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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver spends his last show of the season still raging from Trump purgatory

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Addressing the fact that he and his HBO skeleton crew have remained in responsible studio lockdown since the pandemic hit us like a frozen freight train full of medical waste, John Oliver assessed his blank, audience-free void, speculating, “I don’t think [it’s] Purgatory, but I can’t prove otherwise.” We can dig it, as, in this, the last Last Week Tonight of the season, Oliver once more was stuck trying to make anyone in this god- and reason-forsaken nation listen to a cheeky British man warning it that the water in the tinpot Trump administration we’re living under is getting awfully fucking hot.


Noting that, of course, he’d like to be doing a story about a world whose unending injustices and abominations at least don’t include the festering turd of Donald Trump in the White House, a clearly fed up Oliver, instead, warned viewers as he gestured to an over-the-shoulder Trump, “Instead, we have to talk about this asshole.” You know which asshole—the one promoting base conspiracy theories to his gun-totin’, Democratic governor-kidnappin’, bigot mob of a base. The one refusing to concede an election he’s now lost by—poetic justice ahead—the exact same margin he claimed as a “massive landslide” when he won in 2016. The one that Republicans have—almost to a sniveling, sycophantic, traitorous person—continued to humor, prop up, and echo, even as President-elect Joe Biden attempts to start rectifying some of the broken, infectious, and otherwise fucked-up pieces Trump has left in his tetchy toddler’s wake. That asshole.

Taking one last deep breath for the road until Last Week Tonight comes back after the new year, Oliver went through the increasingly sweaty and ludicrous claims of election fraud by Trump and his bootlicking GOP and right-wing media toadies. Including the supposed dead voters (there weren’t any, apart from one Pennsylvania Republican who was efficiently arrested for trying to vote as his dead mom), evilly rigged voting machines (Trump’s own election security commission says this was “the most secure in American history”), and wild-eyed ranting from reams upon reams of Trump-lovin’ conspiracy nuts whose claims of poll workers “rolling their eyes” when supposedly counting Trump votes are held up by Fox News and other white grievance outlets as proof of a vast, diabolical Democratic scheme to steal the presidency. (While somehow forgetting to also gain control of the Senate. Whoopsie.) And while Oliver noted—and proved throughout—that it’s easy and hilarious to mock Fox hate-enthusiast Laura Ingraham for interviewing a witness protection-disguised supposed whistleblower who swears she saw Biden operatives changing votes against the side of an Arizona polling station against the side of their own, brightly-branded Biden/Harris van, he also noted that Trump and the GOP’s collective decision to stoke meritless distrust in our elections has real, potentially ugly consequences.

As in the interview where a clearly shaken (and Republican) official in charge of counting votes explains how ranting mobs of Trump fans outside his offices routinely send him and his staff death threats. Or that armed Trump/QAnon fanboys were arrested plotting to storm a voting station. Or how Trump’s Republican-abetted unwillingness to concede his obvious defeat is keeping the actual next president from accessing COVID-19 plans, even though we are now in the worst stretch of “uncontrolled spread” so far—right before the holidays. Or how (and here forgive Oliver, as he taped the finale on Saturday), on Sunday, Trump’s hand-picked COVID czar (and not-expert on infectious disease) Scott Atlas urged Michigan voters to “rise up” against Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s plan for a statewide shutdown. And, yeah, that’s the same Governor Whitmer a pack of Trump stans actively plotted to kidnap and murder—for ordering common-sense COVID safety guidelines. (Atlas is now panic-backpedaling that he totally didn’t mean “rise up,” like “rise up-rise up,” after, one suspects, a call from the FBI).

Joe Biden is our next president. And Oliver, wrapping up a long, long year, did take the time to remind everybody, “The fact that Trump won’t be president next year is good. It’s really good.” But, as he put it after four seasons’ of digging deep into the darkest and oiliest crevices of this monstrous administration, it’s “unforgivable” that Trump is delivering one, last curb-stomp to our nation’s institutions and citizenry by desperately shaking every dangerous nutjob in the land to a paranoid frenzy, all the while letting “a deadly virus run wild” while he rage-tweets from the crapper. “As a parting gift to the country, Trump is somehow managing to divide us even further while also hobbling his successor at the worst possible time,” said Oliver. As Oliver put it with the frustrated rage of one who’s seemingly spent and entire season of TV screaming into the void, “There is a lot of work to do. And, at least in the short term, things are going to suck for a while.” Good luck everyone. See you in February.

(Oh, and to keep GOP obstructionist ghoul Mitch McConnell in check, help flip Georgia’s two senate seats here. No, the election season is still not over. Maybe this is Purgatory.)

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