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Eric’s Best of TV 2021

Until COVID hit, I confess I was not watching a lot of television (except of course, for hockey). As a result, in 2020, we started traveling less. Then hockey came to an 8-month halt. And we ‘cut-the-cord’ – opting to stream, making it much easier to watch great shows when we want to. Since nothing changed in 2021, TV watching continued.

As always, I'm a bit behind the times. So these are the 9 shows I saw this year that were the best I saw (not necessarily first broadcast in 2021).

For 2020, I had Top 12 shows.

And now, without further ado – my top TV Shows for 2021:

9. Searching for Italy (CNN)

A few programs arrived during COVID that hit the right moment. For me, Stanley Tucci’s homage to his homeland was one of them.

It’s food based (what show based in Italy wouldn’t be). From pizza to pasta to the perfect San Marzano tomato. Searching for Italy trumpets food, land and people as the conduit to culture.

During season one (there will be more), Tucci goes to Tuscany, Sicily, Milan, Bologna and Naples. The country is ingrained with Tucci. His parents lived in Rome when he was a boy. So of course there's an emotional scene when he and his parents visit their apartment years later.

Tucci, for all his love of food, has only a limited vocabulary to express his joy other than “Oh my God”. And Searching isn't light-hearted; if you’re looking for another Someone Feed Phil, you’re out of luck.

But Tucci is going to places I’ve been (and want to return). We foodies and travelers are living through him. He’s experiencing the joys we desire but can't right now.

If only he'd only had more than one bite of pasta and shown more than 0% body fat…

8. Wolfgang (Disney+)

You’d think Wolfgang Puck was so ubiquitous that any biography wouldn’t possibly break new ground.

After all, he’s on the Home Shopping Channel every hour. His frozen foods and cafes dominate gourmet markets in the United States. And you can’t go to one of his restaurants without seeing him work the crowd.

But it turns out there’s a lot more to him that meets the (superficial) eye. Puck grew up poor in post World War II Austria. Following World War II, raised by a single mother, he suffered abuse from his stepfather, who told him it was unmanly for men to be in the kitchen. So off we go to Austria, to visit those roots, meet his sister, and find out what motivated him to become the first superstar chef. (His motivation? “Fear of failure”)

He landed in America. His first success was at the Los Angeles hotspot Ma Maison. But when he opened Spago, he became the first celebrity chef. Spago redefined 'hotspot'. Sure, it was the place to be. But Spago became famous for the quality and inventiveness of his dishes.

There’s time for reflection by Puck; his relentless pursuit in business came at the expense of his personal life. But he is so interesting – even if you aren’t a foodie, his story is compelling.

I can’t claim to know Mr. Puck well, but I’ve met him on numerous occasions and can say he seems as happy, genuine and engaged in person as on screen. I’ve watched him greet two little old ladies from Iowa as effusively as the biggest A+ list celebrity. He is the real deal.

7. Staged (Hulu)

In many ways, Staged was the perfect COVID stay-at-home show. Michael Sheen and David Tennant play themselves. If you don't know them, they're among the elite of the UK's great stage, film and TV actors. And they know it.

In Staged, they’ve agreed to do a play but the rehearsals and discussions must be virtual. "Virtual" is something the temperamental actors don’t easily adapt to. Threaded throughout are appearances from Samuel L. Jackson to Dame Judi Dench. And their wives are on screen as well, rolling their eyes as they (barely) tolerate their husbands’ rants and raves.

The entire series is via Zoom; only the final scene doesn't take place on a computer monitor.

I laughed throughout the 14 episodes (most around 20 minutes long). But there are lots of “ifs” for lots of you. For one – it helps if you’re familiar with Sheen and Tennant. Also, their accents (Welsh and Scottish) were strong enough to make me put on English subtitles.

Yet in the end – their ravings from boredom, distraction, and their own egos – are more than enough to make this a totally worthwhile diversion.

6. Imposters (Netflix)

This Bravo series ended in 2017 but received new fame when re-released on Netflix.