Hey, New York! By now, you might've heard about HBO's docu-series sensation, How to with John Wilson. Blending the simple and the surreal of everyday living in The City That Never Sleeps™, our central watchful documentarian takes a probing look at various mundane topics that fascinate him. In the process, he makes one of the most unique and uniquely funny shows in a long time. If you haven't had a chance to watch the wonderful series for yourself, you're missing out on what's easily one of the funniest, most personal, and most unexpectedly profound artworks in this unconventional year.
As one of the most surprising and acclaimed new shows of 2020, How to with John Wilson has received a great deal of admiration and praise, resulting in HBO giving it a second season just this past week. I don't know if I can fully do the series justice, so you'll need to see it for yourself. But trust me, it's worth it. Here are eight reasons why you should stream How to with John Wilson on HBO Max now (if you haven't already).
It’s A Wonderful Fusion of Comedy And Documentary, Becoming Uniquely Moving And Poignant With Each Consecutive Episode
Through its observant lens and his trained attention for anything bizarre and off-kilter in everyday living throughout the always-bustling New York City, John Wilson captures a lot of oddities with his perceptive camera in How to with John Wilson.
While there's an easy temptation to laugh at the bizarre people or mock the peculiar oddities seen throughout NYC's residences, Wilson's reflective narration, careful editing, and his curiously explorative camerawork create a series of humorous visual essays that use his cinematic interest to study everything and anything seemingly mundane or irregular to craft a number of hilarious metaphors and several humane moments of visual poetry. It's a combination of strange and sweet that's hard to explain, but it's very easy to enjoy.
You'll see a lot of things in How to with John Wilson that you've probably never seen in a show before. Particularly if you don't live day-to-day in NYC. Wilson's ability to capture so many typical and atypical sights on camera and interweave them into short documentary memories is both beguiling and beautiful in equal measure, and it only becomes more enjoyable as you continue watching the show.
How To With John Wilson Presents New York City In A Whole New Light
There are several films and TV shows focused on the vast and varied lifestyles of New York City civilians. Most of them opt to glamorize it, showcasing its picturesque locations, an assortment of unconventional characters, and sweeping romanticism. But that's not exactly how John Wilson approaches the Big Apple. Through his hyper-focused photography, Wilson paints a picture of New York that is, at once, gloomy and worn-down and opportunistic and thriving with assorted personalities.
It's an idiosyncratic balance that's made more distinctive by John Wilson's ability to create voiceover monologues that searches for answers to life's seemingly unanswerable questions over footage of molding pizza on the sidewalk or an odd lady grabbing a pigeon and putting it inside her purse. It creates a vision of NYC that's more realistic than what we usually see, but also unique to Wilson's acute vision for this offbeat show.
How To With John Wilson Is Richly Humane And Curiously Explorative Without Being Sappy Or Anything Less Than Hilarious
As noted before, How to with John Wilson walks a fine line between gawking at its assortment of peculiar personalities and finding the unsuspecting humanity that lurks behind some of the most inscrutable real-life characters. The show's best trick is breaking some oversized personalities down to their most humane and sincere, while also watching well-known people like Kyle Maclachlan struggle to swipe his subway card. Indeed, celebrities are just like us! Sometimes.
The show's endlessly curious and explorative aspirations produce some richly emotional moments, but the show is great about never getting too sappy or maudlin in its approach. Even when it dives into a few serious and heavy topics, How to with John Wilson is consistently hilarious and often brilliantly surprising that the laughs remain plentiful, even during the show's most psychological bouts of societal scrutiny and personal introspection. It's a very tight tightrope that's incredibly hard to balance on, but Wilson makes it look like a cakewalk.
How To With John Wilson Is The Newest Show From Producer Nathan Fielder
If you loved Comedy Central's celebrated (and sometimes stealthy controversial) docu-reality series, Nathan For You, you'll be overjoyed to know that Nathan Fielder's fingerprints can be found all throughout How to with John Wilson. Following his own show's movie-length series finale in 2017, Fielder has kept a relatively low profile, making appearances in The Disaster Artist and Tour de Pharmacy and collaborating with Sasha Baron Cohen for a few segments in Showtime's Who Is America?, but not breaking out any exciting new projects of his own in the intervening time.
