Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver uncovers deadly pharmacy loopholes with the help of an unlikely celebrity action team

Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Sometimes it seems like John Oliver’s continued Emmy wins in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series category comes from pacing himself. After all, with only one show a week, Oliver gets to parcel out his news rage in measured weekly installments, presumably after having several restorative lie-downs, whereas those late-night losers he keeps trouncing have to go on TV 4-5 times a week and come up with ways to make the day’s nightmare news funny on the fly. (Conan O’Brien recently admitted that even the relatively meager amount of Donald Trump-related monologue material he does just makes him “sad” all over.)

Of course that does open up the possibility that any Sunday’s Last Week Tonight will not have time to meticulously craft a 20-minute piece expertly satirizing, say, the Sunday afternoon rantings of the sundowning mob boss in charge of the nuclear codes calling for his heavily armed followers to start a new Civil War should he be impeached and/or indicted for the myriad high, low, and medium crimes it’s increasingly obvious he’s enacted while in office. (Fairly sure Oliver is on the case for next week on that one.) Still, even when a main story goes further afield than the rapidly emptying White House for a story, Oliver makes learning about such smaller-scale evils educational, funny, and occasionally packed with celebrity pals royally pissed off that a dangerously fraudulent pharmacy used their names to peddle unsafe and unsanitary prescription drugs.

Of course, we’re talking about “consolidating pharmacies” which, thanks to Oliver and his research staff, we learn are, in theory, a vital source for people whose medical needs include small-batch drugs specifically tailored to their needs. In practice, however, Oliver did a riotously funny and outraged 20 minutes on how the almost complete lack of meaningful regulation on such places (whose products don’t fall under FDA jurisdiction) have seen unscrupulous companies drive truckloads of ineffective, fungus-laden, and/or deadly medicines to the unsuspecting marketplace through the loopholes. Jacking up billions in prices for an expensive, completely ineffective cream used to treat soldiers’ wounds is about as big a dick move as it gets. And one such place (NECC in Massachusetts and its chucklingly evil, caught-on-camera president Barry Cadden) was responsible for over 100 deaths, thanks to some designer meds tainted with meningitis, pretty much the last thing anything should be tainted by. One Texas company just blinded about 80 people.

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And, as Oliver showed thanks to an invited roster of celebs whose actual and character names were brazenly used to falsify individual prescriptions for the malicious meningitis medicine, something has to be done. Method Man politely requests of scamming pharmacies, “Please don’t use our names in your bullshit prescriptions.” Jack Bauer (okay, Kiefer Sutherland) gets more direct, threatening black site torture. (Even Meth is taken aback.) Sarah Marshall’s alter ego Kristen Bell calls for meaningful regulation reform, and is berated by fellow stolen alias RuPaul for breaking up “with Jason Segel’s dick.” David Schwimmer demands that his and his colleagues’ names stop being used to legitimize unregulated drug manufacturing, and Michael Bolton sends things off the rails by bringing his bird into it. (Apparently legitimate compounding pharmacies do a lot of necessary work crafting medications for animals, including the beloved parrot-girlfriend that left Bolton for another famous person on the list. You can probably guess who.)

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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