There is a moment at the end of the first episode of season two of "Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy," when a chef with whom the urbane host is chatting says, "Italy is not a cliché."
I take her point, though I'm not sure I entirely agree. Best I can tell, based on the first season and the second season's premiere last Sunday on CNN, the show spotlights a country with wonderful food, outstanding wine, and lovely people. A place where, no surprise, the culinary arts are core to the national identity.
Cliché or not, "Searching For Italy" is making a welcome return. Tucci is charming and droll, expert enough to ask great questions but never jaded - his delight is obvious, and he luxuriates in the food of his ancestors. (Not so much so that he's not afraid to look at the camera at one point and suggest that maybe an item has too much salt.)
"Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy" is appointment television, as far as I am concerned. If you're any sort of foodie, I suspect you'll enjoy it as much as I do.
If "Severance," on Apple TV+, reminds me of anything, it is the 1967 Patrick McGoohan TV series, "The Prisoner."
Not that it looks anything like "The Prisoner," or has anything to do with the espionage game in which that series was set. But "Severance" keeps reminding me of it because, as a unique combination of science fiction, thriller, psychological drama, satire and allegory, it is a trippy consideration of notions of freedom and personal identity.
Here's the setup: A company called Lumon Industries has developed a technology that allows employees to sever their work personalities from their outside-the-office lives. Once a chip is implanted in their brains, when they show up in the morning they forget everything about their private lives; when they leave at night, it is as if work does not exist. There's no worrying about work-life balance, because it has been entirely eliminated.
Adam Scott, Zach Cherry, Britt Lower and John Turturro are excellent as four severed office mates who for a variety of reasons start to see their faith in the program erode, asking questions about the company and its motives. And Patricia Arquette is scary good as their boss, whose management techniques are impenetrable.
"Severance" - which is produced and in part directed by Ben Stiller - already has been renewed for a second season. I can't and won't tell you anything more about the series' plot turns and surprises, but I can tell you this: can't wait.
Mike Lupica is finishing his run as the author of the Sunny Randall series of mystery novels launched by the late Robert B. Parker; he's going to continue writing the Jesse Stone series, and is taking over Parker's Spenser series now that Ace Atkins, who did a fabulous job for 10 years, is moving on.
In "Robert B. Parker's Revenge Tour," private detective Sunny finds herself helping a famous romance novelist who is being threatened by an unknown stalker who has accused her of plagiarism. At the same time, she's also protecting her father, a retired Boston cop who is being targeted by a mob boss.
Parker used to say that his novels were rarely about who stole the Maltese Falcon; rather, they were vehicles for him to talk about the things that interested him, and to do so with dialogue and spare prose that read like jazz sounds. That's probably to the benefit of his successors, and especially in this book - I guessed who the villain would be by about page 25.
But the pleasure of these books is always the ways in which the novelists - themselves fans of Parker - allow us to stay connected with a universe and characters we've loved for decades. In the case of "Revenge Tour," Lupica takes the opportunity to bring in characters from the other series, which is its own delight for those of us in the know.
BTW … author Alison Gaylin is taking over the Sunny Randall series, making the first time that a woman has taken over any of the Parker books. I'm looking forward to see how a woman writes these first-person narratives about Parker's female private detective protagonist.
That's it for this week. I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.