Why You Should Be Watching “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, Right Now
When Jon Stewart announced a few weeks ago that he would be stepping down from his hosting duties on “The Daily Show,” there was an immediate sense of despair that swept over the internet that followed. Stewart, who has held the “Daily Show” hosting job since 1999, has become such an integral part of our current news climate that his impending absence seems likely to leave an enormous void that will be hard to fill. The question of who could possibly replace Stewart as host of “The Daily Show” has led to fruitful discussion all over the internet, with names like Patton Oswalt, Aisha Tyler and Tina Fey being tossed around as possible replacements. As much fun as it is to speculate like this, I think the heir apparent to Stewart has already identified himself in the form of John Oliver, who in many ways is out-Stewarting even Stewart himself right now with his HBO program “Last Week Tonight”.
Oliver, as many already know, is a former “Daily Show” correspondent perhaps best known for the eight weeks he spent as a replacement host for Stewart when he was off filming Rosewater, for which he received much acclaim and in large part led to his getting his own show on HBO. That Oliver was an underling of Stewart already makes him an obvious successor, and early discussions regarding who should take over the “Daily Show” centered on the possibility that Oliver might ditch his HBO gig once his contract expired and return to his old stomping grounds. HBO puts any such rumors to rest when they recently re-signed Oliver’s contract past the point of Stewart’s intended departure, and while I think Oliver would have been the ideal choice for “The Daily Show” job, I think that’s actually for the better. In the short time that “Last Week Tonight” has been in existence, Oliver has quickly managed to turn it from a “Daily Show” carbon copy into its own unique thing which offers a similar brand of satire mixed with Social commentary but approaching it from a different angle.
The big difference between Oliver’s show and “The Daily Show” is that his runs 30 minutes without commercial breaks, as is the HBO model. While this could potentially be a hinderance for “Last Week Tonight”, given that the commercial breaks help a show like “The Daily Show” to break up their segments, Oliver and his team have turned this into a key strength. Oliver takes advantage of this extended running time by centering each show around one central topic and digging far deeper into it than any “Daily Show” segment could. Just two weeks ago, Oliver did a segment on the controversial issue of NCAA student-athlete compensation that ran a little over twenty minutes. Where even some of the best “Daily Show” segments seem to only scratch the surface of a given topic, “Last Week Tonight” probes deeper into them then you ever could have imagined.
The other distinguishable strength of Oliver’s program is that the issues he chooses to cover tend to be extremely important issues that the mainstream media ignores, often because they aren’t sexy or easy to sell to an audience. On the most recent episode, Oliver did a lengthy report on the absurdity of the legal system regarding fines from municipal violations, which is certainly not the most talked about political issue these days. Oliver’s reports are consistently insightful and informative, but it also never feels like having to eat your vegetables because Oliver is filtering these potentially dry topics through his appealing brand of humor.
The best part of “Last Week Tonight” is that unlike most other HBO programming, Oliver has made a great deal of his content available on Youtube without having to have an HBO subscription. Don’t let the fact that “Last Week Tonight” is an HBO show fool you into thinking you don’t have access to it. The stories Oliver is covering on a week to week basis are important, relevant and also consistently hilarious, so you should make the effort to watch them.