Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is The Daily Show 2.0 and also it isn’t The Daily Show 2.0…. yeah…
The exact moment that you knew Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was on to something was during the first episode in its evisceration of food companies and their falsified health claims. It happened right after John Oliver introduced a commercial that claimed Pop-Tarts were made with real fruit and would give kids the energy to get them through the day. With no irony, no hesitation, and no second thought, Oliver looked straight into the camera and uttered “fuck you” before going into a tirade which ended with the phrase “run around punching people in the dick before collapsing into a puddle of tears.” It was right about then you knew, that they might just pull “it” off.
The problem. I don’t think anyone exactly knows what “it” is quite yet.
What we do know, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is HBO’s newest foray into the political late-night comedy. Unlike HBO’s other late-night political comedy talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Last Week Tonight isn’t as preachy and definitely doesn’t take itself as seriously. It’s the brainchild of two people; Tim Carvell, Last Week Tonight’s showrunner, and John Oliver, the show’s host. Both men are acolytes of The Daily Show’s school of political satire and it’s present in the first two episodes.
Just the image of Oliver behind a modern chic news desk, brings back flashes of his hosting stint on The Daily Show. Yet this feeling of deja-vu doesn’t just stop there. Last Week Tonight’s entire presentation – from the show’s three act structure to the mockumentary style interviews – gives you the feeling that you’re watching a bizzaro version of The Daily Show, in which Oliver got control of the show years ago, morphing it into something different, but yet at the same time, not really all THAT different.
It’s about now you’re probably asking, then why should Last Week Tonight even exist in a universe where The Daily Show does a fine enough job? Well, that’s simple. Because Last Night Tonight has John Oliver.
While that might sound a bit dismissive, rest assured, it isn’t. In the summer of 2013, when Oliver temporarily took over the reins of The Daily Show, you saw something that you hadn’t seen in years with The Daily Show. Pure energy.
Over the years Jon Stewart morphed The Daily Show from just another late-night comedy show to a television institution with his “if you give them enough rope, they’ll hang themselves” form of satire when dealing with political hypocrisy. Having done The Daily Show now for well over a decade, Stewart knows that the trick isn’t to rush into the joke, but let it breath and the punchline will coalesce together into the perfect parts of comedy and poignancy. You just have to give it time.
John Oliver just doesn’t have the time for that.
Oliver’s delivery is a rapid fire combination of well thought out facts and visceral fuck yous. Last Night Tonight has only thirty minutes to get a week’s worth of stories in (unlike the The Daily Show’s four shows a week schedule). That means he has to hit varying topics from the Indian Elections to “not racist” racist rants of elderly white men to recommending that the NSA change their image to an adorable kitten in a rain boot named Mr. Buttons, in just thirty minutes each week. After all, why waste the time letting hypocrites hang themselves when you can just as easily shoot them in the head?
It’s this manic Jason-Stathom-in-Crank type delivery that not only separates it from The Daily Show, but makes Last Week Tonight worth watching. And more importantly, shows signs that it could become its own entity entirely.
With that said, it’s hard to say what exactly Last Week Tonight will turn into. Will it be Carvell and Oliver’s version of The Daily Show? Or could it be something different entirely? After all, being on HBO gives them the opportunity to experiment a lot more than they ever could on network TV or even basic cable. Regardless, it’s too early to tell either way. All I know is that Last Week Tonight decided to put their chips in the middle of the table and go all in. How can the outcome of this be anything but interesting?
Reviewer’s Take: I can see people reacting to Last Week Tonight in one of two ways. You either are going to write it off as just a British man dropping F-bombs on their take of The Daily Show or you’re all in to embrace the utter fuck-it insanity that Last Week Tonight could eventually become? I don’t know about you, but I’m choosing life man! So I’m digging it. They put up the first episode on YouTube, so you can decide for yourself.