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How To with John Wilson Season 2 isn't as great as Season 1, but it's still a quirky and surprisingly emotional

  • "With 'How To Cook the Perfect Risotto,' the sixth episode of its first season, HBO’s How To with John Wilson made a transition from quirky, affectionate oddity to one of 2020’s best TV shows," says Daniel Fienberg. "Plenty have tried, but no installment of TV has so poignantly and amusingly captured the discordant jumble of communal alienation that emerged in the earliest days of the COVID pandemic. That episode and its effectiveness came organically from documentarian Wilson’s particular brand of meandering inquisitiveness, but I don’t think anybody, including Wilson himself, would tell you that it was reproducible. That makes it not a criticism, but an accepted inevitability, that the second season of How To with John Wilson doesn’t feature an episode intended to be or capable of being the new version of 'Risotto.' And once you accept — yes, this is sounding a little like John Wilson-style narration — that How To with John Wilson hasn’t miraculously cracked the code to making the year’s best TV episode every single week, it’s easy to still appreciate that the show’s second season is generally smoother and more confident in its storytelling approach than the first; it’s less an unexpected treasure, but still capable of surprising."


    • How To with John Wilson is a bit different with HBO investing more money into the show: "Obviously, it’s great that HBO disagreed and invested in this second season," says Myles McNutt. "And there is evidence to suggest they did invest in it: There’s a slightly larger scale to the proceedings, whether in the accommodations on Wilson’s trips beyond New York or in the execution of episode-ending stunts that brings some stories like 'How To Remember Your Dreams' full circle. How To with John Wilson will never be a flashy show, or rely on spectacle to tell its stories, but there are moments where you’re reminded that this is not just a man and his camera, but rather a man and his camera with the expense account of AT&T. It’s a productive tension in most instances, though, and the show is largely the same as it was in the first season. If there’s a change, it’s that Wilson starts approaching the autobiographical nature of the series from a different perspective, occasionally moving away from the day-to-day to explore chapters of his own past—including a surprising connection with another HBO documentary project—within his storytelling. It would be wrong to say the first season wasn’t personal for Wilson, but it was a slow-burning self-portrait, an introduction to his psyche that saw us learning bits and pieces about him as he spun his mostly impersonal stories. This time, with Wilson already a known quantity for returning viewers, we get what amounts to origin stories, snippets of his past that become more foundational to the stories being told."
    • Season 2 showcases more of John Wilson: "We get to know the man behind the camera more this season, and come to understand not merely his personality — conveyed through Wilson’s excellent vocal performance as charmingly off-kilter, as well as open in a way that invites openness from his subjects — but his ambition and his fear," says Daniel D'Addario. "The Albany anecdote, in which Wilson has a close encounter with a widely-known monster of recent true-crime history, gives us a sense of Wilson’s observational skills, his stubbornness, and his flickering need for connection with others. An episode involving a terrible film Wilson made in his youth conveys, with depth and surprising power, the fear of not having created something worthwhile, of putting one’s energy behind something and coming up short. It’s a powerful bit of tape, as is what Wilson ultimately decides to do with the remaining copy of that awful movie he made, a statement of powerful and abiding ambiguity. And that this is conveyed through understatement in the midst of an episode notionally “about” far more pragmatic questions is impressive. Wilson is a collage artist: Through found stories and intriguing counterpoint, he creates images whose power depends on juxtaposition."
    • John Wilson says he doesn't want to "George Lucas my stuff": “It’s such a strange thing to be finishing something that is locked at a very specific point in a time line, chronologically, in my life,” he says. “But I don’t want to George Lucas my stuff and constantly revisit and update it. I’m glad that it’s a record of a specific moment, even if it’s painful to think about how far you’ve come since then.”
    • How did Wilson deal with all the acclaim for Season 1?: "I really try not to let it get to my head and my day-to-day, honestly, hasn’t really changed that much," says Wilson. "I am still just in my apartment. Like if I’m filming sausages in a frying pan, that usually doesn’t change. But I don’t know. I mean people that I talk to in season two; some of them have definitely seen season one. And it actually helped a lot of the time, because there’s almost like this proof of concept now and they understand what the tone is in a way that they didn’t in season one. Like in season one, I think some people were kind of suspicious sometimes because they were only familiar with the kind of Sascha Baron Cohen (style), you know? And even though Nathan (Felder, show producer) is a genius and involved, his show is tonally different than mine, so it’s like when they look that up, they just don’t really understand how they’re going to be treated. Yeah, (that familiarity) opened more doors this season than I ever thought it would."

    TOPICS: How To with John Wilson, HBO, John Wilson, Documentaries

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