Last Week Tonight With John Oliver S01E01


After moderate anticipation, HBO debuted its brand-new comedy news show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, on Sunday evening (and if you missed it, the full episode is now available on YouTube). Oliver's summer 2013 run as the substitute host of The Daily Show while Jon Stewart was off directing a film meant that we already had a pretty good idea of the lovable Brit's hosting style, but hey, it's HBO! Oliver can do pretty much whatever he wants with the format! Last Week Tonight has the opportunity to reinvent late-night comedy news shows, right? Well, after the first episode, the answer to that question is a firm "no"—but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Here's what worked and what didn't work about the premiere. 


BEST: Extended opening credits

Hey man, it's not TV, it's HBO. And you know what that means: a longish opening credit sequence! Last Week Tonight's credits are only about 25 seconds long, but for a half-hour show, even one without commercials, that's a moderate chunk of real estate. The good news is that the credits are sort of weird and visually striking. I really like the fonts! Let's talk about fonts!

BEST: It looks NOOICE

If you don't want to talk about fonts, let's talk about how great the set and the desk look, because they look great. HBO's vast resources also mean that Last Week Tonight will be able to put together pre-tapes like the brief musical bit involving Lisa Loeb, and they won't end up looking like complete garbage. Location shooting, however minimal, FTW.



BEST: No introductions needed

Oliver's been behind this kind of desk before, and he showed some veteran smarts by jumping directly into the show without talking about "how much this means" to him or taking the time to thank the audience or HBO or Jon Stewart. Just right into the news and the jokes. Good by me. 

BEST/WORST: It's The Daily Show, you guys

The comparisons are inevitable, and Last Week Tonight certainly isn't running away from them. If you like watching a white guy hunch over a desk while he tells you what's wrong with the media and the American political system—with a whole lotta clips and edited gags thrown in for good measure—you're in for a treat. That's not necessarily a bad thing. HBO hired Oliver for a reason, this was just the first episode, yada yada yada. But it'd be cool if, just once, one of these late-night dudes tried something different. It's HBO; the opportunities are basically limitless. 



WORST: The show isn't really sure what to do with its segment breaks

Last Week Tonight seems so beholden to a Daily Show framework that the premiere integrated brief edited clip packages that didn't involve Oliver as a way to break up the action, and to fill the space where commercials would go if Last Week Tonight were on broadcast or basic cable. The bits in this episode—one about John McCain telling the same joke six times, and another about the NFL's creepy/awful treatment of cheerleaders—were fine, but again, they pointed to how traditional the show is, at least at the outset.

BEST: The jokes are pretty sharp

It's standard stuff, no doubt, but some of Oliver's lines were very strong. Calling "alleged" racist NBA owner Donald Sterling "a walking before photo" and telling Oregon "we get it Oregon, you people live in a cartoon" worked well. Other choice lines: "Bold move, coming out as pro toilet" and "Frosted Mini-Wheats: literally better than nothing." 



BEST: Oliver can definitely conduct an interview

The host's chat with General Keith Alexander had an awkward energy to it because Alexander is kind of an awkward guy, but Oliver went at him while still being funny. Last Week Tonight's extra running time gives the show a little more to work with as far as the various segments go, but as of the premiere, it paid off the most in Oliver's time with his guest. I'll be curious to see whether he does any live interviews in the future. 

WORST: Hey, we can curse!

Don't get me wrong y'all, I love cursing. A well-timed F-word can really punch up a joke. But let's hope the show and its host doesn't get too carried away with the novelty of being able to say "FUCK YOU" to Pop Tarts every week. 

BEST: Good story balance

This first episode managed to mix it up as far as stories go, tackling both the obvious (Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy; the NSA) and the less obvious (the failures of Oregon's healthcare website, the election in India, a court battle between Pom Juice and Coke). Unsurprisingly, the coverage of the less beaten-to-death stories was more interesting, and Oliver seemed more engaged in it than he did with the low-hanging fruit. I liked how he underscored that people should really care about the Indian election; that kind of minor advocacy is interesting. 

