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John Oliver Brings Daily Show Formula to HBO with 'Last Week Tonight'




With Last Week Tonight, John Oliver joins the growing cast of Daily Show alumni that have seen monumental success in their days since leaving Jon Stewart's program, including Steve Carell, Ed Helms and Stephen Colbert. And like Colbert, who's dropping the faux-Fox News pundit schtick for Letterman's spot on the Late Show, Oliver nixed his bumbling Brit in America bit for the first broadcast of Last Week Tonight on HBO.

The inaugural show was largely a success. Oliver joked confident in the captain's chair, in thanks to his eight-week tenure hosting The Daily Show while Jon Stewart directed Rosewater last summer. He opened up with a killer on Donald Sterling and Clive Bundy—"This week was a tough one for unrepentant racists around audio equipment"—before diving into segments on Oregon's healthcare website failure, a misguided Supreme Court case between Coke and Pom and India's upcoming election.

Oliver and his writers don't vary far from the proven Daily Show formula of biting media criticism, absurd side-splitting gags and an interview to close out each episode. But that's okay. With a weekly focus, Oliver's edition can soak up the week's weirdest news and its poorest presentation, resulting in the hybrid genre of longform comedic journalism.

At its worst, Last Week's first swing was a collection of newsreel torn up hysterically by an insult comic, random in its presentation. Take the transitionary segments of John McCain telling the same joke repeatedly and Workplace of the Week, featuring the NFL and its ogling practices and pay disputes with cheerleaders. There to provide a pause between the longer stories, the quick features filled the same function as Comedy Central's commercial breaks.

At its best, Oliver's first bite was sharper than even Jon Stewart's, combining the field reporting of Stewart's cast with the feature, last-call interview.  Speaking with former NSA director General Keith Alexander, Oliver focused out the contradictions of the all-seeing agency, calling out Alexander's statement that the NSA collects just metadata, the recording of a phone call's participants, but not its contents. "But that's not nothing," Oliver responded. “That’s significant information, otherwise you wouldn’t want it.” Oliver ended the interview suggesting an NSA re-branding campaign, offering the name of the slightly less controversial Washington Redskins or a cat named Mr. Tiggles, hiding the country's information in its oversized boot. Or, billing the NSA as a great listener.

"The only agency is government that really listens," General Alexander replied.

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