Why 'Last Week Tonight' has Replaced 'The Daily Show' on My TV Schedule
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Why 'Last Week Tonight' has Replaced 'The Daily Show' on My TV Schedule

By Corey Atad | TV Reviews | June 2, 2014 | Comments ()


It’s taken only five episodes and I’m ready to declare it: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has surpassed The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Is it a better show? That I don’t really know, but I can tell you that since Last Week Tonight started, I haven’t watched a single episode or even clip from The Daily Show. I haven’t watched any Colbert Report either. That lad from across the pond has ably filled my weekly quota for media and political satire.

I used to watch both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert pretty religiously, and I still consider them the high watermark of the format. They created magic in an arena that too often went for the easiest joke or the silliest gag. Before those guys came along, this Canadian was stuck watching This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Royal Canadian Air Farce. In retrospect, it was a dark, dark time. Stewart and Colbert offered a much more biting kind of comedy. There’s fearlessness in their approach, which has given them sustained relevance for more than a decade. And though that remains true, lately I have found myself losing track of both shows.

In some ways, the issue is one of time. I don’t have the time! It’s difficult for me to watch the shows live, so I rely on the web to watch later — if I even have time the next day. I’ve often found myself catching up on two weeks’ worth of The Daily Show in single sittings on particularly lazy weekends, and not even bothering with The Colbert Report. The problem is then compounded by distance. While many Daily Show segments will hold up well after a week or two, many of them are simply too topical. The impact is lost.

That’s where Last Week Tonight has shown its greatest advantage. What at first seemed like the show’s biggest handicap — that as a weekly show it would be stuck covering well-worn territory — has become its strength. While the show does cover events that have already had a week to get torn apart, it uses that extra time to add perspective. Airing Sunday nights, Oliver can look back at the week that was, giving fresh insight rather than in-the-moment snark. The show also wisely avoids putting all its cards in that super-topical basket. The best segments, such as the one on the Indian elections in the first episode, or last night’s excellent report on net neutrality, have played with a kind of infotainment that feels genuinely educational in a way that Stewart and Colbert’s shows only occasionally have the space for. Instead of having to play catch-up with Stewart, I now don’t even bother. I now turn to John Oliver’s single, rounded 30-minute show at the end of the week.

Of course, there’s also Oliver himself. The man did an incredible job holding the fort at The Daily Show when Stewart was away last summer, and he’s doing an even better job on his own show. There’s a special confidence Oliver has as a host, and it comes from his outsider’s astonishment and anger. I will often sit here in Toronto, looking at political and social issues in the United States, absolutely shocked and appalled at the things that go on. Oliver, as a Brit living in the U.S., clearly has that same feeling, only more so. The beauty of what he does is in how he channels that perspective right into his work, lending a special authority to his rage, where on Stewart the rage can often come off as whiny.

The best part is that Last Week Tonight is still new and has barely found its footing. It’s still a little rough around the edges. Some bits have worked better than others, and the show could use some more field segments. And yet every week, Oliver has grown more comfortable in his own shoes. The segments have better construction; jokes are becoming more and more on point. If the show is this good already, image how good it’ll be a year from now. I’m sure I’ll check in on my friends over at Comedy Central every now and then, but with Last Week Tonight kicking off my weeks, they just don’t seem as necessary.

You can follow Corey Atad on Twitter, or listen to his Mad Men podcast, Not Great, Pod!

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • _Alexander_

    Still can't scub those wrinkly balls out of my brain

  • mrsdalgliesh

    I can see choosing Last Week because of viewing time restrictions, but other comparisons seem unfair, since TDS and Colbert must come up with material 4X a week and JO and staff have a week to prepare. I'll celebrate them all.

  • Right. I don't meant to imply Last Week Tonight is doing a qualitatively better, job. Just that they're doing something slightly different, obviously in large part because they're able. It happens to be a sensibility I'm finding fresher and thus more enjoyable. I'm sure that'll change a bit as it becomes less new.

  • Erin Hawco

    this hour has 22 minutes was and it still hilarious, and it predates both the american shows...royal can....was terrible, don't lump them in together

  • LL

    Let's just bring up how sad the Canadian political satiric comedy genre is. We're supposed to be the leaders of exporting great comedians and yet our shows are so boring and tacky. The production value is half as good and so is the style.

