Painting with John

John Lurie's new show "Painting with John" premiers on HBO on Jan. 22.

John Lurie is no Bob Ross. The actor/musician/artist makes that clear in the trailer for his new six-part series “Painting with John,” which debuts on HBO and HBO Max on Jan. 22.

“Bob Ross was wrong,” Lurie says, hunched over his worktable in the trailer for “Painting with John.” “Everybody can’t paint. It’s not true.”

There are no happy trees in Lurie’s paintings.

“The flowers in particular are miserable,” he says in the trailer. Later he rolls a tire down a hill and pretends he’s an elephant. It’s that kind of irreverence that’s always made Lurie an endearing figure.

Lurie was a fixture in the New York art and music scene in the ’80s and ’90s. He also appeared in films like “Stranger than Paradise” and “Down by Law,” and on TV shows such as HBO’s “Oz.” He also created scores to films, including “Get Shorty.”

Lurie has sporadic credits to his name in the early 2000s, but largely, he’s stepped away from the spotlight since being diagnosed with Lyme disease. He now lives in a small town in the Caribbean. Unable to act or play music, Lurie has dedicated himself to painting and has been exhibiting his work since the early 2000s.

“Painting with John” follows 30 years after Lurie’s cult classic series “Fishing with John,” which featured Lurie and celebrity guests such as Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits, Willem Defoe and others on fishing expeditions in various locations.

“Fishing with John” was ostensibly a typical buddy fishing show, but the bizarre narration with its misinformation and non sequiturs, surreal camera effects, goofy camaraderie and avant-garde music sent the show into the realm of artful parody. What other fishing shows have Tom Waits putting a fish down his pants? The show, which ran for six episodes, can now be streamed on the Criterion Channel and episodes can also be found on YouTube.

“Painting with John” will most likely follow in the same vein. According to the show’s website, “Painting with John” will be “part meditative tutorial, part fireside chat.” The show also promises images of Lurie’s work, original music and best of all, “mischief.” Lurie says in the trailer that being creative is important and healthy, and the show will most likely will find Lurie encouraging viewers to make their own art rather than demonstrating how to replicate his paintings stroke for stroke like the format of many art shows.

In the meantime, if you’re on HBO Max looking for another “how-to” style show from someone named John, check out “How To with John Wilson.”

“How To with John Wilson” tackles such topics as making small talk, splitting the check at a restaurant or making the perfect risotto, but each of the six episodes is full of unexpected twists and the topics somehow wind around and bend until the scope of the show becomes much larger and meaningful.

Wilson is primarily based in New York City, but episodes range in locations from Mexico, Louisiana and Colorado and the final episode wraps up as the COVID-19 pandemic reaches New York City. Somehow, in this show full of surreal moments, Wilson’s footage of mask-wearing shoppers waiting in epic grocery lines still manages to be among the most surreal moments even as the pandemic approaches one year.

Watching these episodes recently, I can say I felt genuine surprise and found myself wondering “How did we get here?” in the moments before Wilson’s sign off.

Wilson’s awkward, stilted interview style and oddly timed delivery of dry, offbeat humor provide lots of laughs, but his penchant for truly surprising visual puns and his ability to find tender moments inside both the most banal and weirdest situations, elevates his “how-to” show into art.

Whether you want to learn how to be more creative, improve your memory or cover your furniture, both of these shows will help viewers discover how to have more fun and ways to better appreciate life.

“Painting with John” premieres on Jan. 22 on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. “How To with John Wilson” is available to stream on HBO Max.

Mike Andrelczyk is a staff writer for LNP | LancasterOnline. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.

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