As someone who was raised in a small farming town and knows the hard work involved in agriculture, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this show at first. The over-the-top farce elements of the first four episodes had me fully primed and ready to write one of the meanest reviews of my career. Then something unusual happened. The show stopped trying so hard to be funny and sucked me in with its sincerity. It’s like a Three Stooges movie turning into The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie. There’s no way you can see it coming, and no way you could predict how moving and warm the final result would be. What I thought was going to be a year-end hairball of bad comedy and pointless yelling has turned into one of the most delightful surprises of 2014.
Here’s the basic premise: The washed-up, disbanded rock group Excellent Souls gets back together after the frontman inherits some land from his deceased grandmother. Their purpose? To farm napa cabbage, take advantage of a cyclical upswing in the market price, and use the money to produce an album. The problems? They’re all city boys adjusting to village life, they know nothing about farming or life in the country in general, one is in debt to a loan shark, another is dying of cancer, and the recently-deceased grandmother didn’t have a single friend in the village, due to her abrasive nature and penchant to tell everyone exactly what she thought of them.
Real-life Kpop heartthrob Lee Hong Ki stars as Excellent Soul‘s frontman Lee Min Ki. Opposite him is former Miss South Korea Lee Ha Nui, aka Honey Lee, as Kang Yoo Hee. Min Ki is the only one of his former bandmates who’s stayed in music, playing empty stages of neighborhood festivals that almost nobody goes to and getting paid in barter because the organizers have no money. Yoo Hee, Min Ki’s first love from his childhood days in the small farming village of Hadorookri (a Korean approximation of ‘Hard Rock’), is now the village foreman, a single mother, and a farmer in her own right.
More than a tuned-up version of Green Acres aimed at today’s teenage girls, Modern Farmer is a show about community. While the direction is rather blunt, with far too many close-ups, the ensemble cast and well-researched script raises the program above the ordinary standard. The result is a miniseries as enchantingly imperfect as Hadorookri’s residents. It’s through their stories that we get to know more about the members of Excellent Souls, and about the human condition.
While the comedic elements try too hard, the rest of the story line shows remarkable restraint and nuance. Moreover, this tiny village seems to be one of the most open-minded locales in Korea, welcoming not only our city boys, but a number of illegal immigrants, single mother Yoo Hee (a very taboo subject amongst Koreans), a widowed father with a conversion disorder that took away his ability to speak, and a biracial family (very unusual in Korea). Its down-to-earth exploration of what makes a community and what binds us together as people ultimately make this a series I’m proud to recommend.
Watch it now: