Year in review - Last Week Tonight

November 21, 2014
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

A few months ago I weighed in on John Oliver’s latest comedic effort Last Week Tonight, praising it for its thoughtful commentary and hilarious writing. At the time, the show had just come out, and many were questioning the need for another “fake news show” to compete with the many already on air. So now, as the first season came to a close on Nov. 9, I find myself smiling at all that Oliver has accomplished in a short while.

What makes Last Week Tonight so great is that it doesn’t just spout its biases for comedic effect; instead it works to explain real issues, and analyze them from a journalistic perspective. It does what The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been doing for ages: provide intelligent discussion on real issues. However, unlike these shows, Last Week Tonight isn’t limited by formatting or content restraints thanks to the lack of restrictions from HBO.

While I hate to compare Last Week Tonight to shows that I like and enjoy, when you watch The Daily Show it is a fairly predictable experience. Viewers know that Stewart will break down political issues, incorporating various jokes in a series of formulaic segments. In comparison, Last Week Tonight can be unpredictable in a good way. Whether it’s explaining the prison system with the Muppets, or launching salmon through a cannon at various newscasters, Oliver breaks up the monotony of late-night television beautifully.

Above all, what makes Last Week Tonight an important contribution to late-night television is its ability to blur the line of when “fake news” ends and real investigative journalism starts. While Oliver assures his audience that the show is much more of a comedic effort than a journalistic one, this claim becomes hard to swallow when one considers some of the stories they have covered, and the way they have covered them. Whether it is investigating the public tax records surrounding the scholarship claims of the Miss America pageant, or explaining the complexity of net neutrality, John Oliver is making a real journalistic effort with Last Week Tonight.

In particular, Last Week Tonight reflects a shift towards kind of “explanatory journalism” in which a reporter attempts to present a complex, nuanced story in a more accessible manner. This practice is nothing new, but it’s the methods Oliver uses that make his work so effective. Put simply, most people don’t want to take the time to follow a complex story spanning several months or even years, so the journalist needs to make their best effort in keeping it concise and entertaining at the same time. While many people in the media are aware of this, few are able to find the balance between informative and entertaining like Oliver.

Whether Oliver admits it or not, Last Week Tonight does real journalism, and it does it brilliantly. His YouTube channel numbers have proved that not only do millions of people enjoy his work, but they simultaneously disprove the idea that long content cannot succeed in an age of increasingly short attention spans. People engage with Oliver’s segments regardless of whether they are five minutes or 15, and leave every segment more informed, even if they don’t agree with Oliver’s position. If you’re looking for a program with as much style as it has substance, Last Week Tonight is the perfect fit.

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