Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Last Week Tonight returned this week, and Sunday’s show saw John Oliver back at it, somehow making a 20-minute segment about a seemingly intractable problem simultaneously infuriating, dispiriting, educational, inspirational, and entertaining. That even though, as Oliver pointed out when highlighting the English philanthropist who’s found that Americans are far more in need of free medical pop-up clinics than the rest of the world’s people, “Normally, Americans hate it when a British person comes over to diagnose what’s wrong with you.” Still, if any nation on Earth is in more need of a cheeky naturalized Englishman to airdrop reminders about why, say, Susan Collins (R-ME) is the poster child for Republican gullibility, complicity, and hypocrisy when it comes to Donald Trump (“She can tell Trump doesn’t learn anything because he kept having kids after Donald Trump Jr.”), it’s us in the U.S. And that goes double for Oliver’s main story about Medicare For All, the Democratic hot potato issue so radioactive to Fox News that they keep wheeling out “Sarah Palin’s fourth attempt at cloning herself” to scare its elderly viewership by essentially putting on a monkey mask and screaming “SOCIALISM! BOOGA BOOGA!*” (Only slightly more ridiculous than Fox Business host Kennedy sneering about “sicko socialism” when introducing her own nuanced examination of the undeniably complex health care issue.)

Well, Oliver isn’t afraid of nuance, as he freely admitted throughout his Medicare For All piece that the idea of scrapping the massive, savings-sucking web of private health insurance is so “very complicated” that some Democrats like Pete Buttigieg have chosen to serve up a watery alternative instead. A plan whose retention of the current system while offering up a crappy “public option” alternative Oliver compares to a shit sandwich being replaced by “a slightly smaller shit sandwich with a side of guac.” Still, as the plans for all-inclusive, no-cost medical care proposed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the ones that Oliver notes he “personally argue[s] would be worth it,” this isn’t Fox News or the shrieking my-way-or-fuck-you hellscape of the internet, so Oliver ran down just how daunting a task passing, designing, and implementing such a change would be. He mocked Sanders’ rousing promises that everything you hate will be gone (even those darn Geico commercials) while admitting that even a hugely complicated rejiggering of the unthinkably profitable healthcare industry is worth doing. And, as ever, he brought the very human receipts.

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You know, like the family whose GoFundMe for their 2-year-old’s eye surgery sees them desperately trying to come up with the catchiest hashtag to snag the attention of people already swamped with online pleas for help with medical expenses. Or the woman who explains how she’s had to prioritize which life-saving medicine she takes every day. (Heart meds usually trump diabetes, although not always.) Or the Utah insurer that’s offering customers a free round-trip flight (plus $500) to Mexico every time they need to fill a prescription, because that’s cheaper than sending them to an local Provo Walgreens. Is that anecdotal evidence of a thoroughly, monstrously broken healthcare system unfair? Well, no less so than Fox favorite, scholarly laughingstock, and Nazi-adjacent blowhard Sebastian Gorka, shown donning that scary mask to tell Fox’s jumpy viewership about how even the rich and famous would have to wait around for a bit to get necessary medical procedures just like the rest of us peasants if the United States ever made it so everyone had access to the exact same level of care.

Oliver isn’t all heart-tugs and cutting asides, though, as he—as is his way—laid out a three-part examination of the not-inconsiderable objections to Medicare For All. Showing a dedication to good faith debate and truth (cheeky though they may be) unknown to those very serious folks over at Fox , Oliver said that the path forward to insuring that insurance costs don’t continue to bankrupt untold Americans and literally kill others means examining all the flaws of both our current system and the various plans being put forward by political candidates. Still, if the dearly departed other TV good place The Good Place taught us anything, it’s that a system grown fat and complacent in an ever-distanced position from the people it was meant to serve is going to turn unfair, irrational, and monstrous. Noting that, as a dual citizen of Great Britain and the U.S., his anecdotal experiences weigh in overwhelmingly on the side of the imperfect but far preferable National Health Service, Oliver concluded his mid-season return by noting that “the devil you know is still a devil.” One that, literally and routinely, forces Americans to choose between keeping themselves and their children alive and being able to feed them, which is some prime devil stuff, any way you look at it.

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

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