Another season of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” wrapped up on Nov. 15, leaving weekly viewers such as myself eagerly waiting for February — the month when season eight will begin — to come around.
I know it’s just three months, but, honestly? That’s a long three months. I strongly believe that “Last Week Tonight” is currently the best show on television — and I also think it’s actually one of the best news sources we have.
Oliver’s show has sparked real change in the world. For example, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio altered bail requirements after Oliver did an episode discussing said topic. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission was bombarded with 45,000 emails, which crashed their server and forced them to realize that they needed to protect net neutrality. Finally — the list really does go on, but I’ll just mention one more — he aired an episode discussing paid family leave, and, while overall regulations didn’t really change, some companies such as Netflix began offering more flexible and paid family leave.
It should be noted Oliver doesn’t think much of what has been deemed the “John Oliver Effect." Oliver's quote from an interview where he was asked if his show was journalism is worth noting.
“No. There's a pretty simple answer to that,” Oliver said. “No, it is not. No, we are a comedy show, so everything we do is in pursuit of comedy.”
I think he is utterly and completely wrong. “Last Week Tonight” is some of the finest journalism on the planet. The writing is brilliant, the research is phenomenal and it has a host that can deliver a message on topics such as net neutrality or civil forfeiture and make it seem as if he’s studied it his whole life.
Oh — and I mean this as a sincere compliment — the show doesn’t make me laugh every step of the way. And, more importantly, it doesn’t try to make me laugh every step of the way. In fact, there are moments where I’m really sad. Or scared. Or angrier than I ever thought possible.
Oliver isn’t always going for the joke. He and his team of writers and researchers are clearly going for something more. You don’t just write a show about an obscure topic and have an actual call to action — like you would in a research paper — and say it’s comedy and only comedy.
It’s a lot more than that. And that’s an honor they shouldn’t take lightly. It’s one they should accept. While the show is absolutely hilarious, and more-often-than-not funnier than every talk show on the air, it’s that extra layer of in-depth, important research that makes the show actually groundbreaking. It’s great because it’s not just teasing political figures and rich people. Sure, it does that. But the best part is how it sets itself apart from the rest.
"Last Week Tonight" is the best show I've seen in a really long time. But not just because it’s funny. The writing is passionate, effective, sparks change and is simply unparalleled. Writing in a room with those people and for that show would be an absolutely surreal dream — it’s so good I don’t know how they continue to get better and better with each episode.
I just hope John Oliver and his staff do grow to accept that what they do is journalism — not just comedy. Because they’re really, really good at both.