BEST: Social media engagement

Encouraging viewers to print off smartass labels and apply them to real food products in stores is a wonderful idea, as is asking them to share this activity via Facebook or Twitter. There's a lot that talk shows can do with social media, as hosts like Jimmy Fallon have proven. But I want to see the follow-up. Are we going to show the results on the show, or just on its respective social media accounts?

All in all, this was a rock-solid first episode for Last Week Tonight. I still have hope that the show will expand its horizons a bit as time moves on, if only because the late-night landscape would benefit from something different. Nevertheless, if this is all Last Week Tonight ever is, that'll be just fine. Oliver's great, and the material will always be there.

What'd you think of Last Week Tonight? Will you tune in next week for Episode 2?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 6/26/2016

Season 3 : Episode 17

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Here's hoping that as the weeks progress John can move the show beyond its clear daily show origins, they have the scope to be a bit edgier for one thing and he has shown the ability to do that in the Bugle podcast he does.
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Loved the range of stories. John Oliver was sharp, witty, and funny as usual. Wish the main stream media was willing to spend at least this amount of time on stories like these and people would feel actual outrage except minor resignation or indifference.
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I bet Jon Oliver regrets leaving Comedy Central just months before Colbert's announcement. He would have had a nightly show.
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I suspect he probably doesn't mind getting HBO money for a weekly version of the daily show rather than Comedy Central money and having to do something more distinct.
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Being an immigrant who often comes off as completely baffed by the way things work in the USA, which, in-turn, makes Americans realize just how disconnected from reaity and blind to our own hypocrisy we are is John Oliver's appeal. You just wish you coud take him aside and explain the way our system works but then it hits just you how ludicrous such an explenation comes out.

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Kind of reminded me of cross between Daily Show and the HBO series Vice. Daily usually kept the hypocrisy they exosed upbeat and purely ridicule whereas Vice does amost no editoriaizing and their bits can be genuinely shocking/disturbing. John's show is 60% shocking exposition and 40% piss-take. Well done!
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i loved it! i found my self actually laughing aloud, which is always a good sign. i did find his hair a bit distracting for some reason.
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Really liked the segment on the Indian elections. I'm hoping that there will be regular international stories like that rather than just all American all the time, and judging by the stories that John and Andy cover on The Bugle I reckon there's a good chance of that.

Also, yes please Cory I want to talk about fonts! The design of the opening credits! &3 &3 &3
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I like the premier episode quite a bit. As he showed when he filled in for Jon Stewart last summer on The Daily Show John Oliver has a lot of credibility as a show host. Therein lies the problem. I saw just a little too much of The Daily Show in Last Week Tonight. The show needs to find its own identity. Hopefully that will happen in the not too far distant future.
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I thought it was great. It needs to find its footing, but once it does I think it will be good. However, he does need people to interview. Oliver was fantastic during his interviews when he was at Jon's desk. And that should be an aspect of the show. However then it would be a carbon copy of TDS which I am sure they don't want to go for. But we shall see. Personally I would like to see him deliberately tank it and take Colbert's spot at 1130.
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yeah i was hoping it would be an hour - 30 mins of what he did last night and 30 mins of interviews. oh well if i had to take one over the other i'd take what he did last night. very solid start for what it was - but i agree - i'd love to see comedy central buy him out of his hbo contract at the end of the year and put him on in colbert's spot.
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Should we Oregonians point out that Lisa Loeb mispronounces "Oregon" consistently while calling us idiots?
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lol
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Great show, it was funny and engaging. I also like the weekly format. I think I'm going to keep on watching it.
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I love John Oliver, and I think the premiere was pretty darn good. I agree about the cursing. I don't mind cursing, but it seemed kind of forced at times. Like a little kid who cusses up a storm when their parents aren't listening.

