A striving journalist toils as a field correspondent for years covering everything from obscure pieces of legislation to political scandals. After many years and increased recognition he is eventually promoted to substitute anchor before finally being given his own show. Questions swirl around the show’s premiere: What will his take on the news be? Will his interview style continue to improve? And will he be able to do as good of a Donald Trump impersonation as his former boss?
If the last question caught you off guard, let me clarify. In this instance, the “journalist” in question is John Oliver whose show, “Last Week Tonight,” premiered on HBO last Sunday night.Oliver has been a fixture on the parody news show circuit for the past eight years. He began as a writer on “The Daily Show”before quickly being promoted to field correspondent. On the show, Oliver became known for his dry wit, nuanced reporting and penchant for dressing in costume. When Jon Stewart took a three month sabbatical last summer, Oliver served as substitute anchor. His irreverent take on the summer’s scandals and comfort behind the desk led many to discuss not if he would get his own show but when. As he prepared to take on a new show at HBO, many wondered to what degree Oliver would work to distinguish himself from his former employer.
By Stephanie Radke ’15, Staff Writer
The answer to that question is: not much. The premiere episode of “Last Week Tonight” does not reinvent the news show parody as much as combine the most interesting aspects of its competitors into a new amalgamation. The show’s set is styled after those of both Bill Maher and Jon Stewart’s shows, with a much more distracting backdrop. The style of the opening recap of the week’s top stories is cribbed from Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live.” Much of Oliver’s delivery mirrors Stewart’s, with long monologues interspersed with video clips, culminating in a final punch line. Oliver seems content to remain within the mold, even returning to his role of field correspondent at the end of the premiere episode. Often during the episode, I kept expecting Stewart to pop up — the show just seemed a natural extension of his brand.
Where the show does differ from its competitors is in its choice of topics. Oliver mentioned in interviews the fact that HBO has given him free reign over his choice of topics, and he seems to be taking full advantage. The premiere episode included a seven minute segment on the elections in India. This past Sunday’s episode included a discourse on the death penalty. In his previous work, particularly his podcast “The Bugle,”Oliver has shown a flair for making international politics comprehensible to the average consumer. This global perspective fills a gap in the existing news show parodies. Oliver also does not shy away from discussing difficult subjects, while exercising enough restraint to prevent his comedy from turning into polemic. The less strident tone is a refreshing change from other comedians’ more aggressive tones.
All in all, “Last Week Tonight”shows promise. While there are still kinks to be worked out, Oliver’s choice of topics and natural likability was fascinating. I am excited to watch the show come more into its own as the summer progresses.