As funny as John Oliver’s initial news recap salvo is on each Sunday’s Last Week Tonight (his takedown of Trump’s picks for the Federal Reserve, Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, will make you laugh uproariously as you convert your life savings into emergency rations and composting toilets), it’s his signature investigative pieces that steal the show. Partly, that’s because it really gives his particular clipped and creative insult game time to breathe, and partly thanks to Last Week Tonight’s truly impressive dedication to stripping away the latest heartless goon’s bullshit defenses, one by one.
On that score, Oliver asks you to meet one Frank Rolfe, a mobile home tycoon whose business practices Oliver presents as both cartoonishly evil, and indicative of the burgeoning field of snapping up the very homes of the poorest American homeowners and shaking every last nickel out of them. Noting that the hot investment trend for companies like billionaire Warren Buffett’s Clayton Homes to purchase mobile home parks and price its residents into decidedly more mobile homelessness, Oliver explained the Mr. Burns-ian scam succinctly. After a clip of an elderly homeowner explaining how the price gouging of Buffett’s company is causing her to skip her necessary medication, Oliver summed up her plight, saying, “That woman may lose her home so The Carlyle Group, an investment firm with $216 billion in assets, can make more money for their shareholders.” A phrase which, Oliver noted, “if the concept of income inequality came to life, that is the sentence it would scream when it orgasmed.”
But on to John Rolfe, whose role in jacking up fees, payments, and hardship on his captive tenants (since, for the vast majority of mobile home owners, the whole “mobile” thing is just fun word) put him on Oliver’s asshole radar. After reading out Rolfe’s infamous quote about his business model being “like running a Waffle House where people are chained to the booth,” Oliver admitted that Rolfe has a whole section on his website explaining how he was taken out of context. So, naturally, Oliver enrolled in Rolfe’s “Mobile Home University,” where Rolfe gloated to potential investors that he “holds all the cards,” and that, should people in his mobile home parks object, they can just leave. Bad, but it’s not like Rolfe treats his tenants—who own their homes but not the land under them—like hostages, right? Well, Oliver, having enrolled in Rolfe’s audi seminar as well, plays a clip where Rolfe explicitly says exactly that.
But hanging a greedy, smirking jackass with his own, forever-recorded words is only one club in Oliver’s bag. Recruiting The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden, Oliver and company recreated a mobile home industry marketing commercial from earlier in the episode, with Carden’s more factual spiel about the pitfalls and financial traps involved in making a mobile home purchase spelled out in starkly chilling detail. With her blankly chipper friend repeatedly not getting the point in a decidedly Stepford Wives-esque way, Carden could only break down in mounting horror at the inescapable bind predatory capitalism has left her in. As Oliver put it when discussing the Jordan Peele-vibe creepiness of Rolfe’s Waffle House analogy, this is, for lots of Americans, a social thriller playing out in real life.