The Pitch: It’s the final season of John Wilson’s HBO docuseries, and once again, we’re given six utterly unique journeys into the human condition. As he did in the first two seasons of How To With John Wilson, the documentarian sets off on a quest to shed light on various micro issues — how to find a public bathroom in New York City, how to clean your ears, how to watch “the game,” how to work out.
But these queries, and the tangents that Wilson follows on his explorations, eventually lead to much larger questions about life and existence overall. Throughout Season 3, Wilson finds himself beginning every journey in New York City before following a thread that leads him to various corners of the country — Burning Man, a cryogenic facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, a vacuum cleaner convention/contest/community in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
As he arrives at these unexpected locations and stumbles upon these unlikely stories, Wilson comes to reflect on the significance of their minutiae, turning the camera back toward himself and interrogating his own preconceived notions. With this being the concluding season of his first TV show, it’s clear that Wilson’s mission is marked with a bit more urgency than before. He ponders the success of How To‘s first two seasons and wonders how meaningless it all is. He reflects on his relationship to masculinity, on having kids and dying alone. In one remarkable episode, he even explores his own show’s relationship to “truth,” and the trappings and liberations of presenting a fictionalized portrayal of life.
Though these ideas are certainly heavy, Wilson’s zany humor and slice-of-life footage adds some much-needed levity. This time, however, there’s less of an emphasis on how wacky his interviewees are and more focus on thematic context. The resulting season is surely the best of the three, and a heartfelt way for Wilson and co. to end the show.
Road Trip of a Lifetime: As mentioned, though a significant amount of Wilson’s footage originates from New York City streets and establishments, he spends a great deal of Season 3 on the road. In many episodes, his ventures beyond the safe walls of the city lead to some truly unpredictable interactions — Wilson’s insistence on going further and deeper into the lives of his subjects often results in tense, absurd scenarios, but his confidence is at a riveting high this time, and Season 3 can feel both cathartic and unnerving.
There are quaint, norm-core explorations of various communities, like the vacuum cleaner collectors he bonds with in “How to Watch the Game” or the giant pumpkin harvesters in “How to Work Out.” But there are also more charged guests — the cannon-firing neighbor found in “How to Clean Your Ears” adds an almost shocking air of violence and American libertarian vanity, and the ex-cop Bruce Beveridge found in “How to Watch Birds” is a loaded, multi-faceted character study.