He goes ‘Searching for Italy’ while the rest of us rot in our homes
“Am I getting a crush on Stanley Tucci?” someone asked on my feed. His new CNN food porn show, ‘Searching for Italy With Stanley Tucci’ certainly promotes the bourgeois TV crush. Trim as a teenager, bald as a bullet, adorned in crisp dress shirts, Stanley Tucci has adopted the mission of traveling to all 20 Italian provinces to get to the bottom of Earth’s greatest mystery: ‘Why is Italian food so good?’ Nice work if you can get it.
Tucci has picked up the CNN travel slot that Anthony Bourdain’s suicide vacated. Andrew Zimmern, whose Bizarre Foods franchise was a kind of dopey analogue to Bourdain’s cool guy persona, has retreated to narrating great restaurant dishes in front of a green screen. He’s also co-leading a charge, with Tom Colicchio, to save independent restaurants that pandemic policies have endangered. This leaves us with various Food Network scraps that are faint echoes of the best food-travel shows.
Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, has his Netflix entry, ‘Somebody Feed Phil’. Rosenthal is funny in reasonable doses, but after a while the show is just him riding camels, eating things and saying ‘MMMMMMM THAT’S GOOD!’, and befriending various waifs in a show of multinational goodwill. Meanwhile, over on Hulu, Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi hosts ‘Taste the Nation,’ where she deep-dives into American immigrant food traditions. No one minds watching Lakshmi, and she has some interesting guests, but many episodes of the show have an eat-your-authentic-vegetables quality to them that make them less than fun.
Stanley Tucci, on the other hand, makes few pretenses toward social justice. His show is about 85 percent la dolce vita. Sure, he visits a left-wing bookshop in Rome that the mob firebombed. But two minutes later, he’s burying his face in a plate of carbonara. He stops by a soup kitchen in Bologna that hand-rolls its own tortellini stuffed with prosciutto and Parmagiano-Reggiano, talks to two homeless people, and then immediately zaps off to Modena to sample 25-year-old balsamic vinegar. His sympathies are both broad and shallow.
But this is a food travel show. People aren’t tuning in for social justice, Italian-style. They want to see the pasta and the garlic and the pigs. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, ‘Searching For Italy With Stanley Tucci’ would just be another entry in the endless pedestal-putting of Slow Food. But because of COVID-19, it’s actually an epic document of rich-guy travel hypocrisy.
I have watched three episodes of the six that CNN aired so far. Tucci filmed the Rome episode before COVID, so it’s just a lot of pasta and pastry and literal tripe. But the Naples episode and the Bologna one, Tucci says in the intro, taped this summer, during a pause in the pandemic in a country that got hit harder than most.
Did I miss a moment where the pandemic stopped? Even during the lulliest moments of the summer, the CDC and Dr. Fauci were screaming at us not to travel to prevent a “surge.” The media berated people who went to beaches and bike rallies. When I drove to Colorado with my family, some people responded as though I were the Butcher of Belgrade. Yet Stanley Tucci gets to bop over to Napoli to break the news that it’s the birthplace of pizza?
While the rest of us cowered in fear in our bunkers, Stanley Tucci motored about Emilia-Romagna in a Maserati with master Chef Massimo Bottura, who appears on TV about as often as Mario Lopez. The ham and the cheese look awfully good. I would love to eat them myself in Parma. But for those of us not blessed with a TV show, there’s a 14-day quarantine upon arrival on the continent.
Adding insult is the fact that this show airs on CNN. No media institution on Earth has been more panicked about COVID than CNN. But while the foreboding and obnoxious CNN COVID death ticker clacked away, Stanley Tucci and his wife headed to the Amalfi Coast for that perfect zucchini pasta. The occasional well-placed mask and elbow bump don’t fool anyone. This isn’t essential work. Give me a fucking break.
‘Searching For Italy’ is the TV equivalent of Gavin Newsom’s dinner at the French Laundry, or Ted Cruz’s big-freeze vacation to Cancun. Our betters dine like kings across the globe while our politicians and media continue to tell us to avoid eating at restaurants near our homes. As the show clearly indicates, Italy isn’t going anywhere, and the food is still quite tasty. Maybe Stanley Tucci can wait to continue his fancy-man “search” until CNN stops lecturing the rest of us for wanting to join him.