My favourite unscripted TV series since the start of the pandemic returns Friday for a third and final season: How to With John Wilson (HBO/MAX; Crave).

How to with who what?? John Wilson, that’s who. This somewhat anxious, 36-year-old New Yorker points his camera around his neighbourhood and deconstructs things such as scaffolding, public restrooms and how to clean your ears. Each 30 minute episode starts with something so mundane and ends with a profound clue as to why we are here. This really is the ultimate How To guide, from someone almost Chauncey Gardner-like, who seems able to look past the hell that is going on in front of all of us right now and who sees, if not the big picture, a path to personal enlightenment.

The series isn’t just for people who live in Manhattan or the five boroughs. Indeed, this season, Wilson hits the road a few times, including a trip to a Burning Man concert (although he gets prevented — ironically from another HBO crew — from showing us any of that footage).

That these human stories travel was driven home for me when I took part, about two weeks ago, in a virtual, international, round table interview session with Wilson. On the zoom call were journalists from Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania.

The session started when Wilson was asked how much time it takes to make each episode.

There was a short pause. “It takes a lifetime,” he said. (Each season actually took about six months to shoot.)


When it was Canada’s turn, I asked how important the pandemic was in terms of making and watching this series.

“It was a really big shock when the show came out,” said Wilson, “because I didn’t think anyone would want to watch it. I didn’t think that people would want to laugh during such a tense moment politically and socially. I was afraid that it would seem crass to release something that didn’t acknowledge the minute-by-minute stuff we were doing during the pandemic.

“I guess the opposite proved to be true because you just had the most captive audience you could possibly ask for during a lockdown.”

Wilson said there were discussions heading into Season 3 as to whether the series should continue with new episodes beyond the pandemic. “If anything,” he discovered, “people just wanted to talk more after being locked up for so long.” Is that ever true: Wilson the keen listener draws astonishing, almost confessional dialogues this season from a woman who dated a serial killer and a man who, well, why spoil all the shocks.

Wilson has other idiosyncratic truth seekers helping him with his show. Canadian Nathan Fielder (The Rehearsal) is among the producers, as is Saturday Night Live writer Michael Korman and author and staff writer for The New Yorker Susan Orlean.

“I take everything, all this input from all these collaborators on the show and I can consider them,” said Wilson, who narrates the series. “But at the end of the day, I just really tried to make sure that this was what I want to say because it is my voice.”

His default was to think back to when he would shoot little videos just to make his 10 college roommates laugh. “I still think back to that every single time I make anything…like will my best friends in the world think this is funny or interesting.”

If viewers find the third and final season to be a little darker, that was deliberate, admits Wilson. Without elaborating, he said he’d had a rough year. Even viewers, including the journalist from Belgium, could see things were changing and not always for the better. He split up with his girlfriend; his kindly old landlady had moved away; he was refused entry at an Emmy party.

“The work has always been very therapeutic for me,” said Wilson, explaining the edgier tone of Season 3. “I just wanted to put in the stuff that I was experiencing… even if it is darker or boring, it’s the most real. That’s just where I was this year.”

The good news? “I’m doing better now,” says John Wilson.

He also leaves us with a hopeful message, done in his punchy, visually juxtaposing style, about the healing power of television. Watch the How to With John Wilson Season 3 trailer below, and feel better:

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