James May: Our Man in Italy sticks to a reliable formula and mostly gives its audience what it wants. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably like this.
James May: Our Man In Italy was released on the Amazon Prime on July 15, 2022.
I spent a couple of years in my teens working in a Deli in a very middle-class town. A pretty sizable chunk of our clientele were people like James May; avuncular middle-aged men with limited fashion sense and a ready supply of Dad Jokes asking detailed questions about cheese. Armed with this experience, there was something rather pleasant and quite nostalgic about James May: Our Man In Italy, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Each episode sees the former Top Gear host sashay around a different part of Italy paired with a knowledgable local to act as a guide. He visits points of interest, makes food, and learns more about the local history.
The tone strikes the infotainment balance pretty well. You learn a bit more about local history and customs and get to laugh along as May is ‘forced’ to badly play musical instruments, do sports and make food, etc. He does it all with his customary deadpan delivery and pretends to be annoyed at the production team for once again putting him in the position of facing public humiliation.
May is an affable screen presence and does a nice line in middle-aged English bloke bumbling around gorgeous surroundings, good-naturedly allowing himself to be the butt of the joke. He makes for a decent companion, and you can imagine that they all had a lovely time making this show.
There are plenty of nods and winks that draw attention to Italian stereotypes, but they manage to do this without going full Daily Mail (take note, Clarkson, your mate does this stuff better). This is in large part because May gets stuck in, makes an effort to speak the language when he can, and treats local people and customs with genuine interest and respect.
This is exactly the sort of show I can imagine watching on a Sunday evening with family. It’s entertaining enough, largely inoffensive, and gives you exactly what you expect. It’s charming, has beautiful cinematography, and really milks fish out of water humor.
The running gag that the director is out to get James has some laughs but starts to get a little bit old after a couple of episodes. Another joke deployed regularly is that James is dispatched to learn how to prepare some local food, only to spend hours producing nowhere near enough food for the number of mouths he is supposed to feed, to much hilarity.
James May: Our Man In Italy is totally formulaic and predictable, but to complain about this is to totally miss the point. This sort of TV show is supposed to be formulaic and predictable. We want wonderful photography of stunning locations, charming locals to meet, and an affable host to laugh at. James May: Our Man In Italy gives us all of this in a very watchable package. This isn’t hard-hitting TV, but it really isn’t trying to be.
What did you think of the Amazon original series James May: Our Man In Italy season 1? Comment below.