Liberals all over America rejoiced on Sunday, February 12 when Last Week Tonight with John Oliver returned for a fourth season on HBO. Liberals love Last Week Tonight for many of the same reasons they love The Daily Show and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: late night political comedy shows provide a catharsis for the left. In a world where they have to endure racist uncles and Fox News-loving co-workers spewing vitriol, liberals know that they can always go to their favorite political comedy shows for dose of snarky sanity. Last Week Tonight goes a step further than its peers, though. Not only does the show provide a comic vent for much needed frustration, the show itself is a guide for dealing with the reign of Donald Trump: a focused, researched, reasoned approach to the world around us. There’s a reason it’s been dubbed “investigative comedy” more than once.
For the two weeks that John Oliver has been back on HBO, he has talked about Trump, but he has also been careful to remind viewers that there is a news world that extends beyond the gilded edges of Mar-A-Lago and Trump Tower. During his February 19th show, Oliver dedicated time to talking about all of the news stories we would have heard about if Trump wasn’t sucking all of the air out of the news cycle. The week before, Oliver asserted that Trump has distorted our reality so completely that he felt compelled to spend a full episode on the nature of truth before getting back the show’s nuanced blend of investigative journalism and satire.
In the episode, Oliver said, “Normally, we like to focus this part of the show on complex, depressing policies issues, something fun like CO2 emissions from hearses or space poverty or the proliferation of special purpose taxing districts, a topic so boring you literally didn’t realize that we did that exact story last year. And we want to keep doing those things, but we can’t until we address something even bigger: the concept of reality itself.”
Following these two segments, Oliver has vowed to move beyond “This Week in Trump” coverage. Most news shows, comedic and otherwise, will continue to meditate on the constant stream of bile coming out of the White House. Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, and other daily late night hosts will dissect every “Bowling Green Massacre,” every tiff with Rosie O’Donell, and every appearance of impropriety on every golf course Trump spends time on instead of doing his job: and some shows should. But for Oliver, this round of catch up was just a necessary introduction to get back to the kind of work he likes to do. He wants to get back to his “complex, depressing political issues” we love watching him cover with a depth you won’t find anywhere else.
Last Sunday, Oliver got back to the business of digging deep into the minutiae of media: this time his target was Trump’s ties to Russia. Rather than engage with the Manchurian Candidate hyperbolics many respectable liberal outlets have indulged in, Oliver broke down what we know and what we don’t and why it matters. He was quick to point out that there are “no hard links” between Trump and Russia, but he also pointed out why Trump’s admiration for Russia is disturbing. Donald Trump has said on numerous occasions that “it would be great if we got along with Russia,” and Oliver carefully demonstrates why that isn’t necessarily a good thing (after showcasing a truly harrowing montage of Trump repeating the sentiment). Not only did the episode provide an in-depth history of the love affair between Trump and Putin, but Oliver brought it a step further by highlighting how Trump might deal (meekly) with a real threat from the foreign power.
This sort of coverage is essential under Trump. There are so many places to look to for information that it’s easy to be distracted into chaotic, superficial coverage of the administration. Oliver’s hip, funny take on a 60 Minutes-style news magazine allows viewers to dig deep into topics both omnipresent and arcane, from pyramid schemes to the debt buying industry, in a way where really complex topics are made digestible without anything being dumbed down or gloss over. In other words, his mix of serious reporting and on-the-pulse humor might be the best recipe for educating the average American about news he or she might otherwise skip over.
It’s the responsibility of every citizen to stay informed, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be entertained along the way. Furthermore, your news program of choice, comedic or not, should be inspiring. Scrolling through Twitter and working yourself into a rage with each passing news item isn’t doing anyone any favors. After watching Last Week Tonight, it’s hard not to feel motivated to become the John Oliver you want to see in the world, an advocate for the causes that matter to you. At the very least, you’ll understand the perspective of one passionate Brit who’s making the news world a smarter, funnier place.