It’s hard to say which ones were the best. Some may have been funnier than others, but what those lacked they likely made up for in empathy. Certain episodes were serious while others were goofy. The best ones, though, managed to accomplish both.
Here are Inverse’s top 10 Last Week Tonight With John Oliver main stories:
10. Online Harassment (June 21, 2015)
“Episode 42” was actually the second-most viewed episode of Last Week Tonight’s second season. Those ratings are quite possibly because Oliver discussed the tragic Charleston shooting in his monologue.
But for his main story, Oliver turns his attention to the hateful trolls who exist online just to make people’s women’s lives miserable. The segment soars when Oliver calls out his own haters (including someone who said “his fingers are like creepy spider legs”) and recreates a 1990s AOL commercial to reflect the real internet. It’s easier than ever to be a literal piece of human garbage. Thanks, internet!
Oh, he also shares some really heartwarming videos to contrast the bad stuff.
9. Prisoner Re-entry (November 8, 2015)
“Episode 57” was really the culmination of several episodes about the broken criminal justice system, which he acknowledges early on. While Oliver often tells the personal stories of people who’ve been wronged, in this episode he actually invites someone to share his story. Bilal Chatman was an incarcerated person, but more importantly, he’s a dedicated employee, employer, supervisor, and a tomato grower. Oliver strengthens his argument by bringing on someone with much more hands-on knowledge than he has, which he concedes.
8. Infrastructure (March 1, 2015)
John Oliver repeatedly tells the viewer that infrastructure is absolutely boring throughout “Episode 28.” He does that because politicians themselves say it ad nauseam. He remarkably makes this “boring” topic interesting by turning it into a kickass movie trailer. Things tend to be a little more fun with two three-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton and Steve Buscemi as The Chief: He’s “the best damn inspector in the business. And [he’s] here to inspect this dam.”
7. The NCAA (March 15, 2015)
The National Collegiate Athletic Association truly functions on hypocrisy. The NCAA makes billions of dollars off of athletes whom it considers amateurs, or “student-athletes.” There’s so much advertising and sponsorship that Oliver’s fictional “Pepsi presents a Geico look at Nabisco’s Toyota Moment of the Game, brought to you by Taco Bell” does not feel farfetched. He realizes that there may not be a real solution to the problem of benefitting off of amateurs, so he suggests that the NCAA just starts being honest. How can they do that? With a realistic college sports video game: March Sadness 2015 (rated E for Exploitative).
6. Mandatory Minimums (July 26, 2015)
Oliver begins the “Episode 46” main story by praising President Barack Obama for commuting the sentences of 46 federal drug offenders. Obama, incidentally, also annually commutes the death sentences of two turkeys who won’t become Thanksgiving dinner. The idea of mandatory sentences is so ridiculous and appalling that Oliver ramps up the jokes. For example, Abraham Lincoln once pardoned John Wilkes Boothe.
Sometimes there isn’t much to do but be funny when something is so messed up.
5. Televangelists (August 16, 2015)
“Episode 49” is one of Oliver’s biggest shows because he opened an actual fucking church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. He proved how easy it is to: A) open a church, legally; B) raise money from that church, legally; and C) receive human semen in the mail. Television megachurches can be truly predatory, as televangelists make promises that they truly cannot uphold while taking people’s money. The church was open for one month and closed after Oliver received four jars of actual sperm (“seed”) in the mail. Nothing gold can stay.
4. Torture (June 14, 2015)
The CIA has done some pretty dark stuff to extract information from terrorist. The Senate investigated the tactics and released it in a report, which is available for public consumption on Amazon. It’s really long, really boring, and really excruciating to read. So John Oliver, in “Episode 41,” had Dame Helen Mirren really make an audiobook recording of it so that former CIA Director Porter Goss could listen to it in his car.
Oh, by the way, Justice Antonin Scalia thinks that Jack Bauer is real and that torture works.
3. FIFA II (May 31, 2015)
It gets pretty hard to pick among the best three Last Week Tonight episodes of Season 2, as Oliver pushes his jokes into the real world and does investigative journalism with a sense of humor. During “Episode 39”’s FIFA segment, though, you can see just how passionate he is. He loves England’s Liverpool Football Club and hates FIFA. The episode makes the top three because he makes a real commercial that ran in Trinidad & Tobago and, more astoundingly, promises to drink a Bud Light Lime (something he describes as tasting like “Jolly Green Giant ejaculate, the Great Gazoo urinating in a public pool, or a lime Jolly Rancher fished out of Mickey Rourke’s mouth”) if FIFA President Sepp Blatter were ousted from his position. He fucking does it.
2. Tobacco (February 15, 2015)
“Episode 26,” the second episode of the season, may be the most lasting of the entire year. Oliver creates the new mascot for Marlboro: Jeff the Diseased Lung.
Jeff shows up when you Google Image-search “Marlboro”; he’s on bus stops in Uruguay; and he’s on t-shirts in Togo. Jeff is an icon. Oliver hasn’t taken down Big Tobacco, but he sure didn’t make them look too good.
1. Government Surveillance (April 5, 2015)
“Episode 32” was the best of Season 2 because John Oliver — a comedian, fake news guy, and birdy fact funny man — scored a real in-person interview with Edward Fucking Snowden. Oliver traveled to Russia, waited an hour for Snowden, was located across from the old KGB building, and is probably on some government watch list just to ask one of the most wanted men in the world about dick pics.
It’s informative — the problems with government surveillance are pretty easy to understand when Snowden breaks it down to “Can the government see my junk?” — and just plain funny — because penis photos are funny.
John Oliver and Last Week Tonight shouldn’t just win an Emmy for this episode. They should win a Pulitzer.
Season 2 saw the show really hit its stride as a reliable source of information, as well as laughs. But guess what? Janice in Accounting don’t give a fuck.