Sometimes, the news can get a little dreary to watch.
These days, that’s true more often than not. Watching the nightly news can be more of an exercise of self-control, resisting the urge to throw a shoe at the television screen.
Or it could be for some people, anyway.
And that’s why we have shows that allow some much-needed fun to be poked at those folks in Washington who insist on doing things at which fun needs to be poked.
Or at least some people think they do, anyway.
Beyond the monologues and periodic segments provided by late-night talk-show hosts – Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, most specifically – programs including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” which hews its predecessor’s practice of pointing out the ridiculousness and intellectual inconsistencies of those in power; its companion in time-slot but not in perspective, “The Opposition,” in which host Jordan Klepper takes on the persona of a far-right opportunist and conspiracy theorist (and conspiracy creator, which, in these days where no one believes anything, is surprisingly easy) who represents the anti-mainstream media, the other side of whatever the prevailing story is (hence the show’s title); and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” on TBS, who holds nothing back in her contempt for the administration and current events – with a keen eye for the continuing assaults on women – and offers pointed commentary with a side of frustration and exasperation for the goings-on of the country.
But the master, perhaps, of all of these shows that take aim at the news and try to put into some kind of perspective for the ordinary (read: sane) viewer is John Oliver, and his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight,” which returns for its fifth season Sunday.
Oliver, whose breakdown of the week’s events is short but barbed in all the right places, takes full advantage of the lack of restrictions on content or language. And the added benefit of not having to break for commercials – and the general disregard premium (and sometimes regular) cable programs have for abiding by their time-slot parameters – gives his show a slight edge in length if not thoroughness of concise conveyance of communicated disgust.
He can, in other words, say what we might be saying at home
Oliver’s strength is not only his Britishness – that he approaches the stories of our country with an outsider’s perspective helps to highlight some of the underlying inanity – but he devotes a large section of his show, anywhere from 14 to 20-plus minutes, unheard of outside newsmagazine shows (“60 Minutes,” “Dateline,” “20/20” – hour-long shows that can afford to spend a third of their airtime on one story), on one relevant topic.
He dives into that topic so thoroughly that, whether it’s corporate consolidation of industries, the removal of Confederate monuments, or the original family name (it’s Drumpf), these segments are so well-researched and thoughtfully produced, even a proponent of his chosen target might be convinced to think otherwise.
Regardless, his approach to the craziness that passes for what comes out of Washington, and what is often overlooked in the rest of the country, is a slice of sanity in an otherwise messed-up world. And it doesn’t hurt that Oliver is free to phrase that last bit a different way. The fifth season of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on HBO. For a taste of what Oliver delivers, HBO.com is full of clips from past shows; watch and enjoy.
Reliving those awkward years: Remember high school, when, if you weren’t part of the cool crowd, life could be a little bit, well, isolating? It didn’t matter if you had friends with like-minded interests, but should you want to venture outside of those safe zones, things could be a little bit dicey, especially if your particular status didn’t imbue you with the kind of confidence that came with being an athlete or a cheerleader. And, yes, we all know the beautiful people had their problems, too; we’ve seen “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Riverdale.” But from the perspectives of those kids in, say, the AV or the drama clubs, those other kids had it made. The show “Freaks and Geeks” wasn’t titled “Athletes and Cheerleaders” for a reason. But looking back on those days – and, in this case, we’re talking about 1996 – you might be inclined to have thought everything was terrible. And that’s exactly the point of Netflix’s latest release, “Everything Sucks!” Available for streaming Friday, the coming-of-age tale follows the misfits of an Oregon high school – no kidding, the town’s name is Boring – AV club and a drama club, and how their worlds collide when a boy from the AV club likes a girl from the drama club. The parents of said kids have their own coming-of-age moments as well, acting like kids while their children test the waters growing up. The quirky comedy/drama exploits its time-capsule era thoroughly, with plenty of jokes about the slang of the day, an analysis of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” and the nascent dial-up Internet. Children of the ’90s — your time to reminisce starts now.