Any fan of The Daily Show over the last half-dozen years could have told you that John Oliver was a top notch comedian who made every segment he was in funnier.  Fast forward to last summer, when Oliver guest hosted for Jon Stewart during the latter’s two month absence, and those same fans could have told you that John Oliver was more than ready to helm his own show.

Thus was the genesis of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and the results have been off the chart.

Oliver recently joked on David Letterman that the best thing about being on television every day is that there’s no time to wallow in failure.  So far, quite the opposite has been true of Last Week Tonight, which appears to be using the weekly format to finely hone its comedic message and sharpen its already razor like wit.

It seems clear having an entire week to prepare has yielded even more biting sarcasm, and has in no way left the host to deal with stale news stories.

Last week’s rant on net neutrality was quite correctly characterized by our founder and editor Blythe Brumleve as one of the most concise explanations you can find about the subject, which coincidentally is crucial to small business websites like GuysGirl.

Critics have correctly pointed out that Last Week Tonight is really just “Daily Show HBO” but this critique misses the point.

If the worst thing you can say about the show is that it is a lot like The Daily Show was when Oliver guest hosted only funnier and with HBO’s signature lack of constraints, you’re saying quite a lot.

This show is a winner, and there is simply no ceiling to John Oliver’s upside.

YOU CAN understand why NBC would bite on a drama with convoluted storytelling and lots of imagery like Crossbones.  After all, the struggling network has managed to deliver a hit with the similarly formatted Hannibal, so why not do the same thing only with a period piece set in 18th century Bermuda.  Oh, so many reasons why not.

First and foremost, Hannibal only really works because of a wonderfully understated villain played by Mads Mikkelsen, and also relying on a previous set of groundwork laid by Anthony Hopkins.

Stated another way, people are scared of Hannibal Lecter, while the word “pirate” is more likely to conjure an image of Johnny Depp in dreadlocks.

‘Problem solved’ thought NBC (presumably), when they cast John Malkovich as Blackbeard.

Problem is, Malkovich’s signature blend of creepy, menacing weirdness doesn’t really translate to the Blackbeard character.

Generally speaking, pirates were feared for their propensity to rape, pillage and plunder, not for trying to mind f*ck you.

Crossbones, John Malkovich

Scary in the wrong way: Malkovich as Blackbeard

As a result, Crossbones features a tortured plot set up that unnecessarily strains credibility, and then offers a Blackbeard that comes far too close to being unintentionally funny.  Time to pull the plug on this entire wrongheaded experiment.  I can think of so many better things John Malkovich could be doing.

Quick Takes

Sometimes, a show is bad enough that I don’t need a feature column to pan it.

Accordingly, I can tell you here, in two sentences, not to watch Undateable, a cliche laden singles comedy that’s even worse than the already canceled Friends With Better Lives.  

Reality Check

It’s a reality of reality TV that you just can’t make another signing competition show (something I think ABC will learn when it tries to debut Rising Star later this month).

There’s the dwindling American Idol, the current champion The Voice, and then a whole lot of failed attempts.

Consequently, you either have to offer something completely different (America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance) or find a way to truly differentiate your latest tired old singing competition show.  Enter Sing Your Face Off, a train wreck of a competition that features B-list celebrities (think the typical bottom half of any given season of Dancing With The Stars) getting made up as famous pop icons and then trying to sound like them.

I have to admit, while the performances range from pretty good to God awful, there’s a certain train-wreck fascination with watching the likes of Jon Lovitz, Landry Fields and Sebastian Bach drifting woefully out of their elements.  John Barrowman seems too good a host for this, while regular judges Darrell Hammond and Debbie Gibson seem too bored and too excited to be there, respectively.

Summer used to be when there was literally nothing else on.

This is show is better than that (nothing), but not better than the burgeoning ranks of good summer TV.

Jon Lovitz, Sing Your Face Off

You don’t want to see it, but you can’t look away either

I’ve said to anyone who will listen that I think this is a true Golden Age of Television.

Breaking Bad, Man Men and Game Of Thrones are certain to appear on future top 10 lists of the best shows ever, and that’s only scratching the surface of the myriad of truly excellent ground-breaking TV available for viewing.

One area that’s fallen off the table, however, is the sitcom.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s you had pioneering shows like The Honeymooners, Dick Van Dyke and I Love Lucy, that gave way to classic ‘70s and ‘80s shows like Mary Tyler Moore, All In The Family, Good Times and Cheers.

And in the ‘90s you had classics like Frasier and Roseanne.

What have we got now?

The best three comedies on TV right now are probably The Big Bang Theory, Veep and Parks and Rec.

Two of those shows are already closer to their final episode than their pilot, and are any of them good enough to be considered among the all-time very best like the other shows I mentioned?

And where are the new, cutting edge sitcoms?  Sadly, it seems like the best comedy on TV is firmly nestled in the stand-up and political-centric humor of late night talk.  Is the sitcom dead?  Maybe not, but it’s not currently on the map, either.

Educational TV

Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1)  Medicare doesn’t cover human centipede surgery. . .yet (The Colbert Report); 2) If you’re going on two dates in one night, it is good form to change your underwear in between (Chelsea Lately); 3) Ratings were so good for game 1 of the NBA finals, ABC has already announced plans for a game 2 (Jimmy Kimmel Live).

Feeling guilty for watching crappy summer reruns instead of doing something productive?  Assuage your self-doubt by watching The Sixties, the excellent Tom Hanks-produced serial documentary on CNN.  This show is the perfect blend of education and entertainment and will definitely leave you wanting to tune in for the next segment.

Looking Ahead

The series debut of Power airs June 7 on Starz.

The Tony Awards air on June 8 on CBS.

The season finale of Veep airs on HBO on June 8.

The series premiere of Murder in the First airs on June 9 on TNT.

The series debut of Chasing Life airs on ABC Family on June 10.

The season premiere of Royal Pains airs on USA on June 10.

The season premiere of Pretty Little Liars airs on June 10 on ABC Family.

The season finale of The 100 airs on The CW on June 11.

The season premieres of Graceland and Suits air on June 11 on USA.

 

TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet.  Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on?  Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo or shoot me an  email: [email protected]  I welcome your input!

 

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