One Good Thing: Discovering the world’s beautiful weirdness on How To With John Wilson

A good thing is the recommendations function of Vox. In each edition, find something else from the world of culture that we highly recommend.

Yes How with John Wilson can teach us anything, is that there is immense comic power – and emotion – in a one-sided mind.

Through its excellent first season of six half-hour episodes, the HBO series has a simple goal: to delve deeper into an extremely specific subject that its first-person narrator, John Wilson, is focusing on, following his obsession as far as possible. . The result is a docu-comedy in the vein of Comedy Central’s excellent. Nathan for you (whose star, Nathan Fielder, is an executive producer on John wilson), which means Wilson’s efforts to answer the burning questions he asks himself – Why is there scaffolding all over New York City? Why do some people cover their furniture in plastic? – are often dictated by the people around him.

The people in question are his friends and neighbors, but they are also socially awkward shop owners, vacationers and entrepreneurs. Maybe Wilson’s friends are taking him out to dinner for his birthday, and that makes him think about how complex it can be to share the check; from there he can seek out members of a professional arbitrator association, who end up teaching him the error of a just and even split.

How with John Wilson often twists into awkward shapes to go from its base points A to its more particular points B, and the journey is always funny in its weirdness. The show’s biggest asset is his style: Wilson himself almost always stays exclusively behind the camera, telling everything we see or interviewing people on screen, his speech filled with long pauses and betraying stumbles. his own social awkwardness. Sometimes we see Wilson’s feet or his shadow on the ground or his reflection in a mirror. Mostly, however, we see the world through his insightful eyes, glimpsing the pissing dogs and human interactions and weirdly named New York storefronts that most people look beyond (Wilson lives in Queens, so c is a very New York-centric show). It’s not only fascinating to see what Wilson’s camera captures; it’s also a crucial part of the show’s humor, as Wilson edits the images with a script that allows specific images to punctuate each joke.

(My favorite example: When Wilson thinks that New York, despite its growing physical barriers, “always lets pigs go where they want”, and the camera turns to a man walking his pig on a leash … with a pair of cops standing right in front of them. If you know, you know.)

Almost all of these documentary-like images exist outside of the specifics of time – a rare and welcome trait in 2020, when many of us can recall the horror of each month in miserable detail. We see the seasons change throughout How with John Wilson, but it’s usually not clear what month or even what year this is all happening. Rather, the focus is on the timeless mundane things of Wilson’s life and his persistence in pushing them until they erupt.

And his efforts provide a hilarious escape from what most of the news or documentary footage is showing us right now: Yep, I’d really rather watch Wilson interview a man who owns a business meant to help restore men’s foreskin (!! !!!) than watching a dark story about how Covid-19 is ravaging America. Because as disgusting as the guy’s proprietary “TLC Tugger” device is, it’s a lot funnier than an unstoppable disease, and just as real.

That said, we are nine months into a pandemic, and How with John Wilson is broadcast for a. And because the show looks at real life as Wilson sees it, it ends up facing the pandemic. What’s surprising is how the show gets to this point, almost completely by accident, towards the end of a totally independent journey.

Production on the season finale continued in March 2020. I’m not going to say too much, but suffice to say that midway through the episode, Wilson finds himself filming in a New York City. full transformation. The images on the screen may seem painfully familiar to many of us who were in New York City at the time, knowing long lines of surreal supermarkets or walking empty streets. There’s a long, curvy photo of people waiting for their groceries, as Wilson attempts to pick up an item to cook with. It’s almost a re-traumatic scene, watching crazy anxious moose to stock up on food and seeing Wilson give up and go somewhere else – only to find the next store he stops by to be robbed – is haunting.

The sudden arrival of the pandemic on an otherwise timeless spectacle evokes difficult memories. But Covid-19 and its aftershocks are not at the center of the episode. Wilson does not dwell on the death toll or the mask-wearing policy; he’s not prematurely nostalgic for the good old days to go and do whatever you want. He’s anxious and alone inside, and he’s still dedicated to solving his latest self-imposed riddle (of “how to make the perfect risotto”).

Right now, just like the first strike of Covid-19, Wilson’s cooking quest is a priority. It is such a minor concern in the face of grave danger, but aren’t most of our personal problems minor compared to major calamities? As we yearn for certainty and control in the face of the unpredictable, we tend to explode our own issues to appear much, much bigger. That is why John wilsonThe specificity of is so hilarious and provocative, regardless of its period (or lack thereof).

Ultimately, 2020 and the show’s season 1 finale John wilsonthe smallness just enough without tearing it. Because in the world of this very funny show, our strangest thoughts are often the most precious. We don’t need to forget that, nor to forget to laugh out loud.

The six episodes of How with John Wilson the first season is available for broadcast on HBO and HBO Max. A second season is in development.