The Fabulous Beekman Boys: Book vs. Reality TV (review copy)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened up The Bucolic Plague:  How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers (An Unconventional Memoir) by Josh Kilmer-purcell.  My gut reaction was Green Acres in drag, and I suppose I wasn’t that far off.  The author was a drag queen in a former life.   Life changes though.  Josh Kilmer-purcell (who from now on I will refer to affectionately as Josh, despite our having never met) was approaching middle age and  ready for the “next stage” when he and his partner stumbled upon the Beekman Property during an apple picking trip upstate.  It was love at first sight.  The Bucolic Plague tells the story of the purchase of that historic 60 acre property, the couple’s life in Sharon Springs, N.Y. and their attempts to make Beekman a profitable enterprise. What began as weekends spent playing at gentlemen farmers quickly became a complete lifestyle change for the couple – in more ways than one.

Josh’s partner is Dr. Brent – beloved by millions as  Martha Stewart’s wellness advisor.  Martha, who plays a larger part in this book than probably even she knows,  is Josh & Brent’s inspiration and torment.  It quickly becomes apparent to them, and everyone reading the book, that running the Beekman as a small farm is the surest route to failure.  Small, family-owned farms are failing across the country.  It’s become a basic fact of rural life.   And so –  using Brent’s lifestyle knowledge, Josh’s ad exec experience, the help of friends and neighbors in Sharon Springs, even the assistance of Martha herself – Beekman 1802 was launched.  A lifestyle company begun on a line of soaps made from goat milk (provided by goats kept on the farm).  It quickly expanded to include an heirloom seed company owned by neighbors (featuring seeds planted in Josh’s garden), a baby line, quality stationary, heirloom linens, artisan goat milk cheese and a haberdashery section featuring a silk scarf which I will be ordering in the near future.  Everything is the work of local artisans.  The entire enterprise can be viewed, complete with blogs by both Josh and Brent, at the Beekman 1802 website.

It’s a great story, but the characters are what make this book stand out.  For example:  to say that Dr. Brent drank the Kool-aid over at Living is putting it lightly.  He spearheads the project of making Beekman 1802 – the website, blog and now television show –  a lifestyle brand every bit as powerful as MS.  Brent’s OCD tendencies and laser focussed desire to emulate Martha should be irritating, even creepy, yet somehow it’s not.  Mainly because for him it is all about fulfilling Josh’s dream to quit their day jobs and live at Beekman full-time.  His desire to make Josh’s dream come true makes the  mayhem that follows endearing rather than just manic.  He is endearingly manic.  And yes, it’s a good thing! (you should have seen that coming).  Their relationship comes across as funny and sweet in all the right places.

It’s difficult to convey how funny The Bucolic Plague actually is without including an excerpt.  Sadly, this one is much too short.

The rest of our first weekend in our new country home was spent exploring the sixty acres surrounding the Beekman, greeting neighbors who stopped by to tell us their stories of the mansion, and sweeping up dead flies.  It was impossible to tell where they were coming from.  They just appeared at the windows, carpeting the sills and floor with their slow-motion death throes.  We had yet to see a fly that was actually flying.  They just kept coming and coming, like a buzzing Night of the Living Dead.

Josh’s over the top personality comes through in every sentence .  His view of the world is funny in a sharp and witty way. He sees the ridiculous in the individual.  But the people he portrays are all in on the joke.  He doesn’t laugh at his friends, he laughs with them.   And as funny as the book is, it would be a disservice to classify The Bucolic Plague as another version of  “a city slicker moves to the country and hilarity ensues”.  This isn’t just a story of two gay men who try their hand at farming.  The book starkly, if humorously, depicts the huge amount of work that goes into developing a lifestyle brand, revitalizing a town… and following a dream.

The boys have had some success at that.  Beekman 1802 has expanded into a reality television series The Fabulous Beekman Boys which premieres Wednesday, June 16th (that’s tonight folks!) on Planet Green.  I’ve had the opportunity to preview the first two episodes, with mixed feelings.  In the interest of full disclosure  I’m not a fan of reality shows.  That said, I was bothered by the disconnect between the book and the show.  The characters you meet in The Bucolic Plague are likable, lovable even. By the last page I was ready to pack up and move to Sharon Springs  myself.  But the charisma these people have in print didn’t always successfully transfer onto the screen for me.  What The Fabulous Beekman Boys is missing is Josh-Goggles: his gift of  making people sparkle.  Even worse, the show seems to be taking the tack of “will their relationship survive!??” pretty early on – which seems like a weak place to start a series.

