“Well, well, well, this is weird, isn’t it?,” is how John Oliver kicked off a unique and somber Last Week Tonight on Sunday, and he’s not wrong. There was no studio audience for his signature ramped-up rants on the week’s main subject to whip into complexly reluctant laughter. Instead, Oliver sat in front of a chyron-dappled white void to deliver his 22-minute story on the coronavirus since both the Last Week Tonight offices and the New York CBS Broadcast Center where they usually tape have tested positive for the hot new virus that’s shutting down everything from all major sports (“plus, hockey,” adds Oliver), to the starting gun for the newest Fast And Furious movie. (Which is being pushed back a whole year, despite, as Oliver noted with disappointment, adding that nice John Cena to the cast.)
Oliver even allowed himself a strict 30-second clock of self-indulgent bitterness to complain that his lifelong favorite British football team Liverpool were “literally two games away from winning the league championship before games were suspended.” He goes over his time, but, like the rest of us, a little latitude over losing one of the few stupid and deeply unnecessary things that get us through this goddamned life isn’t too much to ask. (Like the goddamned baseball season, right? Do you have any idea how much certain people rely on the daily, seven-month-long rhythms of the greatest game humanity has ever invented in its misbegotten existence to provide some sort of improbably restorative diversion? Do you have any idea how long the winters are? Do you?!?)
Ahem. But, as Oliver noted once he’d collected himself, there are much bigger fish to fry if America is to weather this unprecedented viral storm with anything resembling grace, wisdom, and a functioning economy. Luckily, we’ve got stable, selfless, and responsible leadership in this country willing to put aside all pretense of ego and buck-passing in order to lessen the impact of what’s already proved a healthcare (not to say stock market) disaster with some science-based tough love. But enough about Doctor Anthony Fauci, immunology expert and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is perhaps the only person in any way associated with the Trump administration to fearlessly call out the sobering facts about what the virus is and what American’s really need to be doing to blunt its damage. Oliver spent much of his lonely segment (apart from a heartfelt tribute to that instructional hamster teaching everyone more concrete steps to prevent coronavirus that anyone but Dr. Fauci) laying much of the blame for this mounting crisis at the feet of, well, you can probably guess.
Oliver went after every level of the Trump administration’s so-called leadership, starting with Donald Trump’s shameless deflection of the slightest criticism of his woefully unprepared and scattershot response (including calling “nasty” reporter Yamiche Alcindor’s legitimate question about how he disbanded the White House pandemic office). He laid into Trump surrogates (like U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams) pleading with other reporters to stop asking such inconvenient questions of his boss, and venal hucksters like Alex Jones (he of the non-working corona-fighting Alex Jones-branded toothpaste) and Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, who, to be fair, wasn’t selling anything but idiotically irresponsible misinformation about a 10-second breath-holding test to see if it’s okay for you to start mingling unprotected in large groups. (Oliver proposed a slightly longer such test—but just for Geraldo.) And don’t get Oliver started on Trump’s favorite cosplaying fascist and former sheriff David Clarke, who told everyone on Twitter that this whole worldwide pandemic is just a commie plot to keep red-blooded ’Muricans from their God-given right to cough directly into each others’ bar nachos. (Actually, that happened too late for Oliver to get to this week, but the rest of the world is dragging Clarke’s deadly conspiracy bullshit just fine in Oliver’s absence.)
“Look, I know things are currently very scary,” concluded Oliver, and, once more, he’s right. From the very real shortage of hospital beds and life-saving ventilators for the coming waves of the sick, to the pressing fears of the elderly and immunocompromised who are most at risk, to the as-yet-unknown economic impact of the call for people to stay home and business to close, Oliver noted that the coming weeks (“and, more likely, months”) are going to be an “unsettling and potentially lonely time.” Still, eschewing all ass-covering, mealy-mouthed spin on the crisis is oddly reassuring, coming from a public figure like Oliver, as was his resolutely co-signed sign-off, Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.”