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How To with John Wilson (season 01)

Josh Reviews How To with John Wilson


One of my very favorite TV shows of 2020 was How To with John Wilson.  This was one of my absolute favorite discoveries of 2020, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

This bizarre, beautiful documentary series is hard to describe, and I think it’s best to go into it knowing as little as possible.  I can say that the series is six half-hour episodes.  Each episode purports to explore a different “how to” topic, such as “how to improve your memory” or “how to split the check”.  However, inevitably, the joy of each episode is in the unexpected (and often deep and moving) digressions from that initial topic.

The series is a beautiful, funny, sometimes melancholy exploration of our wonderfully weird fellow human beings.  The series is packed with unforgettable characters.  Some of them we only glimpse for a second, in a moment Mr. Wilson has captured from afar with his camera.  Others are those who Mr. Wilson (and, by extension, us) slowly get to know after a happenstance encounter.  There are plenty of moments in which you might find yourself rolling your eyes or laughing at some of these people; I know I did.  But there’s a gentleness to Mr. Wilson’s approach that continually reminds us of these people’s humanity, and of our own.

The series is a love-letter to New York City.  Mr. Wilson’s camera captures image after image, vignette after vignette, that cumulatively present an expansive, loving view of that weird, crazy, beautiful, ugly, complicated city.  Mr. Wilson’s eye for finding indelible moments or images is extraordinary.  There are so many tiny beats that I find myself continually thinking about, long after I finished watching the show.

Watching How To with John Wilson during the COVID pandemic gives this exploration of New York City an extra layer of emotion and melancholy.  There are a million moments in the series that now feel like a window into a long-forgotten time.  And when the series does catch up with the arrival of COVID in the final episode, I found it to be very moving.

Mr. Wilson himself (or, at least, a version of himself), is a participant in the show, though not in an intrusive way.  It’s a delicate balancing act that Mr. Wilson strikes perfectly.  I was immediately endeared by his somewhat stumbling, mumbling narration.  (The show’s narration includes small stumbles or mistakes that in any other show would have been edited out.  That’s clearly intentional, and I thought it worked very well.)  Mr. Wilson can come across as awkward, but I loved his curiosity and I was continually impressed by his talent for striking up conversations, and connections, with all sorts of different people.

John … [continued]