A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
Stands out for positive messages.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to with John Wilson is a six-episode series with deceptive titles. Filmmaker John Wilson's benign, monotone narration is set against images and interviews that can be jarring. In episode 1, "How to Make Small Talk," for example, Wilson makes observations that are often juxtaposed with images that contradict or are extreme versions of the narration. "Sharing your most intimate thoughts with someone can be a disturbing and messy experience," Wilson says, while showing police tending to the bloody aftermath of presumed violence in a subway station. Later in the same episode, Wilson travels to Cancun where MTV Spring Break is in full swing (expect copious alcohol consumption, provocative dancing in swimsuits) and he connects with a lonely young man who smokes marijuana and talks about his friend's recent suicide. In episode 2, a brief clip from a porno is shown, and in episode 4 a man who is trying to regrow his foreskin is shown in detail that leaves nothing to the imagination.
What's the story?
HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON is almost impossible to describe. Viewers catch only brief glimpses of Wilson, a 30-something lifelong New Yorker and obsessive videographer. Instead, we see what he and his camera have captured over two years of filming -- people on the streets, in stores, on vacation, working, playing, and in the final episode, responding to a pandemic. He shoots his cat, rats, mice, dogs on the street, a skunk in a bank lobby, signs, cars -- anything that could add to the feeling of chaos and mundanity that define New York. From that footage he compiled six episodes that start with each title's premise but then meander into unexpected and often deeply affecting detours.
Is it any good?
Who will like this? Adults and mature teens who love or hate New York, people who miss human contact or interaction, people who want to move through the world with their eyes open. Who shouldn't watch How to with John Wilson? Viewers who just have shows run in the background (unless using it as a sleep aid), people who are averse to cognitive dissonance, literalists. Wilson's episodes only noddingly adhere to their titles in their first minutes -- from there, he takes viewers on journeys that can be shocking, heartwarming, illuminating, and just plain weird.
The "How to Cover Your Furniture" episode detours into a visit with a man trying to regrow his foreskin, and the "How to Improve Your Memory" episode veers into a "Mandela Effect" conference in Idaho that helps explain how conspiracy theories take hold. The final episode, "How to Make Perfect Risotto," shot at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, becomes a meditation on how much has changed during these times, and how important it is to maintain connections with the other people in our lives. This unique show, that fits into no existing boxes, seems particularly appropriate for a time when so many are rethinking where and how we fit in the world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what they expect from documentaries. How does How to with John Wilson subvert those expectations?
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will be depicted in future TV shows and movies? What do you think you'd want to see, and what do you think we never need to see again?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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