In the six years it's been on air, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver has proven itself particularly adept at summing up complex issues in a way that's consistently informative and—by some miracle—funny. Sunday's coronavirus episode was the pinnacle of that, despite being presented on a jarringly stripped down set.
"This is weird, isn’t it?" Oliver began. "This is definitely weird. As you can clearly tell, this is not going to be our usual show this week. For a start, there is no audience, and also we’re not even in our usual studio. Partly because we do like to shake things up whenever we can, and also partly because our actual studio might be full of coronavirus."
Oliver explained that confirmed cases of the illness were found in the CBS Broadcast Center and the Last Week Tonight office building. He then launched into a 20-minute summary of everything Americans need to know about coronavirus right now.
The episode contained good advice on how to stay safe, a summary of "harmful bullshit" spread by misinformed people (including the president), pointers about how to help out in your community, and important warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci that you may not have heard unless you watch C-Span. There were even 30 seconds set aside to feel "selfish anger" about whatever events you're missing in the coming weeks.
Between the white background, lack of audience laughter and Oliver's more serious moments, the episode occasionally veered into feeling borderline apocalyptic. "I know things are currently very scary," he concluded. "And things are going to be weird for a while. For weeks and, honestly, more likely months… We’re going to need to look out for one another. ... This is going to be an unsettling and potentially lonely time."