I can’t remember being so excited for the second season of a television show as I am for the return of How to with John Wilson, HBO Max’s documentary series about everything and nothing.
That mix — the mundane and the profound, compressed into snackable 25-minute episodes — made the first season of How to with John Wilson the best show I watched during the pandemic. No contest. That said, I don’t think John Wilson himself would care much for this sort of superlative. His show, largely created from years of serendipitous footage shot across New York City, is anachronistically humble. Wilson is the anti-influencer, mostly hiding behind the camera, giving ample time to people who would likely never appear on our televisions otherwise.
Each episode superficially hinges on a simple concept like “How to improve your memory” or “How to split the check.” But saying the show is about something like “How to make small talk” is like saying a physics textbook is about “How stuff moves.” It’s true, sure, but the magic is in the explanation of how it works, and why it matters.
HBO Max released the first season in the heart of the pandemic, when millions of us were hunkered indoors, kept apart not just from friends and family, but from all human contact. Each week, How to with John Wilson reminded me of the meat of life. It felt like a walk through a crowded mall, its camera zooming into all the easy-to-overlook details, reminding me that the simple act of existing out in the world is so strange and vibrant and unpredictable. The first season concluded, fittingly, with an episode that marked the arrival of the pandemic and lockdown in NYC.
Now the show returns, this time with Wilson’s camera lingering on a New York City somehow even stranger and more unfamiliar than usual. Here’s the city in lockdown and then in recovery. As we begin the process of unpacking the trauma of the past two years, I can’t think of a better show than this.
How to with John Wilson season two premieres on HBO Max on Nov. 26.