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John Oliver celebrates his big Emmy night by trying to scuttle his parent company's merger on Last Week Tonight

(Screenshot: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver)

John Oliver celebrated his first Last Week Tonight after cleaning up at the Emmys as only he can—with an appetizer of Trump mockery, some fart noises, and a comically hearty examination of yet another way America needs to get its fucking act together. On the Trump front, Oliver and the writers went topical on how the supposed leader of the nation spent all weekend waging a bigot-base-pleasing Twitter war against black athletes engaging in silent protest of police brutality and racial injustice rather than—just as a suggestion—focusing on the fact that hundreds of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico have had their island home virtually annihilated by a hurricane. (For those with souls, Lin-Manuel Miranda recommends anyone interested in taking up the slack donate to Hispanic Federation.) Noting that Trump’s crusade against black people taking a knee (as opposed to “very fine people” at torch-wielding Nazi rallies supporting traitors who attacked America) shows disrespect to the flag, Oliver noted that, perhaps, “grinding it against your gnarled old boner” (insert mental picture of candidate Trump humping a flag onstage) is more of an insult.

But, moving on to the meat of the episode, Oliver took one of his signature exploratory expeditions into the gaping maw of American greed, this time casting his torch over the festering capitalist tumor that is unchecked corporate consolidation. (And, yes, the medical industry’s shrinkage to just a handful of insurance providers falls into that category, so that metaphor holds up just fine, thank you.) Sure, Oliver concedes that that’s not the sexiest topic, but, as ever, the host makes the journey worth a healthy number of laughs, and an unhealthy amount of rage-bile. Noting how major industries from air travel (where four huge airlines control 80 per cent of all traffic), to the rental car industry, to banks, to eyewear, to even the casket business are controlled by a tiny (and shrinking) number of mega-corporations, Oliver explained all the reasons why this corporate monopolization screws over, well, everyone. Remember that poor bastard who had his teeth knocked out when he was dragged off a United flight after refusing to give up a seat he paid for? As Oliver notes, the fact is that consolidation often means that, should you actually want to go anywhere, it’s United or, well, look at the header image for this article.


Oliver, ever eager to invite controversy and bite some hands that feed him, even took aim at HBO’s parent company, Time Warner, and its current attempt to merge with telecommunications giant AT&T. After attacking United and the other airlines’ consolidation-abetted indifference to customer service (and not knocking fliers’ teeth out), he brought the whole thing back to his corporate masters’ doorstep, comparing the airlines excessive fees “raised for no reason for shitty service” to Time Warner’s potential merger-bride, AT&T. He also closed the show with a remote appearance from lawsuit “co-defendant” Mr. Nutterbutter, reminding everyone that Last Week Tonight doesn’t give a fuuuuck. At least not about pissing off those whose callous greed threatens Americans’ well-being. (Oh, the fart noises were inserted into the performatively frantic antics of Mad Money host and “business casual Louis CK,” Jim Cramer. Being ridiculous and frequently wrong about the U.S. economy while pushing big red buttons on your TV show is a rookie move, Cramer. Congrats on that Emmy, Last Week Tonight.)

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.