Stanley Tucci, who spent much of this pandemic getting social media attention for mixing the perfect Negroni, also spent part of the pandemic visiting Italy for his new CNN travel series Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy. In the six-episode docuseries, Tucci travels across the country where his family roots are, going to places where the tourists don’t usually go and finding out about the nation’s history through it’s varied cuisines.
Opening Shot: The crowded streets of Naples. Host Stanley Tucci’s voice over says: “It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, the first wave of COVID-19 had emptied the states of Naples and Italy was in lockdown. Fortunately, I’ve arrived during a brief period of normality. Restaurants are open and masks are not required outside. We’ll be sticking to the local rules.”
The Gist: In the first episode, he visits Naples, the home of the Neapolitan pizza that has become the standard that most of the world’s pizza has been based on. The city is close to Mount Vesuvius, and its volcanic explosions are always a threat. Tucci visits a longtime spot that serves something called “fried pizza,” which is akin to a small calzone fried in oil. Then he goes to one of the city’s oldest makers of buffalo mozzarella, travels to a local field where authentic San Marzano tomatoes are grown.
He then discusses with the police chief how gangs permeate the city, and he then goes to the suburb of Scampia, where a modern government-built housing project is in disrepair, and it’s against a favela-esque town set up by nomadic Travelers. Near there is a restaurant called Kitchen, which employs people and has drawn people from all over the region. Next he feasts on rabbit at a mountainside restaurant with the family that owns it.
Tucci then visits the Amalfi Coast, where he and his wife, Felicity Blunt, have a simple spaghetti with zucchini dish that they have tried to recreate at home. Then, as a storm rolls in, the couple and the film crew have the restaurant to themselves after every guest cancels.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Take one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, cross it with Rick Steves’ shows that concentrate on Europe, then add a dollop of high-class sheen, and you get this show.
Our Take: We appreciate CNN trying to fill the hole that Bourdain left after his death in 2018. It’s not easy to find a host who isn’t just interested in travel in a superficial way. Tucci fits the part of the Bourdain mold in that he wants to explore his ancestral land, take in its diverse regions, each with its own unique cuisine.
But Tucci’s travels seem to be a bit less participation-based and a bit more observational. He’s not necessarily trying to get to know the people in a region in order to get to know the region itself. He’s not there to really probe. In that regard, he’s more like most of the travel hosts we’ve seen that use the people as more of a backdrop than a resource (Gordon Ramsay being a big example of that).
Listen, that’s OK. Not everyone can do what Bourdain was able to do. But we just wish that Tucci was able to connect with the people he visits on a more personal level. His narration is also a touch detached, more akin to the work he’s done for PBS documentaries, which doesn’t strike a causal enough tone for a show like this.
That being said, Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy is a fun way to see one of the best actors on the planet be himself and reconnect with the country where his family came from.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Tucci has limoncello with the owner of a bakery who makes an amazing dessert named “Lemon delight.”
Sleeper Star: We hope to see Felicity Blunt (yes, Emily Blunt’s older sister) a bit more, because the two of them talking about coupley things like how they tried and failed to make the zucchini spaghetti dish makes Tucci a little more down to earth.
Most Pilot-y Line: Because he filmed this episode during the pandemic (four of the six episodes were filmed pre-pandemic), there are a lot of closed restaurants, elbow bumps and people who are in masks. And it’s odd to see the streets so busy knowing that the country locked down again in recent months.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy is a bit more detached than some of CNNs other documentary series, but it’s still an interesting look at a country that is much more than its tourist hot spots.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.