On Sunday, John Oliver’s weekly late night show “Last Week Tonight” returned to HBO for its sixth season, having been on break since the last episode of season five aired in November.
Since originally airing in April of 2014, the political comedy show has amassed a significant following by carving out a niche for itself within the crowded field of political comedy focused late-night shows.
“Last Week Tonight” differs significantly in format from traditional network late night shows such as “The Late Show” and “The Tonight Show” in that it airs once a week on Sunday nights, whereas traditionally shows in the genre are nightly.
Still, while Oliver’s series is inherently unique in its format, it is the style and depth of the show which really set it apart from the rest of the pack. Oliver’s comedy style is nothing unique, but while other shows divide their slots into several segments which last no longer than roughly ten minutes each, talking about a wide variety of topics with relatively uniform depth each night, “Last Week Tonight” devotes the lion’s share of its run time to one topic, covering issues in much greater depth.
The result of this unique style is that “Last Week Tonight” stories make the segments from other late night shows feel like shallow, throwaway content. While other shows fill up their airtime with short repetitive segments which all seem to be about Donald Trump — a trend which seems to be universally disliked across the political spectrum — “Last Week Tonight” is doing deep, thorough segments on charter schools, coal mines and FIFA.
Because of its uniqueness, the return of “Last Week Tonight” comes as a welcome development for fans of the show — and of good television in general.
The new episode centers on a 22 minute segment updating the show’s fans on Britain’s pending withdrawal from the European Union, the show’s third story on Brexit. Still, despite the fact that the show has done multiple stories on the same topic, it has not repeated itself in the way that most late night shows do because Oliver has presented new information in each segment.
The new episode discusses the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, explaining what such a scenario would entail and why it is becoming increasingly probable. The bit is full of hilarious jokes, some directly about Brexit and some only tangentially related to the segment — but funny all the same.
One of the funniest parts of the episode comes when Oliver points out that Brexit has become the center of British cultural life. The series then highlights this by showing a series of clips from a British television show named “Gogglebox,” which allows viewers to watch other people as they view and discuss the news.
In addition to themselves being hilarious, the clips set Oliver up for an excellent joke about justifying offensive statements by claiming that they are simply quotes. The show also highlights the importance of Brexit in British life with a clip from the reality show “Love Island” in which participants in the show discuss the issue while lounding by a pool.
The segment follows the show’s standard narrative style, exploring issues through a patchwork of clips from the news and other shows and jokes from Oliver. The bit concludes with a riotous satirical clip which adapts Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech to Brexit.
The rest of the episode is similarly funny, making John Oliver’s return an undeniably successful one. The question is now whether or not the show can maintain its originality and avoid becoming stale as it moves forward.
The season premiere is the 150th episode of “Last Week Tonight,” and while the show has stayed extremely fresh until now, there are really only so many issues to talk about and it would be understandable for fans to worry. It is critical that Oliver and his team continue to find unique talking points to avoid becoming just another “Trump” show.