What we're watching on TV this week

 Stanley Tucci with Chef Nerina Martinelli and her team

Stanley Tucci with Chef Nerina Martinelli and her team - Credit: 2021 CNN, INC

Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, all episodes on BBC iPlayer 

Stanley has enjoyed a tremendous career both on screen and on stage, proving himself a versatile actor, director and producer. 

But set aside the glamour of Hollywood and (apart from his family) something else has Tucci’s heart: food. 

Italian on both sides, he’s had a long love affair with the cuisine of his ancestral homeland, which set him off on adventure to discover the intricacies, and stories of each of the country’s 22 regions. 

All episodes are available to watch now (in one greedy sitting if you like) and series two has already started to air in the USA, bound surely to make it across the pond some point this year. 

Part travelogue, part food show, Searching for Italy draws viewers into the landscape...into Italian kitchens and homes. 

Tucci begins in gritty Naples, where he samples pizza fritta (invented to fend off cholera), eats tomatoes at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, and watches, mesmerised as artisans transform fresh Campanian milk into strings of mozzarella. 

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He also reins in wife Felicity, learning to make their favourite dish, Spaghetti Alla Nerano, off the Amalfi Coast. 

Each episode is a visual treat, taking in Rome’s most famous pasta recipes, the hams and cheeses of Bologna, Milan’s risotto and aperitivo culture, hole-in-the-wall wine service in Florence, and the unique culture of Sicily. 

Warning. It will make you hungry! 

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Ian Hislop and Paul Merton

Ian Hislop and Paul Merton - Credit: BBC/Hat Trick/Ray Burmiston

Have I Got News For You, Fridays 9pm and catch up on iPlayer 

It must be tough doing a satirical topical comedy show right now. 

On one hand, there’s nothing in the least bit funny about the main news stories of war, death, destruction and potential nuclear apocalypse.  

On the other hand, what is happening in our domestic politics is a series of events which are hard to ridicule because they are just so ridiculous.  

Again, there’s nothing funny about the pandemic itself, about people following the law and therefore unable to be with loved-ones as they died or were buried. But the subsequent series of evasions and lies, lapses in memory and judgement, men walking into Downing Street with suitcases of wine and out of Downing Street with a box supposedly brimming with kompromat and revenge, has been beyond farcical.  

Ironic really, the president of Ukraine was a comedian and is now a courageous and impressive leader. The prime minister of Great Britain, sacked from a previous career for making stuff up, is now the first serving British leader to be punished for breaking the law.  

A law he was involved in making.  

While I still absolutely love Have I Got News For You there is a school of thought that Boris Johnson’s appearances on the programme helped create his image as a jolly spiffing funster who would make Britain giggle again, and it would be a marvellous wheeze if was in chortling charge of us all.  

Well that went well; thanks HIGNFY. 

In my opinion it would have been a whole lot better if Ian Hislop had stood for election and somehow become prime minister, with Paul Merton as his chancellor of the exchequer (because Paul’s team almost always seems to get more points than Ian’s team and therefore might be better dealing with money too.)  

Last week’s show brought us news and jokes about John Travolta in Norfolk, charging points showing porn in the Isle of Wight and had the usual fun with odd-one-out pictures and headlines from The Vanishingly Obscure Newsletter of A Fabulously Niche Society. 

As ever the actual headlines weren’t raising many laughs. Yet again, politics stepped up. Maybe Ian and Paul really should go and get another job because even their huge comedy talents could add little to the news that one of the people fined for allowing ethics and propriety to slip at an illegal party was um, the government’s former director general of propriety and ethics. 

Rowan Mantell 

Hacks, Amazon Prime

I was lured in by the thought this might be about tired old journalists (relateable) and stayed for the jewels strewn in this sharp comedy about, well, comedy.

We’ve waited a year for this series to make the trip across the pond and, on the whole, it was worth the wait: Hacks is a cleverly-written ‘unlikely buddy’ romp that includes some real laugh-out-loud moments.

This isn’t to say that all the comedy hits home, not least because many of the cultural references mean nothing to we Brits, but the wonderfully-written characters make up for any shortfall.

Jean Smart is brilliant as Deborah Vance, an old-school stand-up with a Las Vegas residency which she finds under threat as the promoter is seduced by bright young things who are more ‘relevant’.

(On which note, Megan Stalter as Jimmy’s PA and his boss’s daughter Kayla, is a DELIGHT)

She shares an agent, Jimmy, with Ava (Hannah Einbinder) whose risqué tweet about gay conversion therapy cancelled her as she warmed up at the blocks – they are paired, to give one a job and to give the other ‘credibility’.

It’s a tale as old as time: two people can’t stand each other gradually realise they have a lot in common and then start to like each other despite themselves. The old ones are always the best and while it’s a cliché to suggest that comedians have secret sorrows, most of the ones I know really do. Smart does vulnerability so heartbreakingly well.

A bit like Schitt’s Creek, it’s the build-up that leads to the pay-off – and listen closely, the devil really is in the detail.

Stacia Briggs