TV

The Rundown: A Good Faith Attempt To Explain How And Why ‘How To With John Wilson’ Is So Good

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Hey look, a good show

My only real complaint about the show How to With John Wilson is that I’m not sure how to explain it in a way that will get across how good it is. I’m going to try, but bear with me. How to With John Wilson is a new HBO docuseries that premiered last week and featured its host banging around New York and making conversation with people to try to understand more about the human condition. Nope. That’s not good. Let me try again.

How to With John Wilson is a new HBO docuseries and comedy that uses massive amounts of footage shot in New York and a number of interviews with people on the street to try to get at what makes people tick and why they are the way they are and sometimes the episode claims to be about scaffolding but it’s actually about psychology and nope, this sentence is entirely too long. Strike two. Let’s give it one more crack.

How to With John Wilson is a good show. It uses what its host described to us in an interview as a “psychotic” amount of footage to get at what makes people, and a city, work, together. There are man-on-the-street interviews that reveal more in 30 seconds than some documentaries do in an hour. The episodes range from funny to sweet to heartfelt to kind of crushing, in a good way, sometimes all in one 30-minute block. It’s not entirely like anything I’ve ever seen on television. The closest I can get, I think, is to tell you that it’s kind of like Nathan for You, but less mean-spirited and more hopeful about humanity, which makes sense because Nathan Fielder is an executive producer on the show.

Yeah. That’s as close as I’m going to get, I think. Let’s turn it over to John himself, from the interview he did with our Jason Tabrys earlier in the week.

Just hearing someone being able to speak in their own words and give them time to… you give the microphone to people who usually don’t get it. I want to see what makes these people happy or sad or what they think about all of these complicated issues. We pretend to be all black and white about stuff, but we all live in this gray area, and a lot of times people don’t know why they feel a certain type of way about something. I feel like I can relate to that a lot and that’s why I just like having discussions with people and showing them… I don’t know, I also feel like it’s anthropology in a way and just documenting a specific time and place. A lot of my favorite documentaries are people just talking about their love lives or their obsessions or stuff like that.

That’s better. I probably should have just started with that. I think you’re getting the idea now. Each episode claims to be about one thing — the premiere was “How to Make Small Talk”; future episodes include “How to Put Up Scaffolding” and the stunning finale “How to Make the Perfect Risotto” — but twists and turns to get at something much deeper. It’s a wild ride that works even when it probably shouldn’t. Most of that is its creator, John Wilson, who narrates and films almost everything and is perfectly happy to follow a loose thread wherever it takes him. Sometimes it takes him to Spring Break in Cancun. Sometimes it takes him to a half-constructed hotel. Sometimes it takes him into the New York subway for a 14-second single shot of Twin Peaks star Kyle MacLachlan trying and failing to swipe his MetroCard.

HBO

I would discuss this particular shot at great length — great, great length — but there’s no reason to, seeing as Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk already did it so well.

When I watched this perfect gem, these 14 incandescently funny seconds, I ached to know more. Did MacLachlan realize he was being filmed? It sure doesn’t seem that way. How did he resolve his MetroCard problem? Did HBO have to clear this with him? Does he know he’s appearing in this series? Has he watched it? Does he love it? (I really hope he loves it.)

The short version of everything I’ve tried to say goes something like this: How to With John Wilson is a fascinating experiment that required a Herculean effort and a dedication to a very specific craft and the fact that it works at all, let alone well, is a borderline miracle. It is sui generis, one of a kind, in a time where that’s becoming more rare. I’m not sure how they did it. I’m still not sure I’ve explained it well, or even accurately. I am glad it exists, though. It’s a special little thing.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — You can’t fool me

This is a commercial for LinkedIn. It is fine. It does the thing most commercials do In These Uncertain Times, with the people in masks, and the assurances that their company and/or service can be useful in new and/or different ways, and the… and the… and…

Hang on.

Wait.

Is that…

THAT’S THE TRUE ROMANCE MUSIC.

It is. I checked and everything, even though I did not have to. I have seen True Romance enough times to know the dinky bonk sounds of Hans Zimmer’s “You’re So Cool” the instant I hear them. It’s not an unrecognizable song. It stands out. It stands out in True Romance, a movie about a man who falls in love with a prostitute and kills her pimp and runs off with a suitcase full of cocaine. It’s a strange fit in that context the first time you hear it, but eventually, it becomes identifiable with the film to the degree that it becomes a very strange fit for a commercial about, like, networking to advance your career.

I won’t lie to you. I pointed at my television and shouted the first time I saw this. I interrupted the conversation I was in and yelled “THAT’S THE TRUE ROMANCE MUSIC” at my screen like I was going to win a prize for identifying it. I have done the same thing every time since. I caught myself muttering it under my breath to an empty room. It’s been a weird few months for all of us.

Anyway, here’s the proof.

And here’s the text of Alabama Worley’s closing monologue, which I really do think someone should lay over top of the footage from the LinkedIn commercial, just to see how weird or funny it is.

Amid the chaos of that day, when all I could hear was the thunder of gunshots, and all I could smell was the violence in the air, I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool. And sometimes Clarence asks me what I would have done if he had died, if that bullet had been two inches more to the left. To this, I always smile, as if I’m not going to satisfy him with a response. But I always do. I tell him of how I would want to die, but that the anguish and the want of death would fade like the stars at dawn, and that things would be much as they are now. Perhaps. Except maybe I wouldn’t have named our son Elvis.

Three notes in closing:

  • You are a fool if you thought you were going to sneak this past me, LinkedIn
  • I am going to watch True Romance again this weekend
  • Christopher Walken’s line reading of “They snatched my narcotics” in that movie will live inside my head until I expire and possibly beyond

True Romance. Good movie. Brad Pitt is a delight.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — I’m not entirely sure that I’ll watch this show but I am very happy it exists

There are very few jobs I want in this world more than “judge on a daytime television show.” It seems very easy and lucrative. Judge Judy films like 50 days a year and makes $50 million. That’s a cool million per day of work, just to boss people around and call them bozos. I could do that. I could do it for way less. It is infuriating that I am not a television judge yet. I even, for real, not joking, have a law degree. It’s sitting 10 feet away in a box I haven’t opened in three years. I’m qualified. Come on.

I say all of this in part to get it on the record and in part because Ice-T has a judge show now. Kind of. He has a mediator show. Called The Mediator. Here, look.

Each side will plead their argument, providing the evidence, facts and details of the case to Ice-T, who will then call upon various well-known and knowledgeable experts to share their perspective and advice. As an unbiased and respected third party, Ice-T will offer his best recommendation for how the complainants should proceed. If they accept his suggestion, the case will be settled. If they choose not to accept, the case will move to court.

This is all cool and interesting and it’s a little funny that Ice-T of all people has now played both a cop and a judge on television, but the real story is the quotes Deadline ran to accompany this announcement.

“Finding a resolution between two hostile sides means finding someone levelheaded that not only has respect but can also analyze complex issues in different ways,” said Ice-T. “I think my opinions are rooted in facts and fairness so I know I can help these people.”

Well said, Ice-T. But I think what would really drive this home is a borderline insane set of analogies from a well-meaning producer who has no fear at all of deploying hyperbole on the record.

“Ice-T has the credibility of an OG, the wisdom of Yoda, and the sense of humor of a standup comic. Never has a voice like his been needed more in the marketplace,” Krasnow added.

Again, I don’t know that I’ll ever watch this show. I might check it out once out of curiosity. Either way, I’m mostly just glad it exists. Good for Ice-T.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — “To be fair…”

I don’t have much to say about this video. I don’t know that I need to say much. It is Desus & Mero — who are consistently great — doing a parody of John Oliver’s show, as a bit, in reference to Oliver and his crew always winning the Emmy in their category. It is very good and very funny and it nails a lot of the little gestures and phrasing that Oliver uses on his show, probably without even realizing. The accents are… less on point. Which makes it even funnier. And the wigs. Wigs help, too.

It’s a good bit. I support all of it.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — Paul Rudd rules

I voted by mail last week. It was easy and straightforward and important, in general, obviously, but also specifically, because I live in Pennsylvania, one of the only states that matter this year, thanks to the relentlessly stupid Electoral College. I did miss voting in person, though. There’s a ceremony to it all that I really enjoy. I love pressing the buttons. I wish I got to pull a big lever that made a loud KA-CHUNK sound when I locked in my decision. That would be satisfying.

Another reason I like voting in person: snacks. There are these sweet ladies who work at my assigned polling location and the last few elections they’ve handed out donuts to people who voted. And that’s cool. At least I considered it cool until I heard that ageless wonder Paul Rudd was handing out cookies to rain-soaked voters waiting in line outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

And lest you think those pictures are just some hokey celebrity photo opp, here’s video of him doing it.