The reoccurring theme in The Bucolic Plague is Josh’s desire to get down in the dirt at Beekman Place vs. Brent’s need put it up on the Martha pedestal.  I would have enjoyed a show that met someplace in the middle.  After two episodes  I’m not sure that The Fabulous Beekman Boys is it.  Eventually, though, it might be.

Publisher:    Harper Collins Publishers, New York (2010).
ISBN:    978 0 06 133698 0

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17 thoughts on “The Fabulous Beekman Boys: Book vs. Reality TV (review copy)

  1. I didn’t read much of the review because I’m reading this book soon and like to go in without other opinions, but I did want to say it’s too bad the show isn’t great. I don’t get cable, but will probably try to watch a couple online if I get the chance. I get sucked into reality tv even though I don’t really like it, so it might be a problem for me 🙂

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  2. Hi Kim !

    I have the same problem – I don’t know what it is with reality t.v. that makes it so hard to look away. In all fairness, I did think the second show was better than the first and I might have continued to watch if my cable package included Planet Green (which it doesn’t). But I think you’ll enjoy the book – I certainly did. Enough so that when I saw Josh’s first book on his adventures as a drag queen I was tempted to grab it. But right now I’m buried in books… so it’s on the list.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on it all. When you’re finished we can compare opinions. 🙂

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  3. This is a very accurate review of both the book and the show. I was very excited about the show, until I actually saw it. Their nastiness to each other is difficult to watch. Possibly it’s just the editing–I’m sure they are sometimes nice to each other, but unfortunately if they are, it’s all off camera. Maybe I’ll check it out again in a few months, but for now I’m opting out.

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    1. Louise –

      Thank you for the comment!

      I think the show is attempting to go for an “odd couple” relationship that might not work for most viewers (it didn’t for me – and obviously not for you either). According to the book Josh & Brent have been together for 10 years, though, so I can accept a certain amount of bickering. But I would hate to see them make it the focus of the entire series.

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  4. Thanks for the honest and thorough review. All we can say about the TV show is that is captures a year in our lives when we were at most stressed. We were about to lose the farm, we were living apart for the first time in 10 years, and trying to start a company in desperate times. Yes. It is a story of fighting, but it is also a story of surviving.

    The book should not be seen as a companion to the series but as a prequel. It was written well before the show started filming. Peoples lives and circumstances can change a lot in the course of year. You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out how

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    1. Brent –

      Thank you for commenting. I imagine all those things would put a strain on any relationship. And I hope my review expressed how much I admire the work you’ve done with the farm and Beekman brand. The book really conveys what a great team (and couple) you and Josh make – and my disappointment with the episodes I’ve seen on TV has been that they don’t show that as well as I think they could… but then, I suppose that is the nature of the beast.

      I am rooting for you guys, though! My initial reaction is based on just the first 2 episodes – and I did like the second episode (with its focus on the Harvest Festival) more than the first. As you said, I’ll have to check out future shows and see how things change.

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      1. Summer –

        While I’d like to think that Brent is continuously checking up on the comments on my blog… you may want to leave your good wishes over at Beekman 1802. I’m sure he’d appreciate them (the link is in the post above).

        Thanks so much for stopping by.

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    2. I just read the Bucolic Plague and found it absolutely brilliant! I am writing the author of a book I have read……for the first time. I myself am a lover of all things “food”, and I think that you guys should really look seriously into redoing your kitchen and getting it certificated as commercial. Oh the cheeses you can make! Have a great day, and thank you for the entertainment. It was my weekend lark, sitting outside in our beautiful South Carolina fall, drinking my favorite of the moment chardonnay and actually laughing out loud and tearing up at times while enjoying the read.
      Most Sincerely,
      Nancy Elizabeth John
      gnjohn2000@yahoo.com

      P.S. I hope that you are still together, it appeared that your problems began when the money got tight…..don’t let that be your ruination :).

