‘Patriot Act’ is informative and funny, but not fresh

Photo courtesy of Netflix

In the past, Netflix’s original content has largely consisted of feature length films and shows which are released entire seasons at a time, creating a new media consumption pattern in which Netflix customers watch content in short bursts.

Netflix’s content has been so deeply associated with this binge-watching culture for so long that the way in which it is released has molded the types of topics that it covers. Shows on Netflix often feel engineered to be addictive, fluid and timeless, allowing viewers to move smoothly from episode to episode and ensuring that shows remain relevant for the forseeable future.

With Hasan Minhaj’s new show “Patriot Act,” however, Netflix seems determined to break this mold and enter the arena of topical content. Customers who are used to binging shows as soon as they come out will be disappointed to find that Minhaj’s new offering is to be released weekly, forcing fans to watch it while its content is still fresh and relevant.

The result of this new release pattern is that “Patriot Act” covers subjects which Netflix shows have shied away from in the past. Netflix comedies of the past have often made topical references to the modern culture and broad references to the current political climate, but none have ever attempted to address specific current events as they occur.

This style of comedy, pioneered by Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and less conventionally by Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “South Park,” makes light of politics and current affairs while also seeking to inform the viewer.

With the introduction of Stephen Colbert’s version of “The Late Show” and Seth Meyers’s version of “Late Night,” this comedy format has gained a huge share of the market. Naturally, Netflix wants to cash-in on this trend, and upon watching “Patriot Act” for the first time, it becomes obvious that Netflix is looking to emulate one of the most successful shows in the genre — HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

The Jon Oliver hosted series has differentiated itself from the pack by offering in-depth reporting on complicated issues that other political comedians rarely cover, and the creators of “Patriot Act” have clearly taken notice.

Much like Oliver’s show, “Patriot Act” centers around long segments focused on a single issue. The series premiere, “Saudi Arabia” dedicates nearly 20 minutes to a discussion of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in the context of the recent killing of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

The show features a blend of in-depth reporting of facts and comedic analysis, highlighting key issues and often calling viewers and politicians to action while also making light of sometimes dark topics.

Each episode is written immaculately and researched thoroughly, and the result is a product which is informative, entertaining and, most importantly, absolutely hilarious.

Many of the segments also conclude with a satirical video which mocks a real clip shown during the segment, another idea taken from Oliver’s show.

The format is a fantastic recipe for entertaining and fulfilling comedy, even if it is largely a carbon copy of “Last Week Tonight.”

Additionally, there are some aspects of “Patriot Act” which are original. The set-design and tone of the show is unlike anything else in comedy television. Minhaj stands alone on a small stage backed by screens which display graphics related to whatever he is discussing. There is a medium sized studio audience and Minhaj frequently interacts with members of the crowd in the same way a stand-up comedian might light-heartedly mock his audience. The tone is set by dramatic, almost militaristic music which plays before and after segments, and the viewer gets the impression that Minhaj is a comedy gladiator, slaying topics for entertainment.

Minhaj’s task is no small one — episodes are intense and fast-moving, requiring Minhaj to keep up his pace while dishing out detailed information accurrately and mixing in ad-libbed jokes to keep the whole thing casual and funny. Still, Minhaj seems to feel at ease through all of it, diving into each segment with confidence.

In “Patriot Act,” Minhaj plays the role of a performer, going to trememdous lengths to please his audience and to get a laugh out of his viewers. In “Last Week Tonight,” Jon Oliver sits at a desk and occaisionally uses props to supplement his comedy, making him appear relaxed, whereas Minhaj seems to put himself out there for the enjoyment of others with every segment.

Still, the biggest difference between the shows stems from their distinct target audiences. The creators of “Patriot Act” seem to be aware that the target Netflix streamer is much younger than the typical HBO viewer, and the youth of the show’s target audience is reflected in the writing and presentation of the show.

Minhaj wears sweaters and jeans with sneakers, not  suit and tie. He frequently speaks about staying “woke.” There is even talk of vaping and hookah.

If “Last Week Tonight” is where millenials go to get their news and laughs, “Patriot Act” wants to be where Generation Z goes to get woke without having to watch the news.

Normally critics look for shows that are fresh and original, but in this case, Minhaj’s efforts at recreating Jon Oliver’s style is a welcome development. “Last Week Tonight” has long been one of the best shows on television, and if “Patriot Act” means that more shows will take Oliver’s lead and offer in-depth reporting with a comedic twist, viewers  can only benefit.

“Patriot Act” has carved out its own niche in the comedy landscape, and even if it relies on a borrowed format, it is just unique enough and plenty funny enough to thrive.

Viewers of all ages should give the show a chance, and if they can handle waiting a full week at a time for new episodes to be released, they will surely not be disappointed.