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TV That Matters: ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’

By Christina Murphy

COLUMNIST

Photo courtesy of Crooksandliars.com.

Every once in a while you meet a guy who just gets it. You feel like you can tell him anything and he’d understand. Hey, he’d even share something equally as personal with you. He’s just that type of guy. For me this guy is John Oliver. You may know Oliver from his work on “The Daily Show,” most notably filling in for Jon Stewart last summer while Stewart directed his first feature film, “Rosewater.” Or you may know him as snarky alcoholic Professor Duncan on “Community.” He now has his own weekly satirical news show on HBO called “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

Oliver is perceived as having a very objective outsider point of view on American politics and culture, which can probably be attributed to his adorable British accent. If you are unfamiliar with Oliver’s incredibly trusting and friendly disposition: he sounds like the narrator of a BBC nature documentary and looks like Remy, the tiny rat chef from “Ratatouille.”

The show is on HBO, a cable network that does not rely on ad sales for revenue, so there are very little corporate interests in the program. This gives Oliver more creative control over the content on his show and removes most ulterior motives that can be latent in network news reporting.

John Oliver has truly set himself apart from other satirical news anchors of his kind. He is not playing a character, like Colbert; he is not trying to sway your politics, like Stewart; he is not incredibly insensitive, like Maher; he is just providing an analytical criticism of the news, but more importantly criticizing how news is reported.

In last week’s episode Oliver takes on the blown-out-of-proportion news coverage of the Ebola patient in New York City, matched up audio of Supreme Court cases to video footage of animals in a court room and tackled the overwhelming trend of inappropriately sexy Halloween costumes.

Thanks to the Internet, he was able to provide viewers with a photo of a real life “Sexy John Oliver” costume. The episode includes a segment called “Great Minds, People Who Think Good” which is an interview with chimpanzee researcher, Dr. Jane Goodall. Oliver asks the primatologist if she’s ever considered giving one of her chimps a top hat, monocle and silver tray and using him as a butler. She adamantly rebuffs his trivial questions, but they eventually make amends enough to speak in chimp and eat bananas together. It’s adorable.

His magnum opus of the episode was his less-than-sweet attack on the sugary food manufacturing industry. He claims that Americans consume about 75 pounds of sugar a year, which he compares to consuming Michael Cera’s weight in sugar. These facts are startling, especially for someone with a tenacious sweet tooth, such as myself. I believe my annual sugar consumption to be more on par with the weight of Jonah Hill circa 2007.

As a matter of fact, even as I am writing this I am sucking on my second aptly named Dum-Dum. His main point with this piece is that food labels should be more transparent. It’s not so much the overly sugary treats that are causing the overconsumption, but rather the added sugar in everyday food items, like ketchup, cranberry juice and everyone’s favorite clam and tomato juice, Clamato.    

He proposes that rather than disputing over grams and teaspoons, sugar should be measured by how many marshmallow circus peanuts worth of sugar it is comprised of. He calls his audience to action, asking that they tweet at sugary food manufacturers using the hashtag #ShowUsYourPeanuts, demanding food label transparency.

John Oliver has mastered the art of satirical news. He presents his analysis of the news in a way that not necessarily interjects his opinion on his audience, but rather just provides a needed logic to the situation. “Last Week Tonight” is on HBO, Sundays at 11:00 p.m., available for streaming on HBOgo and probably all over your Facebook news feed every Monday morning.

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