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Painting with John Returns for More Life Lessons

John Lurie is so unassuming. His casual, unforced tone makes it hard to tell exactly how much of his fantastic “Painting with John” is manufactured, scripted, or edited, but it feels organic, and that’s really what matters. It feels like hanging out with a fascinating guy, someone whose stories you want to hear and whose insight you value. Throughout the second season of his wonderful “Painting with John,” he’s consistently self-effacing. In one episode, he comments on responses to the first season, noting how people loved his Caribbean home by saying they only showed the good stuff and responding to how people want to hang out with him now, but no one he actually knows. “Painting with John,” which Lurie also directs and writes, is clearly the product of a musician. It flows in and out of conversations with Lurie that play like verses to a song, cut apart by short films and segments that are more like choruses. It’s a lovely, brief little chance to leave the world behind and both consider some of life’s bigger issues while also simply finding a different rhythm. I love it so.

There’s not much that can be said about “Painting with John” on a practical level. As Lurie himself says in the premiere it’s “the show where I do not teach you how to paint.” Painting is an activity for Lurie in each episode. He sits in front of his art and tells stories or shares his opinions on the world. Some of the episodes feel like they have a thematic throughline, but most of them are just assemblies of ideas and anecdotes. Lurie will speak about meeting Joey Ramone, first at a party and then on the street, for example, and then the show moves on to the next short film, view of the painting, or something else altogether. Every episode runs only just over 20 minutes and features only John and his collaborators Nesrin Wolf and Ann Mary Gludd James.

There’s a sense of artistic exploration in “Painting with John” that’s so delightful. You never know exactly where it’s going next. In the fifth episode, the show diverts for a long animated short that then transitions to a lesson from James about how to make “Weapon Potatoes.” It’s amazing. Another excursion sees John picking a fight with the moon. Not everything works, but that doesn’t matter. The roughness around the edges is part of the charm, especially in an era of such overly polished, manufactured television.

The first season of “Painting with John” came along in the height of the 2020-21 lockdown and felt like a meditative escape from our trapped lives. There’s a greater sense of whimsy and exploration in season two that feels almost optimistic. “Life can be pretty horrible,” says Lurie. "But there are also beautiful moments. Beautiful things can be happening all around you." And then he ends that wonderful, hopeful thought with a perfect joke. My only hope is that we don’t have to wait a full year for more “lessons.”

Whole season screened for review. Season two of "Painting with John" premieres on HBO today, February 18th, with a new episode each week.

 

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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