Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 35° Partly Cloudy

‘How To with John Wilson’: comic reality of NYC life

Dan Webster

Above: John Wilson is the writer-director of the HBO Max show "How To with John Wilson. (Photo/HBO Max)

If you’ve ever spent much time in New York, you realize pretty quickly that life in the city is as varied as the number of different flavors offered by a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream store. Infinitely more so, in fact.

What you also realize is that very little of what you see resembles an episode either of “Sex and the City” or “Law & Order.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t find shows that do offer an authentic feel for what goes on in the five NYC boroughs. One I just discovered is an HBO production titled “How To with John Wilson.”

The show, each episode of which is about 25 minutes long, was created by Wilson, a native New Yorker and a documentary filmmaker. Told in a comic manner, with Wilson narrating in a kind of halting stammer, the episodes examine various aspects of big-city life.

I’ve seen only three episodes of the first season (of two), and each one is a study of a specific topic: “How to Make Small Talk,” “How to Put Up Scaffolding” and “How to Improve Your Memory.”

In the first one, for example, Wilson plays a version of what he passes off as his real self – a natural recluse who has to force himself to find people to talk to. His search takes him all over the city, talking to everyone from strangers to his ex-girlfriend. He even takes a cruise to Cancun, Mexico, where – during an MTV Spring Break event – he connects with a tattooed dude who offers his own stoner version of life advice.

In the second, Wilson documents one of NYC’s more obvious eyesores, the ubiquitous scaffolding that envelopes many buildings. All were made mandatory by a law following the unfortunate death of a college student, hit in the head by falling façade, though some seem to have become permanent parts of the buildings to which they are attached.

In the third, Wilson examines the difference between what we think we remember with what actually is – an example being whether Stove Top Stuffing carries a Stouffer’s or a Kraft brand name (it’s Kraft).

Throughout, Wilson talks to real people, haunts real street scenes and shows – with humor – that real New Yorkers, in all their variations, want pretty much the same thing as everyone else: a way to make a living, a few friends, a place to call their own and enough free time to enjoy it all.

In that sense, at least, “How To with John Wilson” is a guide we could all benefit from watching.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.