While the showrunner in the process of making his follow-up series with Emma Stone and the Safdie brothers, How to with John Wilson is currently the executive producer's most high-profile project post-Nathan For You. And there's no denying that Nathan Fielder influenced this new HBO show greatly with his keen input and richly dry humor, while also allowing Wilson to flourish through his own individual style and create a show that's entirely specific to his own unusual vision.
You Might Actually Learn Something (But Not Likely)
The framing device behind every episode of How to with John Wilson is a training tutorial on something basic or approachable in your everyday life —particularly if you're a 30-something documentarian living in New York City, just like our titular filmmaker. Of course, the show's crux is centered around our lead subject suffering from some mild existential crisis or getting caught in a spiral of absurd tangents, which all (miraculously) tie together by the end. With that said, you don't actually learn a whole lot about the world-at-large in How to with John Wilson. But at the same time, you kinda do.
For people outside of New York City like myself, for instance, you might actually learn and discover a thing or two about scaffolding's drawn-out history. Of course, that's not the sexiest way to sell you on a show, but through John Wilson's warm balance of heart and humor, you find your time rewarded, no matter what the discussion is ultimately about. Anything you learn during the show's unconventional proceedings is icing on the cake.
You Can Never Predict Where Every Episode Is Going To Go
Every episode of How to with John Wilson starts with a seemingly simple premise. Our offbeat photographer, director, and narrator talks about something that vexes him about common society, whether it's an inability to create small talk, understand all the suffocating scaffolding around NYC, or learn how to cook the perfect risotto for his landlord, to name a few episode discussion points.
But as each episode progresses, the theme becomes either more elaborate, autobiographical, philosophical, and/or emotionally in-depth. To give away what happens would be a sin, but let's just say that at least two episodes take a hard dive into NSFW territory, while even the most mild-mannered installments may find you fighting back tears before they wrap up their less-than-30-minute runtimes.
It's a credit to the creative flexibility and freedom of John Wilson's curious docuseries that it never settles into one comfortable rhythm. Each episode is dependably unique and creatively expressive in its own individualistic ways, and it's a joy to watch each of them unravel.
It’s The Perfect Odd Show For This Very Odd Year
It's hard to capture what it feels like to live in 2020. This year is such a perplexing and alienating time span, one that feels both cyclical and increasingly peculiar as we try to make sense of our daily news brief and general disassociation with a world we once knew. It's hard not to feel alone, particularly as many of us are stuck in our houses or trying to forge through an outside world that looks familiar but feels totally different than it did even 10 months ago. We are living in incredibly weird times, and it's only going to get weirder in 2021.
To try to make sense of it all is perhaps a fool's errand. But in its own peculiar way, How to with John Wilson does make sense of the senseless and gives us some perspective to a place and time that's totally different than almost anything we've known before.
Particularly when it comes to Season 1's finale, "How to Cook the Perfect Risotto," this odd duck docuseries turns into an unexpectedly transcendent experience, capturing the evaporating sense of reality we once knew as everything closed down and nothing was what it was once before. We haven't seen a lot of art that has effectively captured our unique sense of place and time yet, but this show — particularly its season finale — does just that. And it really works wonders.
It’s Only Six Half-Hour Episodes And It’s Available On HBO Max
If I haven't already sold you on the merits of How to with John Wilson, I should also note that the show is a very quick and breezy watch. It's only six episodes, each of them ranging between 20-to-30 minutes, and they're all available on HBO and HBO Max. It's a relatively no harm, no foul type show.
With only a little under three hours of content delivered thus far, you could very easily binge through How to with John Wilson Season 1 in one day (or even one sitting). Hell, you'll get through it faster than The Irishman. It's certainly a very easily bingeable series, particularly as the surprises continue to unravel. So, I hope you give it a shot. If you love it, you can thank me later.
You can watch the entire first season of How to with John Wilson on HBO Max here (opens in new tab).
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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