In its second episode of the young season, Last Week Tonight took a break from its usual mission of examining the untold damage credulous dimwits wreak by not seeing through the flim-flam bluster of a pandering TV conman to talk about psychics. You know, those spooky morning show and basic cable conduits to gullible people’s bank accounts like John Edward, Long Island Medium and “what would happen if you added too much baking powder to Edie Falco” Theresa Caputo, Hollywood Medium and “anime drawing of Jared Kushner” Tyler Henry, the late (or is she?) and famously incorrect Sylvia Browne, and others.
Now one might ask why Oliver took time out from comically chronicling the imminent collapse of democracy, sanity, and the rule of law in America to go on a 20-minute speed bag pummeling of such obvious and laughable hucksters. (He did spend the top of the show pointing out that Republicans’ transparent “voter fraud” election-grubbing bounced back hard in North Carolina, where the state GOP got caught literally attempting to steal a congressional election.) Well, for one thing, it’s fun. Showing an undercover sting of some crystal-wobbling, $160-a-pop grifter in the parking lot of a Denny’s is just good television. (While the testimony of a young woman named Amanda Berry who had to watch the camera-happy Browne tell her mother that the kidnapped, watching, and very-much-alive Berry was dead will make you want to smash things.) But, as Oliver notes, there’s untold cash to be scammed from the pockets of the vulnerable, desperate, and not-all-that-clever, an industry replete with “a vast underworld of unscrupulous vultures,” who swoop down on terrified parents of missing children and irresponsibly vapid talk show enablers alike. Oliver puts the blame for perpetuating this nonsense squarely on the morning show chatterboxes like Meredith Viera, Steve Harvey, Montel Williams, Drs. Oz and Phil, and, in one glowingly gullible segment, “sophisticated Manhattan sex monster” Matt Lauer. Shown extolling the gifts of Hollywood Henry for somehow divining the eminently Google-able fact that Lauer used to go fishing with his dad, Oliver noted that it’s clear that the thoroughly for-cause fired Lauer is touched, “and this time he didn’t have to pressure a subordinate to do it.”
Still, pointing out the fact that vast segments of the American public (some 4 in 10, according to Oliver’s figures) believe the mystical pipeline to a proposed afterlife runs between cooking segments might seem too simple a task for Oliver’s signature satirical scalpel. It’s just in Oliver’s summation of the ongoing success of these button-pushing, TV-ready swindlers that perhaps his attraction to Sunday’s main story comes out. As Oliver puts it, “Logic isn’t the reason that you believe in them and it won’t be the reason that you stop.” So maybe mockery will fare better, especially since Oliver brought back frequent guest (and fake TV wife) Wendy Jo Oliver (Rachel Dratch.) Having found new life (and a new, Staten Island accent) as a psychic talk show fixture, Dratch’s Wendy Jo and Wakey Wakey With John Oliver host Oliver steered people to a pair of HBO-purchased websites, wandajothefreepsychic.com and the perfectly named mediumimpressive.com. There, the medium curious can get a helping of vague guesswork that’s at least funny—and free.