On the surface, the question of whether you will like Sarah Beeny’s New Life in the Country – the second series of a show about Sarah Beeny’s new life, which is in the country – will depend on whether you like Sarah Beeny, and want her to have a nice life. It feels as if culture has been sharpening like a sword for years up to this point, but I’m going to ask anyway: Fai? Do you like Sarah Beeny? E, more importantly, do you want her to thrive in her new life in the country?
To figure out whether you like Sarah Beeny it does help to interrogate whether you’ve watched a property show in the last 20 anni, because if you have, you probably do. Property TV is a natural fit for a country obsessed with property ownership, and Channel 4 has long since cornered the market, their four horsemen – Conquest (Kevin McCloud), Famine (Beeny), War (Phil Spencer) and Death (Kirstie Allsopp) – leading the march. What is it about owning a property that makes it so soothing to watch other people do things to theirs? Realistically, Sono 20 years and a global banking crisis from finding out for myself, but we live in hope.
Until then, Beeny’s busy. The premise of the show is: Beeny and her husband Graham Swift are building a low-carbon stately home in Somerset, and we are supposed to find it interesting that they sold their house in London to fund this. The construction of the shell of the home was documented in the last series, and now they are moving on to actually making it have some rooms inside, while they and the rest of the family live in a casual literal other house they already have onsite. The improvement is piecemeal: this week we see them install a large step. There’s a big reveal at the end where she shows her brother the new hallway. If you’re the kind of person excited about seeing a hallway get done up then, sure, go wild.
But the appeal of New Life … , which returns on Tuesday, actually goes beyond property, and hints more broadly at what it means. The programme is intercut with snapshots of Beeny’s jolly family life – the beloved dog gives birth to puppies! A series of well-raised teenage boys flop the hair out of their faces long enough to put down some screed! – and her roll-your-sleeves-up-and-let’s-get-shit-on-our-trousers approach to country life. We see Swift – tortured artist son, ambitious posh lad rising – scratch his head about how to install some cornice, then cut to Beeny on a cluttered kitchen table trying to make combs for a beehive.
If you’ve ever ventured over there in recent years, you’ll know YouTube has an interminable trend for “family content”, where shiny young couples document every second of their growing family’s lives, and are always doing pranks or buying a bigger car or something. When I first saw it I thought: “How absolutely pathetic,” but then I learned that it tends to appeal to teenagers who come from broken family units. They gaze at these families and see what it might be like to be loved by your dad in a way where he keeps putting clingfilm over the toilet or dangling toy spiders in your face. Watching Beeny interrupt a piano lesson to take a call from a builder fulfils much the same function: tu, a nobody, can watch along and envision what it might be like to be really middle class and have a genuine need to buy a 4×4 and have a special shelf in your hall for wellies. It’s as much “imagine if Sarah Beeny made you a big moussaka” wish-fulfilment as it is “there’s a leak and nobody can quite figure out where it comes from” housing drama.
So it’s fluff, sure. And it does rather beg the question: how many mansions will we have to watch Sarah Beeny overhaul before we die? But it’s wholesome in a way I didn’t expect to be quite so charmed by, and that in itself is disarming. Do you like Sarah Beeny? Come on, you can be honest now. You find her reassuringly straightforward but didn’t understand that era when she was doing a dating website. It’s fine, you can say it. Admit it: you like Sarah Beeny. Bene, here’s some footage of her running around a ping pong table with her big, posh family, all laughing and having fun. There you go, Guarda. Shh, shh. Everything’s going to be OK. Beeny’s here. Mummy’s here.
Sarah Beeny’s New Life in the Country starts on 30 November on Channel 4