I don't like the background on the set. It was so bright and distracting. Plus the city theme has been used so many times. I think I'd prefer something plain in the background. - the background is not very important in the scheme of things and I can live with it.
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WORST: that haircut...

That being said, I enjoyed it,
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"Frosted Mini-Wheats: literally better than nothing." Why, what's wrong with Frosted Mini Wheats?

"FUCK YOU" to Pop Tarts every week. Why, what's wrong with Pop Tarts?

Are eggs a better breakfast? Bacon? Another cereal at $5.00 a box? Fruit that has been shat by migrant workers?

Get off your high horse, JO. I think Stephen Col-bert is looking for a sidekick.
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Did you even watch the show? Well if you didnt I'll summarize.

Frosted Mini-Wheats (whatever that is) claimed to be good for you based on a survey that compared people who eat Frosted Mini-Wheats to people who didnt eat breakfast at all without ever mentioning this in their claim of being healthy. "Literally better than nothing" seems pretty correct.

Pop Tarts claimed that eating pop tarts are basically like eating fresh fruit which is of course utter BS. Its pretty much sugar cased in sugar.

Im not sure why you're so offended by a few digs against companies who are blatantly lying to their consumers but that was the reason, not because of the product themselves but because of the BS they try to pass on to their consumers.

Hope this helped and thanks for providing me with a solid bit of procrastination. Now back to writing this shitty paper.
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nice smackdown - spot on - good luck on the paper!
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I never thought Oliver's hosting stint on TDS was ever better than fine I guess so I wasn't expecting too much here. But it's sort of better than I expected? Actually I'm not sure if it's exactly as good as I expected or maybe a little better. He made some good decisions: one is not to review the week's high profile stories (for political satirists) in detail but dealt with them swiftly and moved on. That's a good move because much of his audience will be from Stewart and Colbert and the last thing we need is for him to do an inferior rehash of their material. So covering something less high profile like the Indian election was refreshing, as was his 'different' interview style, although to be frank I'm not sure that style will be sustainable. There were enough flourishes to distinguish the show from TDS which was also important but even so it's got a long way to go to become must watch TV. Bewildered Brit isn't as watchable as the more ego-centric personae of Stewart and Colbert and if he's not going to hone his persona then I'd like to see him really do something exciting with the format instead. Also good points Cory.
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I also think the show will evolve, especially if it gets fairly strong ratings.

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It was great. They do need to do something with the middle bits where he says "and now here's this" It's like they didn't quite think through the transitions there.

Also he needs a small closing bit, either like Bill Maher's closing or Jon Stewarts the moment of zen. Not saying he should copy them at all, but something to close it out other than saying well that's it goodbye.
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What Did We Learn On The Show Tonight, Craig?
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The "moment of Zen" is actually left over from before Stewart took over TDS.
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Easily the most dislikable thing about Community, was thrilled when he wasn't in most of 2/3/4, gutted he's back for large portions of 5.
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John Oliver is excellent in Community.. sure he's like your pervy uncle if your uncle was british, but i loved the characters of Duncan and Buzz this year. Good stuff but haters will hate..
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I feel like his pervy quality only showed up in Season 5 and it was not a good move. Prior to that he was just fun.
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Sorry have to disagree, he was always an annoyingly shallow poorly written character, maybe it's because I'm English I found his character particularly grating.
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I haven't liked him in Community Season 5 at all, he's regressed to a closeted pervert or something.
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Hated the character from the opening second I met him TBH.
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Honestly, I'd forgotten about it entirely... until I stumbled on it last night be accident.

I remember hearing about it but I don't watch enough HBO during the week to get reminders.

So I was pleasantly surprised (and happy) when I stumbled on the show by accident. I think it was decent.
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I didn't even know this show existed. I liked John Oliver on the Daily Show even more than Jon Stewart, so I'll definitely check it out.
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John Oliver is delightful. That is all.
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great start - very daily show like indeed but in a good way - especially since daily and colbert aren't on on sundays - kind of fills that void - with a twist.
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