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Review: 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver'

by Caryn James
April 28, 2014 11:45 AM
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Just because John Oliver was so brilliant sitting in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, that doesn't mean he should have cloned it for his HBO series, Last Week Tonight. Oliver brought his charmingly wry, acerbic delivery to the premiere of his own series, but the new show is disappointingly like the old one, but without bleeped words or commercials. The problem isn't the weekliness of the show; it's the too-familiar approach, with Oliver sitting at a fake-news desk.

Of course that means there were some genuinely funny, skewering moments, especially Lisa Loeb in a parody of Oregon's  too-cute-to-live commercial for the state's failed heath care website. But the main segment -- going after American news' failure to cover the Indian elections -- was so slavishly like The Daily Show's signature, deconstructing the media, that it made Last Week seem like a missed opportunity. Why not include a glimmer of something fresh and original? Even his interview with former NSA head Keith Alexander, while clever (suggesting the NSA adopt the tagline "The only agency in government that really listens" was great) has the same Daily Show-Colbert Report editing that left out too much of the subject's reactions.

The one non Daily Show trick was adapted from typical Fallon-Kimmel internet stunts. Oliver asked, while pretending not to ask, viewers to put fake labels on food in the market -- "Kellogg's Mini Wheats, Literally Better than Nothing" – and upload photos to Facebook.

Oliver himself is always worth watching, and  there's every reason to think he'll become more inventive as the series goes on.

 Meanwhile, HBO has put the episode online -- worth watching even if it does induce a bit of deja vu

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