Oliver raises stakes in satire game

My son Dan’s favourite new TV show is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. How, I wondered. The series airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on HBO Canada, a premium pay service I know his Ryerson U gang down at the Carleton Street bunker do not subscribe to.

Still, I shouldn’t be so surprised. These kids today, they steal everything. I know they haven’t missed a minute of Game of Thrones.

Then I find out any of us can steal a peak at Last Week Tonight. The best 10-13 minutes each week–such as this clip–is available for free on-line at YouTube.

The past two weeks, Oliver has delivered a blistering deconstruction of how the fix is in on the net neutrality debate as well as taking dead aim at the weasels who run FIFA. He’s a bit of a cross between Bill Maher and Rick Mercer, other guys who hold feet over fire on TV by roasting their targets through clever rants. Oliver–best known for his frequent appearances on The Daily Show–has the advantage of sounding a bit like Eric Idle from Monty Python. That this funny, satirical edge comes in a friendly and familiar (and foreign) package somehow makes it easier to swallow.

TVC4xe9CTHWdGD_1_200Clever Oliver exposes and savages the organized push behind a two-tier Internet future. “If we let cable companies offer two speeds of service,” he suggests, “they won’t be Usain Bolt and Usain Bolt on a motorbike. They’ll be Usain Bolt and Usain bolted to an anchor.”

He exposes the troubling, cozy relationship between cable companies and Washington, noting that U.S. president Barack Obama has appointed a top cable lobbyist to chair the Federal Communications Commission. “That is the equivalent of needing a baby sitter and hiring a dingo,” he mocks. “They are practically overseeing their own oversight.”

Whammo. Oliver throws bombs left and right, cutting his targets in half with humour. Taking on cable companies, it must be remembered, is tough talk from somebody on HBO. He compares the monopoly cable companies enjoy across America (and in Canada) to drug cartels. “You could not be describing a monopoly more clearly if you were wearing a metal top hat while driving a metal car after winning second prize in a beauty contest.” There are other corporate tweaks in this rant that would never, ever, ever play on commercial television.

He ends this rant with a call to arms from spelling-challenged Internet haters to comment-bomb the FCC web site. It is joyously subversive to behold.

The fact that it is all up for free–for now–on YouTube makes getting in on the Oliver fun accessible to all. As neatly explained here by Alan Sepinwall, HBO doesn’t usually allow its content to spill into free zones–that’s bad for the subscription TV business. They’ve made an exception for Oliver, however, banking his topical humour has to build buzz now and the best way to do that is to take advantage of YouTube’s incredible viral machine.

So, if you haven’t already, check out Oliver now–before Big Cable finds a way to shut him down.

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