On the surface, CNN’s six-part series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is a pretty standard travel show. Tucci, in impeccably crisp white linen with not a single sweat stain in sight, travels up and down the country where he briefly lived as a kid, extolling its rich foods and even juicer history. But add in his penchant for groaning after every bite of Neapolitan pizza and gritty voiceovers about the history of Rome’s famous four pastas, and it’s hard not to fall for Emily Blunt’s brother-in-law.
Searching for Italy is alluring in the way a travel show offering picturesque shots of European countrysides and cobblestone streets should be. It’s informative as you’d expect of content from a cable news network, but more importantly, it’s communal, bringing cynical queer adults and their CNN-obsessed parents together over one effortlessly handsome man’s love for little more than olive oil, basil, mozzarella and a whole lot of tomatoes.
“It definitely was a bonding experience,” Michael DeCicco, a 25-year-old Italian-Ecuadorian-American, says of watching Searching for Italy with his parents. He and his mother have been fans of Tucci since his iconic turn as the gay best friend in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, while DeCicco’s father loves the 1997 film Big Night, starring Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as brothers running an Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey.
Having studied abroad in Northern Italy, DeCicco became Tucci 2.0 each night they finished dinner and turned on Searching for Italy, providing commentary to his parents on the show, which is all about contextualizing Italian cuisine. “This is probably one of the first times in recent months something on the television wasn’t politics, world news or sports,” he says.
A travel show is particularly well-suited for pandemic audiences. Just as seasoned outdoor reality TV competitions like Survivor and Alone found new viewers hankering for gorgeous landscapes, Searching for Italy is fantasy television, but not in the way of Marvel’s superheroes or Bridgerton’s sex fantasies. Rather, it trafficks in timelessness. Though filmed before and during a pandemic that initially ravaged Italy, the show features little mention of coronavirus; Tucci elbow-bumps his pals but seldom covers his face outdoors. “Masks are not required outside, and we’ll be sticking to the local rules,” Tucci makes clear in the first episode. He’s serving us an alternative 2020, where the pandemic was merely a blip and a vast Italian vacation — without a price tag or jet lag — was the reward.
Not that things ever stray too far from Tucci himself. After all, the show is all about his charismatic, inviting persona. He’s the cosmopolitan Italian uncle who gives the best birthday gifts, acquired from his storied travels abroad. Along those lines, from The Devil Wears Prada to Easy A to The Hunger Games, Tucci plays sensitive, if not always outright gay, characters. “He also has this kind of vision-board-type ‘best life making pasta and drinking in vineyards’ swag that my upper-middle-class straight white parents in their 50s definitely aspire to,” says Ross Hansen, a 25-year-old gay man living with said straight white parents in their 50s in the suburbs of Saskatoon.
As for Searching for Italy, Hansen says it “has been my life story for the past five weeks with my mom and dad… lol.”
Perhaps, though, the biggest lesson Searching for Italy makes clear is that great food is to be enjoyed with even greater company. And at a time when we’re isolated away from our loved ones, bonding with a parent over Tucci — aka the hot Negroni maker — as he over-enunciates the word “carbonara” might be just as delicious as the pasta itself.