The Daily Gamecock

Review: 'How to with John Wilson' finds humanity where none look

The skyline of New York City.
The skyline of New York City.

Show: "How to with John Wilson"

Run Date: 2020-present

Season(s): 2

Episodes: 12

Rating: TV-MA

Rating: A+

One of the beautiful things about mockumentaries is the way they foster their own valid element of truth and information. They hold the same properties of the reflective, societal mirror of documentaries, even amongst their comedic takes or lacking seriousness. But they show us a contrasting truth to life, not unlike pure journalism.  

For “How to with John Wilson,” that is an understatement. 

The comedic, hand-camera footage HBO docu-series about anything is a love letter to New York and a statement of truth. 

“How to with John Wilson” is a show that finds the weird and random and puts them under a microscopic lens, spotlighting the humanity underpinning everything. From features on landlords to scaffolding, John Wilson records New York through an uncomfortably close lens and an eye attracted to the bizarre. Each episode manages to find a certain poetic beauty in the illogic of the mundane around us. 

In season two, Wilson finds the meaning of life and love in a parking spot. He travels to meet the CEO of Bang Energy Drinks in an episode titled “How to Appreciate Wine.” Jack Owoc, the CEO of Bang is just as eccentric, colorful and energetically bizarre as the drink. 

The following episodes feature similarly bizarre, at times discomforting, real world footage, such as a coffin maker who crafts coffins in the shape of sports cars or a trip to a Las Vegas conference on how to host better conferences. 

Season one was a jumpstart for the show and a deserved niche hit. As season two arrives, John Wilson is no longer a stranger to the audience or his craft. He builds on subtle themes from season one, like Mama, his landlord, who moved to Las Vegas in season two. Spoiler warning, though, there's no more risotto. 

In this lies the beauty of "How to with John Wilson." Mama's selling of the house ensues an entire episode about becoming a landlord. This purchase starts Wilson's diary-like experience of philosophic questioning on relationships, while searching for one's meaning and place in the world. It's all narrated through hand-cam footage that culminates in an interview with a creepy ventriloquist. 

The final shot of the episode is Wilson's newly purchased puppet, the found solution to hosting people as a landlord, as he decides that maybe some things are more meaningful because they're imperfect. 

The absurdity is palpable, but it is what makes "How to with John Wilson" stand out.

While watching the show I often think of the common proverb, “to know someone entirely, is to love them totally."  By diving into this world of obscure niches, he finds an authentic form of humanity. Once felt, it is impossible not to find meaning and relatability in it. 

Yes, seeing an organization meeting of only six members for obsessives of the 2009 James Cameron film, "Avatar," is a first. But the stories shared by the friends after awkwardly watching the entire film amongst their memorabilia genuinely brought me close to tears. 

One of the members tells the story of his fight with loneliness and mental illness and how the unquestioning loyalty of a fellow member brought him back from a place of no return. It's heartfelt in a way no movie or story ever could be because it's real. 

Through the power of storytelling and comedic documentary visuals, "How to with John Wilson" takes any subject and strips them down to pure emotion. It takes something grotesque and makes it relatable, lovable and powerful. 

There is a lesson for all here. There's one of acceptance and understanding but also about the nature of judgment and finding compassion in a place none usually lives.