John Wilson fascinates audience with unique “How To” style


courtesy HBO

John Wilson, right, films a dog on plastic-covered sofa. One of the episodes of his show “How To with John Wilson” delves into the topic of covering and protecting your furniture.

John Wilson doesn’t teach you how to do anything in his HBO series “How To with John Wilson.” Even though this misleading title might turn some people away, the show is still one of the most captivating, endearing and funny shows on TV

Each episode showcases a different skill or solution to a problem that Wilson tackles. For example, “How To Improve Your Memory,” “How To Split the Check” and “How To Appreciate Wine.” Wilson lives in New York City, where he spends time walking around with his camera, filming anything he thinks the audience may find useful or interesting (for example, how to put up scaffolding). He stitches together these scenes of everyday life and narrates over them, staying true to the internet phenomenon of “How To” tutorial videos, which the show is loosely based on. 

The script that he narrates by itself wouldn’t be interesting at all on its own, but paired with the bizarre and hilarious images he lays under it, Wilson makes witty visual puns and jokes that make up the bulk of the show’s substance. The other part of the show consists of interviews and interactions he has as he “researches” his topic. Man-on-the-street interviews about why scaffolding irritates people; a tour of an impossibly unsellable apartment in “How To Invest in Real Estate”; a family who has sealed all of their chairs and sofas in plastic in “How To Cover Your Furniture.” Wilson films all of these interactions from his point of view, so an extra level of absurdity is added as we adopt his uncomfortably close viewpoint to many of these conversations and characters.

One of the best parts of the show is that Wilson never actually teaches you how to do anything. Each episode begins straightforwardly: Wilson poses a problem or question and promises to answer it, but will inevitably swerve away from the straightforward premise, delving into unpredictable and strange territory. Many of these diversions happen in chance meetings. For example, when Wilson is trying to memorize his grocery list, he meets a man in the grocery store who has devoted his life to proving the Mandela Effect is real (the Mandela Effect is when we “remember” something that actually was never there, like the Coca Cola logo having a hyphen or the Monopoly man wearing a monocle; each one has never been true). Wilson is then invited to and attends a conference in Idaho where many other Mandela Effect believers are gathering. Sometimes, these diversions happen in a kind of free associative thought process, which Wilson shows on screen. For example, in one of the more recent episodes on season two, “How To Appreciate Wine,” he connects wanting to find a place in the wine-tasting world with his wishes to fit in during college (which drove him to joining an a capella group, even though he felt embarrassed and hated it the whole time). This leads to the concluding point that, in the end, we should all just like what we really like, and avoid trying to fit into groups where we don’t necessarily belong. 

“Wilson has honed his craft of taking the audience into confusing places… but always tying up loose ends by the end of each episode.

Wilson has honed his craft of taking the audience into confusing places and disorienting narratives, but always tying up loose ends by the end of each 21-minute episode. The new season, which is about halfway finished in its airing, is proving this. There can, at times, be puzzling connections, like the one between wine tasting and a capella. During that episode, it wasn’t so much that it was hard to see where Wilson was going –– it always is –– but that it was hard to remember why we got to that point. As he told the story of how he was nearly groomed into a cult via an a cappella conference, it felt like the connection to the overall theme wasn’t as strong as it has been in previous episodes in the first season. Even so, it’s a pretty high expectation to set that Wilson executes his narrative structure perfectly every time –– he is, after all, working with hundreds of hours of footage and a million different possibilities for where the episode could go. As he has said in interviews, both writing and filming processes happen simultaneously, which explains some of the incomplete or less satisfying narrative arcs.

This seems to be a theme of the show: putting the audience in his shoes going into very uncomfortable, alien spaces.

Wilson’s style is fascinating; initially, the show’s mission first seems to be comedy, but it ends up being endearing and moving. It’s almost as if Wilson has played a trick on you, and you were duped into going along with his sarcastic and comical journey until you got a wholesome and caring moral lesson at the end. The script by itself is not extremely nuanced, but the images that pair with it create a deeper understanding, almost giving new meaning to the surface-level observations we hear all the time. Since the entire show is through his point of view, we see how he sees the world –– and what a special world that is. Wilson has an eye for bizarre and jarring images; he can weave together worlds that aren’t normally intersected. This seems to be a theme of the show: putting the audience in his shoes and going into very uncomfortable, alien spaces. He does this masterfully when he becomes obsessed with finding Jack Owoc, the CEO of the energy drink brand Bang Energy. He travels down to his Florida mansion and infiltrates Owoc’s wife’s baby shower, using his HBO credentials to gain the trust of the exotic, charismatic millionaire. The owner of the company proceeds to give Wilson a tour of his mansion, visibly convinced that Wilson is a serious documentarian and therefore great publicity for the company. Everyone there is almost bowing down to the awkward, mumbling Wilson, as he represents what they crave so much: attention. The CEO leads the whole party in a chant for the camera: “H-B-O! All Banged Up!” It’s one of the most bizarre scenes that makes you struggle to think: “How did we get here?” Maybe that is Wilson’s plan all along: not to answer the question of how to master the art of covering furniture, improving memory or finding a parking spot, but instead to keep the audience wondering… How?

If you’re like me and you finished the first 6-episode season eager for more (and will be starved for John Wilson content after this current season ends), he made much of the same kind of work before his HBO deal. It can be seen at