type-A personality, who seems to thrive on micro-managing everything and everybody. Kilmer-Purcell, who lives 5-days a week in Manhattan so that he can fund this project with his advertising job is the witty and funny sensitive guy audiences should immediately warm up to; obviously the viewers don’t get full and complete portrayals of these gentlemen as their interaction is cut and packaged for dramatic purposes, but in the clips we do get, we definitely see a pattern emerging: Kilmer-Purcell arrives, exhausted from a week of working hard in the city, only to be prodded into some pastoral chore by Ridge, who has been presiding over the farm unquestioned on his own. In this respect, Ridge started to remind me a bit of the maniacal farming patriarch in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, who ruled his farm with an obsessive fist.
That’s not to say that Kilmer-Purcell isn’t frustrating in his own right. As shown on camera, he tends to whine, shifting from foot to foot, enjoying the role of the put-upon martyr. His sequences in Manhattan in his “real” job are brief, but also show that he’s chafing at his perennial foot in the corporate world, always tempted to gnaw it off and flee back to the country. In his mind, Ridge has it made because his life has gone through some profound changes. Some viewers could also point out that Kilmer-Purcell’s the lucky one because he can still enjoy the city life during the week, and have the country life during the weekends. If only Ridge would allow for it.
Aside from Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge, there are other folks that populate The Fabulous Beekman Boys mainly a burly couple who own a B&B and the boys’ farmer, John, who takes care of the farm’s goats. John is an interesting addition to the show because he’s extremely likable and very practical, unlike the two stars of the show (though he does get weirdly emotional each time he talks about his goats, breaking down into sobs). He’s refreshingly low-key, unlike the “personalities” that headline the program, and he provides a much-needed dose of calm.
The show does highlight some interesting and educational notes about farming. And to its credit, it doesn’t shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of farming (i.e. shoveling unending piles of manure, slaughtering animals, oppressive winters, uncertain financial futures, etc). It’s too bad that much of the show focuses on Kilmer-Purcell’s and Ridge’s sometimes-toxic relationship. Again, I’m only judging from what I watched on TV, but often during the episodes, I wondered “Why the hell are these guys still together?” Each episode presents their union as being dangerously close to combusting, only to have some 11th hour solution that brings them back together. They take up time sniping at each other, each trying to one-up each other in the Oppression Olympics. The few moments of genuine affection seem tacked on, which could be due to the editing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find couple fighting all that entertaining.
The Fabulous Beekman Boys could’ve been a great show. The idea of two city slickers shrugging off the chaos of the big city for the chaos of the country, especially in light of the financial meltdown of 2008, is a great idea. And Kilmer-Purcell’s memoir captures this upheaval beautifully. Unfortunately, their inspirational story has been whittled down to a one-note bitchfest, with tired gay quips (some of them would make the writers of Will & Grace blush, others would make them sue for plagiarism) and not enough focus on the actual farm itself.