May 2, 2014

May 2, 2014

Last Week Tonight

It’s a big world out there. I’m reminded of this every time I travel abroad, deal with someone from another country, or have to memorize the countries of the world and their capitals. We Americans, probably more than any other country, are isolationist narcissists. Not cool. Really not cool.

You can consume non-American media—Deutsche Welle’s Journal and the BBC World News are great places to start—but alas. Our airwaves are filled with stories about singing birds and people losing weight and sports. None of those things are intrinsically bad, but there’s a whole planet of stuff going on. India’s holding the largest election IN HISTORY. Syria: still a thing! The Cornish are now an official UK minority. And these are but a random tip of the iceberg.

When I read that John Oliver’s new HBO show, Last Week Tonight, would be covering more these sorts of stories and less Kartrashian sort of stuff, my interest was piqued. I liked Oliver on The Daily Show, though you have to attribute at least 80% of that to the fact that he is British. But hang on a minute. The fact that Oliver is what we ‘muricans would call an Outsider lends weight to the idea that his show might actually cover substantive issues. See for yourself by watching the full episode HBO put on YouTube [insert language disclaimer here].

Honest assessment: I liked this a lot. More than I expected to. The Indian election segment was a powerhouse; you’d expect nothing less from the opening story of the premiere episode. Truth in food labeling? An analysis much coarser—and brutally honest—than anything you’d see on the NBC Nightly News. They seemed to lose their way a bit in the interview segment, and I don’t know how much of that is the show’s fault and how much is the subject’s fault. Oliver seems to still be working out whether he’s in character (a la Stephen Colbert) and if so, what that character is. His interviewee, former NSA head Keith Alexander, thus wasn’t in on the joke, or even sure there was a joke to be in on. (I apologize for that sentence. Keep parsing it until it makes sense.)

Overall, though? A whole lot better than waterskiing budgerigars (Harry Potter reference!) or that traffic jam on the 405. I’m staying tuned.


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