John Oliver’s show is many things, but one thing that it generally isn’t is well-named: it usually takes on a single big issue and looks at that issue as a whole, meaning that the remit of the title — Last Week Tonight — is rarely followed. Oliver acknowledged this during his intro to yesterday’s show, joking that for once, the show really was looking at “last week, tonight.”
It’s a format he should perhaps follow more often, because last night’s show was both cutting political comedy and damn good entertainment. We’ve written ad infinitum here about the problems with the preaching-to-the-converted nature of the brand of political comedy pioneered by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and those criticisms remain relevant for Oliver, although at least America’s favorite Brummie doesn’t make jokes about “chicks with dicks.” The key point of evolution from Stewart and Colbert to Oliver, though, is that the latter goes out of his way to explain his rage and/or his subject matter. He’s excellent at setting out complex issues in layman’s terms, and we should never underestimate the value of well-made didactic television.
This talent has come into its own during the Trump administration, during which the question on everyone’s lips (including ours) has often, as Oliver pointed out last night, been, “What the fuck is happening?!” And indeed, there was enough that happened last week to prompt the question that Oliver didn’t need any more material for last night’s show: he devoted the entirety of it to the scandals that had emerged from the Trump White House during the last seven days.
You may well have forgotten already what happened — as we’ve pointed out here before, the sheer volume of scandal coming out of the Trump camp means that it’s hard to keep track of any single issue, even if that issue would on its own probably bring down another politician. So here’s a reminder: while boasting like the blowhard he is, our President apparently inadvertently revealed highly classified information to Russian officials. Then it emerged that former FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo detailing how Donald Trump pressured him to abandon the investigation into Mike Flynn. Then Trump complained that “no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Then it turned out that Comey apparently found Trump so objectionable that he tried to hide from the President at a post-inauguration meeting. And then Trump apparently boasted again — to the Russians, of course — about having gotten rid of Comey, calling him a “nutjob” and “I faced great pressure because of Russia… that’s taken off.” And finally, news emerged that the FBI investigation into the Russia affair had identified a “current White House official as a significant person of interest.”
Oliver, predictably, had a field day with all this stuff, as you can see above. His most perceptive comment, though, was his observation that “literally every decision [made] in the Trump administration is the worst possible one.” It’s true! It’s honestly difficult to imagine an administration more corrupt, more morally bankrupt and more flat-out incompetent than the one currently occupying the White House. And yet, as Oliver himself admitted, none of this is likely to get the President impeached — and if it does, we face the prospect of President Pence, President Ryan or, apparently, President Orrin Hatch. So really, while this was a good, entertaining half hour, it could have been boiled down into a single sentence: “We are so, so, so fucked.” Happy Monday!