  • John G.

    Why do you have to choose? They don't even conflict with each other if you're the last human on Earth not watching TV time shifted.

  • emmalita

    I love all three shows. And they while there will be much gnashing of teeth and wailing when 'Colbert' goes off the air, I will happily add Minority Report to the repertoire. I am thrilled that Oliver's show is turning out so well, and I hope everyone is watching the shit out of it.

  • e jerry powell

    Oh, I am watching the shit out of it. See all the poop on the living room floor?

  • cox

    and let us not forget he did an extended segment on death penalty in his second episode and showed full frontal old man shriveled penis in the third . the man is not slowing down.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Old man shriveled penis isn't exactly an offer I can't refuse, Coxie.

  • cox

    your priorities have changed, then?

  • Uriah_Creep


  • e jerry powell

    Good for you. Somehow I manage to fit all three shows (plus @midnight) into my schedule. I'm not bragging, but 710 words to justify not doing something you don't want to do when nobody's challenged you?

    Oliver is still, conveniently enough, displaying a loyalty to Daily Show (if partially by default, because HBO isn't going to give up a half-hour four nights a week) in that his show is not scheduled as direct competition to Stewart or Colbert. The idea is not that people stop watching anything (except whatever's on Showtime at 11 Eastern). The fact that you've chosen to drop Comedy Central to this extent says more about you than anything else.

    You do you, boo.

  • Enrique del Castillo

    Yeah, this. I mean, I watch both shows, which is easy because TDS is on Comedy Central early on the day after it airs, so why make them fight for your attention? They are both good, both offer different stuff (Jason Jones in India and Russia was amazing this year on TDS) and are good entertainment. They don't even share a timeslot!

  • This I'll answer.

    It's not a zero sum game, obviously. It's more like an issue of dosage. I like to get some media/political satire in my week, and I loved The Daily Show and have almost always watched it the next day online. But I've also got busy days, and recently much busier. So episodes build up, and then it becomes a chore to go through all of them. With Last Week Tonight there's something nice about it being just thirty minutes per week, where that build-up doesn't (at least not yet) happen. Easier for me to keep up with. Add to that the fresher voice, and I've found myself not even missing TDS or Colbert. It's not a conscious choice so much as how things have played out.

  • cox

    i been a huge fan of oliver for some time now. (seriously, people, go listen to the bugle). and even though he proved himself as the host of the daily show, i was terrified for him before this one - his particular brand of high brow, angry, clever political satire with dick jokes do not always translate well. and he is not confident, he is extremely neurotic comedian, and while it is adorable, i was afraid he would get chewed up by the industry.
    well. he most definitely proved me wrong. he picked a niche, he researched it well, and he sits in it comfortably. i couldnt be more happy for him.

  • emmalita

    Bugle high five!

  • cox

    *obligatory penis on the roof joke here*

  • emmalita

    Penis jokes are always funny. It is known.

  • BWeaves

    I'm so glad he's succeeding. Makes me wish I wasn't so cheap, but I hate to order the extra stations for just one or two shows.

  • cox

    they upload most of their segments to their youtube channel within few hours of airing. the best ones, certainly. look it up! i think like 60% of yesterdays show has been uploaded already.

  • BWeaves

    Good to know. Thanks

  • laylaness

    I think John Oliver's perspective is more unique than Colbert or Jon Stewart because he is a U.S. citizen from another first world country. Also, he has more latitude in his content, being on paid cable, and has a full 30 minutes with no ad interruptions.

  • Sean

    I think you just stated the most obvious part of the shows strength. No ads. The show doesn't have to worry about pissing off advertisers. A Viacom show could never attack GM the way Oliver did a few weeks ago.

  • Preach! I was actually getting annoyed watching the Net Neutrality segment last night as Oliver poked fun at this issue I've been bothering people about for months. But the wrap-up of the segment was just perfect. Exactly what it needed to be. Just the right blend of satire and call-to-action. Sooooo gooood.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I'm glad you pointed out the piece on the Indian elections. I remember thinking at the time how remarkable it was. It was truly educational, important, and extremely overlooked in the US.

  • cox

    i agree. it was hell of a ballsy move to open a new show with, and it payed up. it set him apart from others immediately.

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