Filmed and narrated entirely by one person, documentary filmmaker John Wilson, “How To with John Wilson” is comprised of footage he records every day of the random insanity and mundanity of the streets of New York City, leaving it unlike anything else on television.
In every episode, Wilson sets out to learn how to do something. Some examples from the latest season include “How To Invest in Real Estate,” “How to Appreciate Wine” and “How to Remember Your Dreams.”
What always begins as a simple topic expands into something much more interesting. An episode that starts with figuring out how to find a parking spot spins out into a discussion about how the same is true for grave plots.
This is where the magic of this show comes in. In observing the world from a third-person view, Wilson’s perspective, we can take a step back and see just how strange we are as a species. It is almost like “Planet Earth” but for humans, and it is beautiful.
The calm, serene tone of his footage and the score underneath settles the viewer in for a strange odyssey each week.
New York City is a strange place, and this is the best portrayal of that in any form of media. Wilson’s depiction of The Big Apple is chaotic yet has a strange charm to it. A lovely shot of a couple on their wedding day will be followed by paramedics accidentally dropping a dead body off a stretcher.
This show is indeed very funny. Some of the things Wilson can find and capture are simply wild, but it’s also his deadpan delivery and social awkwardness that adds a whole other layer to it.
But the center of the show, and the reason why it is so remarkable, is its beating heart as well as its compassion and honesty that Wilson infuses into every frame. He follows the popular new documentary technique of just observing things as they are, in the same vein as YouTube documentarian Andrew Callaghan.
The recurring figure who best represents this is Wilson’s landlord. She appears in a handful of episodes and is purely kind and loving to Wilson, insisting on washing his clothes, even though he is a grown man, and watching television with him every night.
In a world as starkly divided and polarizing as ours, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a show that’s as positive and wholesome as this one while also being an honest documentary. Wilson’s struggle with understanding himself and how he fits in with those around him and how that outwardly relates to everyone else in the process is remarkable and ultimately shows how connected we all are.
“How To with John Wilson” is a simple yet complex show, and it’s unlike anything else out there. While most television is either escapism or a reflection of our world, this show manages to be both, and in the process, becomes the best portrayal of this strange time we are all living in.