John Oliver may have made a name for himself on The Daily Show, but over the course of the year he has shown himself to be a top-notch host in his own right. Tackling some of the most pressing and most ignored cultural and political issues of the time, he has delivered searing indictments of misconduct and stupidity with humor and common sense. This week’s episode was the season finale of Last Week Tonight‘s first season and the team of pole-dancing rotisserie chickens, supreme court pups and the plucky Brit himself will be back in 2015 for season two. But before putting the wraps on his stellar freshman season, John Oliver took a look at state lotteries and some of the problems with them. including addiction and pool-peeing.
Before getting to the main story of the night, however, Oliver did a quick “Recap of the Week” in which Turkey, New York and salmon all made an appearance. From that description, it might sound like a culinary expose of hipster Thanksgiving recipes, but there was actually news in the segment, albeit not terribly important news. Starting out in Turkey (the country, not the bird), Oliver talked about President Erdogan’s gigantic presidential palace and its 1,000 rooms. He suggested that there was probably a “Piven-ary” with the largest collection of Jeremy Piven photographs outside of the actor’s own home. But the house has not been without controversy as it is massively expensive and not that conservationist friendly. This controversy prompted the Hostus Mostus to give kudos to the horse who last year crushed Erdogan’s balls, which are huge judging from his response to the controversy.
New York was up next with its announcement of the sale of “.nyc” web addresses, 400 of which were bought by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an attempt to keep the most offensive and mocking ones out of the public’s hands. But Oliver pointed out that he missed a few and put a list on screen of all the addresses still available, and encouraged his viewers to go out and by their favorites. Because, as he said, “There is no better feeling on earth than owning something a desperate billionaire is trying to purchase.” While that was funny, the next news story was downright the best thing ever to appear on the news. The new “Salmon Cannon” by Whooshh Innovations has spawned a slow motion video of salmon being launched out of a cannon set to classical music. Inspired by the sheer elegance of flying fish, Oliver and his crew created their own cannon to launch salmon and they spent some time finding out all the places it launched to. This was unquestionably the funniest segment of the night, so no spoilers will be given about the locations of the flying salmon. But by itself this bit was worth watching the episode, even the part where state lotteries are actually horrifying.
After the awesome-ness of the salmon story, Oliver did have to wrap up his show and the season with a look at why state lotteries are actually horrifying. He began by explaining the premise the lotteries are sold to people as philanthropic organizations which fund education in the state. America sees around $68 billion in profits from lottery sales, which sounds like it might be a good thing for education. Oliver was there to explain why it is not a good thing. First of all, the amount of people addicted to gambling is worrying and as states branch out from lottery tickets to video poker machines and even a phone application, they give addicts even more opportunity to ruin their lives. States do not even offer good help to those who are addicts, making their billions in profits morally suspect. The state of Oregon got quite a tongue-lashing from Oliver which also has its own lottery and has some of the worst commercials for it ever.
Another problem with the whole scheme is the simple fact that most schools do not see the money they are supposed to get from lotteries. Why is that exactly? Well, it is a little bit like trying to pee in only one corner of a pool and have it stay there. Money in state budgets rarely goes to what it is allocated for, in fact it is downright impossible to determine where it all goes. Just like the pee in the pool, it disappears into the whole and there is not even a warm spot to show where it once was. Oliver’s conclusion on the whole deal was that it is “bad for losers, often bad for winners and a pretty compromising way to assist state budgets.” All in all, that is a pretty damning portrait of state activities and just one of the many causes which Oliver has turned a spotlight on.
The entire season of Last Week Tonight has been an adventure in the efficacy of comedic journalism. Unlike the satire of Stephen Colbert or the scattershot jokes of Jon Stewart, Oliver has shown that a comedy show can stay on target and be informative while also being hilarious. Oliver has been just as much of a teacher as he has a comedian and he has created a formula which works. That may be one of the reasons why HBO decided to renew the series for another season, but whatever the rationale audiences everywhere will be thankful. Out of the many voices of reason coming out of political comedy, John Oliver is a voice of reason outshining them all and getting the show renewed is a testament to that. But John Oliver could not do it by himself, which is why the season finale wrapped up after its look at state lotteries with a tribute to all the kooky characters who helped him make along the way, including the singing puppets and break dancing Abraham Lincoln. The only sad part was that viewers will have to wait until 2015 to see anymore of Oliver’s spot-on comedy.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury