Between the Rows: Real-Life Comedy

Portraying farm life to the public

Published online: Jul 30, 2017 Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
Viewed 886 time(s)

This column appears in the August 2017 issue of Potato Grower.

A while back, my wife and I were watching one of those cooking competition shows on TV. You know the type—overly dramatic music, angry British judge, just enough manufactured suspense to keep you watching even though you know it’s a colossal waste of time and frankly doesn’t even offer much entertainment value. But we were watching it, and I got to thinking: Could they ever make a reality show based on agriculture? (So You Think You Can Farm, anyone?)

As I was mentally preparing my pitch to NBC, I quickly realized it simply wouldn’t work. For one thing, a farmer wouldn’t have time to do the show because he’d have to, you know, actually be farming rather than filming. Another problem would be the lack of divas in the industry. Wannabe celebrity chefs are a dime a dozen. But a celebrity farmer? Good luck finding one of those. No one wants to watch a bunch of nice guys shake hands and tell dumb jokes and give each other constructive advice. And if you put a bunch of farmers together, that’s what you’re going to get. No, reality TV would never work.

This thinking naturally led to my realization that, outside of a PBS documentary here and there, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a decent agriculture-based show. (Even westerns rarely include actual cowboys; it’s all gold mines and gunfights.) For some reason, this industry just doesn’t seem to attract many Hollywood types. Being a bit of a daydreamer, I kept digging at this idea of farming on TV. Eventually, I realized there was one perfect medium for portraying the life of a farm family: the good old situational comedy.

If you haven’t given up on this column yet, you’re probably about to, because an ag-based sitcom is a ludicrous idea, right? But stay with me. I’ve long held the belief that a sitcom done well (admittedly, the vast majority are not done well) is one of the most effective ways to tell a realistic story with realistic characters. Sure, we watch for the laughs, but the comedy is just a tool to keep us engaged in the regular lives of characters who are generally pretty regular people. If the show’s good, after a couple seasons, viewers find themselves getting attached to the characters.

Maybe my affinity for the genre is a product of growing up in what may be the golden age of sitcoms. This is starting to sound like I’ve spent my entire life in front of a television, and honestly, I haven’t. But the airwaves of my youth carried the brilliant comedic storytelling of Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier. The Office, Scrubs and Psych were in their heydays during my college years, making America laugh enough to actually care about the drama when it came along.

Seriously, if you’re a TV watcher at all, just think about it: Some of the most heartstring-tugging moments ever seen on screen come from so-called comedies. Will collapsing into Uncle Phil’s embrace when his father once again abandons him in Fresh Prince. Dr. Cox unwittingly infecting three patients with rabies in Scrubs. Hawkeye’s horrifying revelation/breakthrough in the M*A*S*H finale. Jim’s gas station proposal to Pam in The Office. Each of those scenes mattered because of the countless silly, inane moments leading up to them. Just like in real life.

You really want to show people what farm life is like? Find a good writer and an as yet unknown but brilliant cast, and start making calls to the networks. Show them the time the pivot climbed the barricade and rolled out onto the highway. Show them farm kids comparing hunkiness by determining who has the most dramatic farmer’s tan. Show them out-of-towners frustratingly honking their car horn because two old boys have stopped their pickups in the road to compare notes on a new fungicide treatment. Show them half-wild barn cats and idiotic, car-chasing mutts. Show them that crazy uncle who, rather than taking a lunch break, simply digs a Norkotah out of the ground and takes a bite, barely pausing to wipe off the dirt.

Then show them how heartbreaking it is when Grandpa, at 91 years old, finally faces the fact that he simply can’t see well enough to run the digger anymore. Show them a family’s prayer of gratitude uttered over a supper that follows 13 working hours and precedes another five and a half. Show them how it feels when all the neighbors pitch in to bring in the harvest after Dad slips stepping off the tractor and throws out his back.

Show them all of it, because the stuff that happens every day in our world would make for incredible entertainment and do more to open the eyes of the viewing public to the realities of agricultural life than any documentary or ad campaign.

Someone get Chuck Lorre on the phone. This is gold.