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So Long to a Show That Celebrated Human Weirdness

"How To with John Wilson" was a weird and wonderful show that loved weirdos.

Key points

  • "How To with John Wilson" recently concluded its third and final season.
  • The documentary series consistently celebrated the everyday weirdness that surrounds all of us.
  • Like social scientists, the creator tried to understand human behavior uncritically.
Source: HBO
John Wilson.
Source: HBO

How To with John Wilson concluded its third and final season on Friday (you can watch the three seasons on Max), ending a fantastic run of short and funny documentaries that each start ostensibly as investigations into everyday concerns like how to cook the perfect risotto, how to properly dispose of batteries, or how to find a public restroom. But they always meander into unexpected directions that are sometimes bizarre and slightly uncomfortable — like sitting in on a meeting of Avatar superfans that gradually turns into a kind of emotional support group, or crashing a baby shower at the home of the owner of Bang Energy drinks — and sometimes profound, like when creator, director, and narrator John Wilson reflects on the disappointing emptiness of achieving his professional dreams.

I first wrote about the show after the first season three years ago. At the time, I praised Wilson’s earnest curiosity and his commitment to following rabbit holes wherever they led. I also noted that what he was doing was not unlike what social scientists do, turning a mostly uncritical and sympathetic eye to human behavior, with a penchant for the mundane and the weird (which frequently intersect on the show).

The final season maintained this focus. Wilson’s soft-spoken and unassuming demeanor as an interviewer, combined with his willingness to sit in uncomfortable situations for what feels like an eternity, led to some of the strangest and funniest moments of the series. At one point, he meets a fitness trainer who happened to briefly train one of the 9/11 hijackers. Wilson asks him a softball question about how it feels knowing that someone he trained ended up being responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The man’s answer is so bizarre, all Wilson can eke out in response is an audibly disappointed “Oh.”

At another point, while interviewing a 75-year-old man who plans to have his head cryogenically frozen when he dies, Wilson inquires why the man never had children; again, rather than give an anodyne answer, the man responds by telling a shocking story about his past.

We're surrounded by weirdness

Sprinkled between Wilson’s interviews are numerous brief shots of the vast array of weirdness we’re surrounded by every day: nonsensical signs, people behaving oddly, random detritus in city streets. Most of these shots are used as visual gags. But you could argue that the overarching message of How To was that weirdness is everywhere if you look for it. Wilson dissected mundane activities like working out, watching sports, or making small talk, to show that many activities people do all the time are fundamentally weird.

But the show never gave the impression that it was looking down on its subjects. Wilson was constantly just trying to observe, document, and understand. How To with John Wilson was a weird show that celebrated human weirdness and we should feel lucky we got 18 episodes of it.

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