What a king. What a sweet man. Do you think he baked the cookies himself? I bet he did. I have no reason to believe it, nor is it very likely, but I still believe it anyway. Ugh. Paul Rudd might legitimately be the most likable human being on the planet. It almost makes me angry how likable he is, but even then, I can’t stay angry at Paul Rudd. No, I love everything about this. Almost everything. It does put a damper on my excitement about the sweet ladies with the donuts, though, because none of them have ever been Ant-Man. I mean, to my knowledge. I only see them every two to four years. I don’t know what they’re up to the rest of the time. One of them could be Ant-Man.

Although, I will say this: Donuts are a better snack than cookies. So the sweet ladies have that going for them, even if none of them — again, I’m assuming — own a powerful suit that allows them to adjust their size to sneak into and out of places in the name of fighting crime. So I guess, taken as a whole, I still have to give the edge to the sweet ladies who may or may not be Ant-Man. Unless Paul Rudd shows up on Election Day with bear claws. Which he might. That would tip the scales back in his favor.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Lee:

I saw this article about a girl going on the date of her dreams with Godzilla and started thinking about my ideal Godzilla date. I think we’d start in Pripyat, so he could smash buildings without an army hassling him and I could hoot and holler while he does it, wash the dust off with a nice float in the Dead Sea, and then watch volcanoes erupt in the Ring of Fire before dropping him off at Monster Island. What would your evening on the town with Godzilla look like?

Lee, this is a really great email. It has a link to a fun and true story (and yes, you should all go watch the sweet/weird video of the teenage girl going on her dream date with Godzilla), it has a thought-through answer of your own, and it tees me up nicely. I could not possibly ask for more.

To answer your question: I would take Godzilla to a drive-in movie where we would watch all three John Wick movies in order throughout the night, and every now and then I would lean over and whisper things like “Hey, please don’t eat me” or maybe “Hey, don’t rip the screen out of the ground and start destroying the cars.” It would get really annoying. Godzilla would be like “Ugh, I’m not going to do that. I’m on a date.” And then some jerk would start laying on his horn and hooting and hollering at the screen and I’d lean over and say “You know what? Maybe you should eat that guy and heave his car into the ravine, just so we can enjoy the movie,” and Godzilla would be all “Actually, that’s more of a work thing for me. I’m just trying to enjoy the movie.” And then I’d get kind of huffy about it. And Godzilla would sense it and get irritated, too. We’d probably leave between the second and third movies and say we should try it again sometime, but we never will.

We’ll still see each other around sometimes at parties thrown by mutual acquaintances. It will be awkward.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Laguna Beach!

A dispute between bond king Bill Gross and his next-door neighbor over a $1-million outdoor sculpture has devolved into police calls to their Laguna Beach mansions, multiple legal actions — and allegations that the billionaire investor blared the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song on a loop at all hours to annoy his neighbor.

I’ll tell you what: I love a story about wealthy neighbors feuding over the dumbest stuff in the world. It’s petty of me and it’s probably not the slice of my personality that I’m proudest of, but I don’t care. I love it. There’s something relaxing about it, in a weird way, just knowing that people can reach the pinnacle of their profession and be considered a success by their peers and have every possible advantage in life right there at their fingertips and still be hopelessly miserable in a deep, ugly way. This isn’t even my favorite example of it. My favorite example is from this exhaustively reported longread in Vanity Fair that I read five years ago and still think about constantly.

But this one is close. You should definitely read the whole thing to grasp just how stupid and childish it all is, but start here.

The neighbor’s lawsuit accuses the billionaire and his partner of playing blaring music at all hours, including the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song, rap and pop, in an effort to force him to drop the complaint. The couple say they have had to take refuge twice either with relatives or in a hotel room. In an application for a temporary restraining order filed Oct. 15, which was granted, Towfiq cites a text message allegedly sent to him by Gross after he asked the music to be turned down: “Peace on all fronts or well [sic] just have nightly concerts big boy.”

They’re cluttering up the courts with an argument over a big stupid statue that is or is not blocking a view and they are taunting each other with text messages and beloved television theme songs. Imagine having a billion dollars and behaving this way. You could just sell your house and move, or go on a three-month vacation. You could buy an island and stay there and never have another neighbor. You could hash it out over a barbecue and a handshake like civilized human beings and go back to enjoying your otherwise picturesque lives.

But, bless them, they did not.

Towfiq and his wife allege in their lawsuit that the harassment escalated to the point this month that loud music was played even when Gross and Schwartz were not home, “apparently controlling their sound system remotely.”

Money can buy you a lot of things. It can buy you peace of mind. It can buy you a big beachfront mansion in Laguna Beach. It can buy you a giant sculpture that drives your neighbors insane. But it can’t buy you the joy I feel in reading about you wasting hours — days, weeks, months! — of your life on a massively stupid argument with your neighbor. No price on that one, baby.

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