People looking for a satirized view of news and media haven’t had to look far as of late. Between the long running twin titans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report from Comedy Central, the market has pretty much saturated itself as far as that daily front is concerned.
But what about weekly satire? This is where J0hn Oliver, a fellow Daily Show alumni, has found his sweet spot. You see, John Oliver picks up all the leftover viewers at the end of the week, the ones that may not have the time or patience to watch 2.5-5 hours of news satire over the course of five days, but certainly have a half hour on the week’s slowest day.
So what makes this show worth watching, besides convenience? Well, for one, John Oliver works entirely free of constraints. Thanks to the HBO model, the writers of Last Week Tonight are free to talk about whatever they want, from deliberately trashing any major corporation that tickles their fancy (since they don’t have to worry about ad revenue), to covering major socio-political issues via in-depth segments that sometimes run as long as 10-15 minutes on a single issue.
What makes these issues of particular note is the fact that they’re often hidden right under our noses. Take the November 2nd episode, for example, which explores the unchecked power of the state senate, and the seeming notion that no one knows or even cares what these men and women do. To serve as an example, John went through the list of unchallenged state senate members, and “predicted” the winners. By giving a laundry list of the powers allowed to these individuals, while running through a couple of dozen that are virtually handed the reigns every four years like a birthright, John took the viewers to task and challenged them to inform themselves.
These segments are the highlight of each individual episode, and showcase exactly what a show like this can truly accomplish. Other issues explored in the past have included the fallacies of the perpetually broken prison system, a series of laws that allow the police to legally steal from anyone they please, and the unbelievable level of moral and systemic corruption in the FIFA sports organization.
By skewering these major institutions in the public eye, John and his team are truly performing a service to the people. With their level of knowledge and resources, the Last Week Tonight team is not only pulling back the curtains that have hidden these issues from the world for so very long, but is also presenting them in a way that even the most basic layman would understand perfectly. That the facts are further presented in a humorous and entertaining fashion adds a subtle relief amid the cynical observations, which makes them a bit easier to swallow in their undeniable bitterness. Furthermore, John is always encouraging grassroots activism through unrelenting hashtags and the trolling of those who are perpetrating these wrongs. When was the last time someone gave you a fun way to spread the word and protest?
Ultimately, though, Last Week Tonight is a comedy show, and it would be nothing without a healthy dose of humor. Luckily, John Oliver’s writing staff is top notch, and though he lacks the easy charisma of Jon Stewart, his playful style of British banter on American television marks a unique and amusing voice for the topics at hand.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that John is allowed free reign over the censors. On a lesser show, this might become the rule rather than the exception, leading to increasingly exploitative and shock-value inspired use of such freedoms. Fortunately, the crew utilizes these powers sparingly, and the show is better for it.
Last Week Tonight is satire at it’s absolute finest, and with an unrestrained tongue constantly running at its justified front, it just might become one of the strongest and most important voices of this generation.