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  5. Enough already with the bitching and bickering. A certain amount is funny…the first three shows go waaaay beyond that to boring and silly stupid, not silly funny. Great potential but my bet is that few will continue watching…how about some healthy and happy gay couples for a change. I know lots of them that are tender, loving, self-giving…oh, but that probably doesn’t make for “good” television.

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  6. I, too, was dismayed by the amount of bickering. Must have missed the explanation, but why is Brent the one to stay at the farm & Josh continues to commute, if it was originally Josh’s dream? & as someone who grew up around both pets & farm animals, I agree with Farmer John that Josh is certainly more suited to a farm life.

    That said, if Brent is able to be open to it, working with animals may help him let go of some of his controlling ways. I was both amused & somewhat saddened that Brent thought it necessary to force the chickens to go out & not come back in when they were first allowing the chickens to go out. Unnecessary stress for ALL parties! Just open the door – they’ll figure it out & venture out on their own. And feel safe that they can go back in whenever they want.

    If more full episodes get posted on the website, I’ll watch a couple more. But if the bickering continues to play a big role, well, there’s enough annoyance in life without going out of my way to encounter more.

    In any event, I wish them all luck, especially the animals & Farmer John.

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    1. Hi Sheryl –

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment, which illustrates why I prefer the book to the t.v. show. According to the last chapter of the book – both Josh & Brent lost their jobs due to the economic meltdown. Brent had lost his first, and so began living at the farm and dedicating himself full time to building Beekman 1802 to make it self-sustaining.

      I haven’t watched any episodes after the initial two, but I really want to stress that I don’t think Beekman 1802 would be as successful as it has been without Brent. And I believe most of the hard work that went into building the brand is done by Brent. Not to say that Josh isn’t working – but Brent was the one who got them the spot on the Martha Stewart show that launched them, Brent was the one who came up with the idea for a website and it was Brent who realized that they would not be able to keep the Beekman Place if they were to try to run it as a family farm. He had the vision that they would need to make it into something bigger. I think he also had the vision that the Beekman Place could also help revitalize Sharon Springs. The list goes on.

      In the book Josh recognizes this, and gives Brent the credit for it. Versus the television show which, I felt, tries to play them off each other. Team Josh vs. Team Brent – when in truth it’s all the same team.

      As for the chickens… really, it is still reality t.v. That was probably staged more for entertainment purposes than anything else. And if not, well then, everyone is entitled to a mistake when thrown into unfamiliar territory. I’m sure no chickens were harmed in the making of that episode. 🙂

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  7. I actually loved the series first and then read the books. Josh is such a great writer. I’ve been sad as I’ve finished each book. I really have enjoyed the series though, perhaps it’s because I just moved from San Francisco to the burbs of Philly, I dunno.

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  8. Ok If Brent is reading this email – All I have to say is Bravo … I have gone thru very stressfull times when starting my business and have yet to accomplish as much as he has done .. the list is both inspiring and funny … Clearly – Brent is very focused and has a plan – Poor Josh ( Who I have a major Crush on- he is gorgeous and charming and funny .. shall I go on … ) is tired by the start of the weekend – I think we’d all like to see him get a bit of a rest!

    I can see thru all the bickering that you do thrive on each others strengths and I hope everything will go gangbusters for you ! In the world of editing for the show – They do need to curb the bickering and let us see the softer side of Brent – My goodness the “BONJOUR” to the empty chair cracked me up .. I for one am addicted to the show. Maybe because they are living my dream – ever since the movie Babyboom – I am dying to have my farm – I just don’t want the worry of trying to make a living at it.

    I’ve read the book – seen the shows – only thing left is to eat the stew !

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    1. Hi Melissa & Deirdre –

      Thanks much for stopping by. I’m glad to see that the show has become such a success. I notice Planet Green now has a huge banner for it on the site, so they are obviously putting a lot of marketing power behind it.

      I loved the book, and always thought the show had a lot of potential. Deirdre, thank you for reminding me how much editing determines what we get to see of the Beekman Boys’ relationship. I’m going to have to catch up and see what is available online (we, unfortunately don’t get Planet Green with our cable package – so I’m seriously behind).

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