Sunday's episode was pretty standard stuff, at least for Last Week Tonight: Oliver kicked things off with a rundown of America's latest school shooting, wisely keeping his anger in check and focusing instead on the words and actions of Parkland's surviving students. After a far-ranging examination of Trump's short-sighted squandering of America's soft power, Oliver wrapped things up with a performance around his desk—one featuring a Batmobile-shaped bed, inflatable T-rex suits, and members of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus performing a jarringly beautiful rendition of Smash Mouth's "All Star." That last bit was about how America creates all sorts of great and terrible things, and not just cruel, inept presidents; it was as good an example as any of the absurd, smart humor that's become Last Week Tonight's hallmark.
Like the show it's closest to, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and like The Daily Show, which provided early stomping grounds for Bee and Oliver, Last Week Tonight sits somewhere between the dying medium of the late-night talk show and the pretty much already dead medium of legitimate TV news. Like The Daily Show and Full Frontal, Last Week Tonight's biggest flaw is how self-satisfied it can feel, how content it can be to preach to its choir. (Confirmation bias isn't a possibility in every episode—it's a promise.) Luckily, Last Week Tonight has the reporting chops to back its shit up—even when it pats its viewers a little too hard on the back, it's hard to argue with how the show digs into specific issues. Like PBS NewsHour, it offers fewer stories but better reporting, something that's increasingly valuable in a post-truth era.
Over on Netflix, there's something else pretty great: My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, a monthly, hour-long interview program that plays like a funnier, cooler Charlie Rose. Except, you know, with 100 percent less Charlie Rose. So it has that going for it.
No one knew quite what to expect from Letterman's Netflix project, but only two episodes in, it might be the best thing the guy's ever done, including that time he worked at Taco Bell.
In his first episode, Letterman spoke with Barack Obama and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Congressman John Lewis; while barely mentioning Trump, he managed to speak with both men about their remarkable accomplishments and the horrific threat of those accomplishments getting torn down. With The Late Show, Letterman always made everyone else on late-night TV look dull and dim, but between commercial breaks and plugs for celebrities' blockbusters, he rarely got the chance to sink his teeth into any single topic.
He gets it here—with My Next Guest, it's hard to shake the feeling that we're seeing more of the "real" Letterman than we did in decades of broadcast TV. Even in the second episode, in which the guest chair is filled by George Clooney, Letterman's less interested in Clooney the actor and more curious about the Clooney family's political and social advocacy. Clooney's career gets a quick breeze-through, but the bulk of the episode centers on Hazim Avdal, a Yazidi refugee sponsored by the Clooneys and currently studying at the University of Chicago.
Letterman's smart enough to avoid the obvious trap of treating his A-list guest like some kind of white savior: Rather than offering the kind of celebration of privilege that's usually offered by television, the subtext of Letterman and Clooney's conversation is about what a person with conscience does with that privilege. Future conversations bode well, too: Letterman's upcoming guests include Malala Yousafzai and Tina Fey.
In 2018, conversations like those are conversations worth having—and it doesn't hurt that Letterman, like Oliver, has the skill and wit to make otherwise soul-crushing news into something clever and humanist. There's no Top Ten list here, and there are no Stupid Pet Tricks. It seems like a pretty good trade.