John Oliver made his bid to be Jon Stewart’s fifth night with the debut of his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The Sunday satirical look at the previous week’s news is closely modeled on Stewart’s weeknight Comedy Central hit The Daily Show — minus the ads.
This week was a tough one for unrepentant racists around audio equipment, Oliver said at the top of his first episode. Clippers owner Donald Sterling impressively one-upped the week’s previous Most Racist Person, Cliven Bundy, who, Oliver noted, giving credit where it’s due, provoked the single greatest introduction to an interview in the history of the English language: CNN’s Chris Cuomo saying, “Mr. Bundy, I see in your arms that you are holding a dead calf.”
In honor of the state of Oregon having spent a quarter of a billion dollars on its non-functioning website for Obamacare — the state finally threw in the towel and told its residents to go to the federal site to sign up — Oliver mocked the state’s “violently adorable” ad campaign for its broken site with one created by his staff. You Stupid Oregon Idiots featured Lisa Loeb singing such memorable lines as, “your passion for cuteness might kill your whole state.” (Watch video below.)
Oliver spent a long time in his premiere episode going through the general election in India. It’s a story that has not been covered by American TV news outlets, he scolded, even though one fifth of the world’s working-age population lives there, and the outcome will have a direct economic impact on the U.S. Frontrunner Narendra Modi has a populist platform that promises toilets in every home, Oliver said. Modi’s also news because he’s been making campaign appearances via hologram. “And that is how you convince undecided voters — ‘He appeared to me as a hologram and said he’d give me a toilet!’,” Oliver deadpanned, adding, “That’s not just how you get elected — that’s how religions are started.” Oliver also noted the CNN channel in India has been covering the election using the banner “A Billion Votes: Battle for 2014.”
“Little fact check,” Oliver snickered, “India has has just over 800 million voters — so their own graphic is wrong by the entire population of Brazil.”
In another segment, John McCain Tells The Same Joke Six Different Times, the senator is seen telling the joke “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country” over and over.
Last November, when HBO announced it had signed Comedy Central’s The Daily Show correspondent to host the weekly news riff, the network’s programming chief Michael Lombardo said the network wasn’t looking for another weekly talk show, “but when we saw John Oliver handling host duties on The Daily Show, we knew that his singular perspective and distinct voice belonged on HBO.” Oliver had received rave reviews, and solid ratings, when he filled in for Stewart, while Stewart directed his film Rosewater.
Oliver’s debut made a major play for social media success, while covering the POM Wonderful lawsuit against Coca-Cola that’s now before the Supreme Court. POM Wonderful claims Coca-Cola is misrepresenting a competitive drink that is actually 99% apple and grape juices. Coca Cola has argued it’s allowed to give its product a name that refers to juices that provide the “characterizing flavor.” In the segment, Oliver detailed other alleged misleading claims made by food manufacturers, including POM Wonderful’s about the medicinal value of pomegranate juice, and a breakfast cereal’s claim that children who eat the cereal performed better in school than other children — the other children in the test having been given no breakfast at all, Oliver noted.
“If companies can do this, than so can you,” Oliver told his viewers. “You could, for instance, put stickers on a bottle of POM Wonderful claiming that it contains four whole Pomeranians. Or banners saying Frosted Mini-Wheats are “Arguably Preferable to Hunger.” In fact, you would be constitutionally empowered to go online to this address (points to Facebook.com/lastweektonight), print a selection of labels out, and stick them to existing food packaging. Now, the worst thing you could do is go into a store and put these products on shelves because that would be breaking the law — in the funniest way imaginable,” Oliver warned. “And if you were to do it — which you absolutely should not — do NOT take a photograph and send it our show’s official Twitter account, because that is something I would ‘not’ be interested in seeing. .. And — and this is key — don’t blame me if you get into trouble over this, because even though I might be 99.7% responsible, my 0.3 percent innocence is my characterizing flavor.”
On the show’s Facebook page it says: “Here are the fake nutrition labels that we showed on tonight’s premiere. Print them out and tape them to food items you have at home. But please do NOT use them for hilarious acts of public vandalism. And if you do that, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT tweet them to us at @LastWeekTonight. That would be a crime. A very funny crime.”
Watch Oliver’s debut segments here: