Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tracy Morgan and Glenn Close help John Oliver dig deep into America's botched autopsy system

Glenn Close, John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Last week, John Oliver joked about wasting the greatest lead-in in television history by spending the bulk of his Game Of Thrones-following Last Week Tonight on the Green New Deal. (He did have Bill Nye profanely losing it about inaction on climate change, but still.) Well, with the dragonfire-anticipated GOT finale airing right before this week’s episode, Oliver doubled down by doing a tight 22 minutes on death. More specifically, the shockingly slapdash way your inevitable death is probably going to be handled once you hit the icy metal slab of a coroner’s table. Cheery stuff like that.

Still, it’s John Oliver, so the ensuing report on the decidedly less sexy and action-packed-than-TV reality of death investigators turned out to be Last Week Tonight’s signature mix of cheeky, hilarious, and jaw-droppingly fucking awful. For example, Rizzoli and or Isles never got caught bringing a dead man’s brain home for his kids to play with. SVU’s crisply confident Dr. Warner is not known for allowing her pet dog to eat a dead patient’s spleen in her garage. And that avuncular bearded coroner on CSI doesn’t operate out of a “back-alley autopsy shanty” where unrefrigerated corpses wait their turn to be ineptly dismantled by an unlicensed charlatan with an “AUTOPSY” vanity plate and a Big Gulp.

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But, as Oliver notes, the death investigation system in the country is that bad and worse, as underfunding and the lack of even the bare minimum of regulation in some places leads to not only really gross and irresponsible behavior, but outright shady abuse of power. As in places where the coroner is also affiliated with police departments (or, in one case, is the actual sheriff) when there’s a police shooting to be investigated. Or in others where being 18 is literally the only qualification needed to run for what is, for utterly baffling reasons, a simple elected position. Or in communities where the appalling lack of qualified investigators means that necessary life insurance payments are put on hold for half a year. It’s almost enough to make you swear off dying altogether.

But, since that’s not really an option (except for Oliver, who claims he is never, ever going to die), the host brought in some celebrity backup to make the case for countrywide reform. Asking his audience to imagine their favorite famous people’s organs being kicked around some fraudulent but inexpensive independent contractor corpse-fiddler’s makeshift laboratory, Oliver brought in Glenn Close to say, with Oscar-nominated gravitas, that, no, she would not like a dog to eat her spleen after she’s gone next to some dude’s jet ski. And, just to slam the case shut, Oliver’s crew went to Tracy Morgan’s house, where comedy superstar (and avowed Albert Nobbs fan) Morgan—who knows something about almost ending up in the morgue—pleaded for the surprisingly meager amount of cash necessary to ensure that actual, professionally trained forensic pathologists (like those ones on TV) are around to handle his organs. And not with an ice cream scoop, please.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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