(Television Review) Searching for Italy [Season 2]
STANLEY TUCCI: SEARCHING FOR ITALY [SEASON 2]
CNN just aired the fourth and final installment of Searching For Italy (Season 2). This is likely to be the end of the food and travel series hosted by actor and foodie Stanley Tucci. Reportedly, the new CEO at CNN doesn’t like ancillary programming, which will be our collective loss. Expect a cancellation announcement soon.
Each show focused on one of Italy’s 20 regions. Season 1 included six regions, adding four more in Season 2. This means 10 (or half) of the territory has been covered. Searching for Italy also did a bonus segment on London’s Italian-restaurant scene, one of the very best of the series. They should have done others for New York City, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and other places outside of Italy, which are heavily influenced by Italian culture and cooking. But, I digress.
My summation is this: As wonderful as Season 1 was, which received nearly universal acclaim, Season 2 didn’t live up to the high bar set by those initial episodes. It felt like eating a spicy leftover or drinking a glass of Chianti from yesterday’s bottle. Still good, but not as great as the freshly-served original. This letdown stems from several minor disappointments which add up to one major problem.
First, Tucci wasn’t nearly as much on his game. One presumes the Italian-American actor (who spent part of his childhood living in Florence) looked upon filming the first season as the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. Just imagine. Tucci was paid to travel, narrate, tell jokes, and best of all eat and drink great food and wine — all while being the snobby but self-deprecating curmudgeon we’ve come expect of our host. Once even sensed this wasn’t really a job or even a career move. For Tucci, it was a personal pilgrimage.
The host’s enthusiasm shined through in each of the major food regions that most of us already know — including Rome, Sicily, Milan, Tuscany, Venice, and Naples. Seemingly spontaneous, Tucci’s sardonic wit was a perfect acidic balance to the effervescent serenity of Italy’s often gorgeous scenery, its fascinating historical footnotes, and mouth-watering culinary temptations.
Unfortunately, those witty moments were scarce in Season 2.
Part of the problem was repetition. Italians from these specific regions will bristle at what I’m about to say, but Calabria (Episode 1), Sardinia (2), and Puglia (3) are just way too similar in their seaside customs and mostly southern Italian traditions to compel their own full one-hour segments (and yes, I realize Sardinia is not southern Italy). Five of the ten shows completed were on what amounts to the bottom part of Italy’s “boot.” Yet, not a single show touched upon the Italian Alps (Valle d’Aosta, Trentino Alto Adige, or Lombardy) or other regions which are so unique. Admittedly, this is a selfish desire on my part since my grandfather was born in this region in northern Italy. Perhaps the producers expected there to be a Season 3, which would explain why the current season felt so monotonous.
Another problem was the nearly exclusive concentration on high-end Italian restaurants and famous chefs. I get it. We all want to dine at trendy places with Michelin stars. But how does this help anyone pick out a great pizza joint in Naples? Or a mom-and-pop seafood spot in Bari? Frankly, after a while, Tucci’s fancy friends became a bore. One can voyeur only so many meals with golden Mediterranean sunsets, surrounded by Amalfi lemons, and crusty white-haired matriarchs named “Mamma” before the whole viewing sauce becomes stale. How many times can we see Cacio e Pepe being whisked off spoons in different kitchens without blurting out, “WTF?–spaghetti again?” I sure wish Searching for Italy had copied a page from the late Anthony Bourdain’s playbook (Parts Unknown) and given us some perspective of “normal” Italian life. Given presumably so many more casual places and colorful characters across the varied Italian landscape, this is a glaring void.
My criticisms aren’t intended to dissuade viewership, though I expect a few readers who were on the fence about the series and taped it for later may now FF through parts. Certainly, even a flawed show about Italian food, cooking, and culture can still be pretty good.
Searching for Italy has run its course. It’s probably best to let it end now, though we should all be worried quality in-depth programming like this will continue shifting to pay platforms.
Indeed, our search is over. We found Italy. We love Italy. But we’re tired of the same restaurants and company, by now. So, it’s time to finally move on and go home.