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'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver' is still the king of late night

tv review

The sixth season of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" premiered Feb. 17 on HBO.
The sixth season of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" premiered Feb. 17 on HBO.

When Jon Stewart left “The Daily Show” in 2015, John Oliver stepped up to fill massive hole in late night comedy that Stewart’s departure created. Oliver had been a “Daily Show” correspondent, even hosting Stewart’s show for eight weeks while Stewart directed his film "Rosewater." With this practice under his belt, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” hit the ground running in its first season. The show has not looked back, remaining a glowing fixture in the crowded field of late night television. 

Now in the show’s sixth season, Oliver is sticking to his winning formula, starting with commentary on the news of the week before spending 20 minutes on thoughtful and hilarious “deep dive” pieces. These pieces cover noteworthy subjects, like the border wall, Jamal Khashoggi or the NRA, or seemingly obscure subjects that only Oliver can make enjoyable — like astroturfing, subprime lending or the North Dakota oil boom.  Seth Meyers uses a similar concept in his “A Closer Look” segment and Hasan Minhaj replicates it on his new show “Patriot Act.”

Oliver kicks off the season premiere with a few minutes on Trump and the national emergency declaration. For the third time in the show’s six seasons, the main story was Brexit. Oliver tackles three key questions related to recent Brexit negotiations in the piece: Why don’t people like Theresa May’s deal, what happens if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without a deal and could they just not do Brexit at all? Episodes about Britain are Oliver’s sweet spot, as he can leverage his personal experiences to enhance the humor.  

When discussing the risks of a no-deal Brexit, Oliver jokes, “Medicine shortages are not a problem Brits are used to dealing with. They’re used to having their problems limited to hearing Americans mispronounce the word ‘vitamin,’ not having enough beans as part of your breakfast and having to wait 20 years for another royal wedding.” He then urges five year old Prince George to “settle down already.”  

Later in the episode, Oliver devoted several minutes to a terribly corny music video from Dutch boy band the Breunion Boys, who write songs about reuniting Britain and the EU. Oliver is known for filling the show with shenanigans, so expect even more crazy bits later on in the season. Last season, he bought an old Russell Crowe jockstrap from "Cinderella Man" and donated it to one of the last remaining Blockbuster stores in Alaska. He also purchased five wax statues of former U.S. Presidents, which he used in the Season 5 finale for a fantastic "Fast and the Furious" spoof. In the previous seasons, he also started a church, created an all dog version of the Supreme Court and sent a mascot named “Jeff the Diseased Lung” to Times Square to warn about the risks of smoking.

The second episode of the new season has its own moment of absurdity, as Oliver creates a fake talk show called “Wakey Wakey with John Oliver” to interview a psychic (played by the always hilarious Rachel Dratch). The episode starts off with a rundown of this week’s news that included a few minutes on the new election in North Carolina’s 9th District after corruption plagued the initial election in November. Oliver, known for poking fun of the places he brings up in the show, has this to say about North Carolina: “North Carolina: Of the two Carolinas, without a doubt one of them.” 

The episode then moves to its main story concerning psychics. Oliver states that psychics have no actual abilities, and quickly redirects his focus to the predatory practices of these individuals. They prey upon people who are at their most desperate — after the death or disappearance of a family member, for example — and use their purported gifts to rob people of their savings. Oliver partially blames daytime talk shows for frequently giving these psychics a platform, leading into the spoof with Dratch. 

The show's sixth season is off to a promising start, not straying far from the structure of previous seasons.  If this trend continues, “Last Week Tonight” will keep its position as the best late night show on television. Although other late night programs struggle to turn funny situations into good comedy, Oliver can make something like a cash bail segment entertaining, proving his gifts as a comedian. With the 2020 elections inching closer and the Mueller report about to drop, Oliver’s show will have plenty to joke about this season.  


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