4 out of 5
Created by: John Wilson
covers season 1
It’s almost wholly predictable, from creator John Wilson’s stumbling, monotone narration, and the Nathan Fielder production credit, what kind of show ‘How To With John Wilson’ will be, and your awareness of Fielder’s brand of naive cringe comedy – and your tolerance of it – will likely determine how eagerly you stay tuned, or how quickly you tune out. But this is a different splinter of that genre, and even without the Fielder touchpoint informing a bias, that’s present also: as Wilson talks us through somewhat random images and roundabout interviews, filmed on (generally) NY streets, relating to each episode’s “how to” – how to make small talk; how to improve your memory; etc. – it is actually possible to watch the show as something earnest in its endeavors, with a dash of (somehow charming) whip-smart irony, subtle commentary, and eye-rolling dad humor used to stitch Wilson’s meandering thoughts together. The divide, I think, is because Wilson’s questions – to himself and his interview topics – come across as legitimate, and follow a thread of the questions that might bubble up in the back of our heads but our either ignored, or are “answered” through learned behaviors. That is: what if you didn’t have Google at your fingertips, and gave voice to any given “how do I do this?” type queries that arise, and then, basically, went about asking other people exactly that question.
Amusing randomness certainly ensues, when some questions lead to particularly strange avenues, but Wilson always approaches it with the same wide-eyed sincerity, both in his approach to others, and the way his camera lingers on visuals that just seem to catch his eye, then edited into sequences which line up with his narration. It’s all so simple seeming, but that belies the complexity of editing this stuff down to a coherent, and funny, and interesting, 30 minutes. Yeah, the dry delivery likely won’t work for everyone, but at the same time, I think that the show can almost play both ways – as a comedy, or as an actual documentary made by a somewhat socially awkward dude – is wonderful, and gives the series an in-built longevity that the more prank-ish style of cringe comedy can’t necessarily sustain.