UPDATE: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver may have opened to mixed reviews, but people were certainly willing to give the former Daily Show correspondent a chance! The premiere of the British comedian’s new show opened with a strong 1.1 million viewers Sunday night at 11pm EST, rising to 1.4 million viewers after a second play. Oliver’s HBO debut followed a new episode of Veep which attracted 922,000 viewers, meaning the new satirical news show retained and added to the loyal HBO subscribers who tuned into the preceding Emmy Award-winning sitcom. To give you a comparison, Comedy Central is available in about three times as many homes as HBO. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart averages about 1.5 million viewers on new 11pm episodes and The Colbert Report averages 1.2 million viewers at 11:30pm. HBO’s other topical talk show Real Time with Bill Maher averages 1.2 million viewers on new episodes on Friday nights at 10pm. If Last Week Tonight can hold up these numbers, HBO may have founded its latest comedy staple.
If HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver seemed a little familiar Sunday night, it’s because you’ve seen this format before. The new HBO week-in-review show is essentially a weekly version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart…with John Oliver…with a fresh hair cut. Oliver sits behind a desk with a similar New York City back drop and discusses news events by satirizing select video clips from the world’s real news media. Complete with fun graphics and witty retorts, the British host points out the insanity of the news headlines we have silently accepted as rational. During the final five minutes, he sits down with a high-ranking guest (this week it was former NSA head General Keith Alexander). Even his office is nearby his old Comedy Central stomping grounds. So what separates this show from the one he just left?
Just like how You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes is a flattering rip-off of WTF with Marc Maron, Oliver differentiates his show by the innate fact that it’s him behind the desk and not Jon Stewart. There’s also a lot more room for his team to try edgier stunts on HBO, the premium cable channel where almost anything goes. He seemed to silently revel in his first on-air “fuck” as he emphatically held that labiodental letter with joy. In last night’s episode, he did not do any man-on-the-street or sketch segments. Rather, he stayed behind the desk with interesting segments, like John McCain Tells The Same Joke Six Different Times, which busts the Arizona senator for saying the exact same metaphorical line about Russia on several different news shows.
Oliver’s point of view appears to be more worldly and if last night is any indication, his show will draw from the international news media just as much as the goings-on here at home. He spent a majority of last night’s debut episode talking about the upcoming election in India that will feature over 800 million voters. Surprisingly, India has their own Fox News-like cable channel featuring “the shouting match model” developed here in the States. Oliver’s team curated an entertaining mix of clips showing as many as 10 different Indian pundits in separate split-screens talking over each other in an all-too-familiar fashion.
After a successful stint as host of Jon Stewart’s show fill-in host last summer, there was no questioning why HBO approached the former Daily Show correspondent last November to helm his own late night entry. The new host has his work cut out for him to attract fans of The Daily Show and more to HBO on Sunday nights, but he is more than capable of delivering intelligent and hilarious satire. He certainly comes across as a Daily Show-trained host, but HBO could probably use some of that for viewers not attracted to the in-your-face attitude of Real Time with Bill Maher. Even Oliver’s new network seems to be taking a page from the Comedy Central playbook by uploading the new episode to YouTube for anyone to see the morning after it aired. So if you miss Jon Stewart on the weekends, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is like a “weeklier” Daily Show but with more f-bombs and potential nudity.
You can watch the first full episode of Last Week Tonight on HBO’s YouTube page here or check out another clip from last night’s show below!