When Daily Show correspondent John Oliver took over for Jon Stewart last summer, I for one was thrilled. In all honesty, I find Jon Stewart highly annoying. He's great when he's pinned against right-wing douchebag pundits, sure, but the simpering ass-kissing of all the other guests gets old. How many times has he told an author something like, “Hey, truly… no. Let me be serious here. They give me a lot of books to read for this show. And, frankly, I don't read all of them. But your book… sir, it is not hyperbole to say this book is a masterpiece.” Insert any movie title, too, gentle reader, or celebrity cause… whatever someone is promoting. In order to be an effective host you do indeed have to seem like you find your guests interesting, but his excessive “we are not worthy” BS gets old. Still, I watch it regularly and always have at least two “laugh out loud” moments.
When Oliver took over, it was all the same writers with the same attitude, minus Stewart. Oliver is a master at the same affected, befuddled quick-takes after seeing a particularly inane comment from Mitch McConnell. He can deliver the same astonished amusement at a Michele Bachmann clip. Truly, these shows don't even really need writers, you realize that, right? All they need to do is show actual footage of these people and the stuff writes itself. Nevertheless, the British expat was witty and spunky, just right to jump in and take over.
So when I heard he was getting his own weekly news commentary comedy show on HBO, I was excited. Last Week Tonight premiered a month ago, and sadly, the results have been meh with a side of harumph. The show sucks. What happened?
The first thing that struck me was how much of a Daily Show rip-off it is, minus guests, correspondents, and the feeling that a live studio audience is actually there. We hear laughter, but there is no way to tell if it is from a can or not. Oliver sits at a desk with a generic New York skyline behind him (really?) and pontificates on the week's happenings. I'd compare it to some guy's YouTube channel, but it reminds me more of the old days of cable access. He was a good sub for Stewart, but I am questioning his ability to carry an entire show now, especially if said show is just him harping on and on about right wingers.
I could forgive all of this, of course, if the show was funny. Take last week's episode. Oliver skewered McConnell and everyone else in the Senate race for their ridiculous campaign ads. Like I said, you only need show the actual footage of this stuff and the material is there. “I grew up castrating hogs,” says candidate Joni Ernst, “so when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork.” Biggest chortle of the night for this reviewer. But then Oliver decided to create his own versions of ridiculous attack ads for both sides, one of which painted the liberals as wanting to decimate the coal industry. A woman candidate enters a mine and proceeds to chainsaw the miners in a bloody rampage. Ha. Ha ha…. Ha? My high school lampoon society could have come up with something better than that.
HBO can be forgiven for having a half-assed political show, too, because it more than makes up for it with my favorite weekly indulgence, Real Time with Bill Maher. His monologue always sucks too, but his guests are stimulating and there's a great mix of comedy and intellectualism in the bulk of the show.
I'm sure half of my frustration with all of this is that my beloved Colbert Report is going to come to an end once he takes over for David Letterman. “Senior Black Correspondent” Larry Wilmore is set to take over the Comedy Central time slot in what he says will be a “diverse” representation of culture and news. He's not my favorite correspondent — that title belongs to Samantha Bee or her husband, Jason Jones — but at least he's not the awkward Jessica Williams or the spittle-specked Lewis Black. I will give this show a chance, as I have Oliver's. I'm fair like that. But if he lets me down … there will be hell to pay. One swipe of my poison ink and he's toast.