Last Week Tonight Goes Deep on Indian Fascism and Red Lobster’s True Enemy

Nobody Tell Modi About Opposite Snakes

Prankish silliness in the service of actual news is an art that John Oliver has mastered over Last Week Tonight‘s 11 seasons, even if some nights’ darkest deep dives into serious subject matter make the comic juxtaposition a little difficult.

Which brings us to Last Week Tonight‘s main story this week about the seemingly inevitable reelection of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a third term. As Oliver noted, Modi has been in power so long that he was the subject of the very first ever Last Week Tonight main story back on April 27, 2014. In his typically encyclopedic examination of Modi’s stranglehold on power over some 1.4 billion people (the equivalent of “4 United States, 6 Brazils, 9 Russias, and 34 Canadas,” Oliver helpfully explained), the host showed how the Indian PM has increasingly utilized authoritarian tactics, including press censorship, legal intimidation of opponents, and the old standby of fear-mongering anti-Muslim xenophobia to secure power in the hands of his governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

With some necessary asides to delve into the damnable catchiness of Hindu pop music (H-Pop) that carries unacceptably racist messages, Oliver dug unflinchingly into how the BJP’s use of anti-Muslim hate speech has gone from the fringe to mainstream policy. That’s led to mob violence, lynchings, state-sponsored bulldozing of Muslim-owned buildings, and the sort of stochastic terrorism Americans have become all too familiar with since Donald Trump leapt from fraudulent steak peddler to seditionist authoritarian race-baiter. (Oliver played two clips of police brutalizing Muslims while extolling the racist BJP line.)

Oliver, meanwhile, admitted that Indians have long had it up to here with British guys telling them what they should do with their country, even as he played the goofy Brit card with a seemingly out-of-nowhere tangent on a hopefully fictional natural abomination called “opposite snakes.” The bit occurred as Oliver was skillfully undermining the admittedly dry topic of Modi’s use of shifty reclassification to pretend that India’s poverty rate is decreasing with voter-pleasing rapidity, with the host heaping more and more terrifying details about the creature (all arms and a butt, no face, spiky, dangerous eggs) in what seemed like nothing more than a bit of a pick-me-up for viewers going glassy-eyed over another Last Week Tonight exposé on the world’s injustices.

The kicker was a lot more impactful as Oliver’s further condemnation of Modi’s crackdown on government criticism in national and local news media segued into a plug for the website As Oliver explained, previous Last Week Tonight stories critical of the Modi government were censored in that country, and, with the expectation that this one would be as well, the host cheekily revealed that anyone visiting the site in question would be treated not only to (again, horrifying) facts about opposite snakes, but an explanatory video of the creatures. It runs about 25 minutes, and, after a bit of up-top thematic camouflage, contains Sunday’s Modi piece in its entirety. Same goes for the site, another Oliver fake-out referencing state media’s usual softball questions to the Prime Minister. (Both sites state that the video will be available on June 6, coincidentally right when Last Week Tonight videos typically hit YouTube.)

And Now…

For an actual palate cleanser, the mid-show montage of illuminating media absurdity that is Last Week Tonight‘s “And Now…” segment focused on former VJ turned Fox News commentator Kennedy and her go-to use of the phrase “just like my prom night” to punctuate human interest stories. According to the schtick of the mononymous talking head, the night in question boasted everything from strap-ons, small penises, ball-juggling, a “massive hole,” being “plowed by a train,” and something being lost forever in a car’s back back seat. Some layered-in sad Last Week Tonight piano music played up the widening gulf between a hacky bit and the running theme of prom night disappointment and despoilment.

It Was Never About the Shrimp

Oliver’s closer concerned Red Lobster, the troubled seafood chain and lyrically immortalized destination for men lucky enough to bring Beyoncé to completion. It was no scathing takedown of India’s rising authoritarianism, but Oliver spent a significant portion of Sunday’s show poking holes in the widely stated reasoning behind the sudden closure of nearly 100 Red Lobster locations—and pointing a sharp, red claw at those actually responsible. As Oliver noted, sure, maybe offering Americans unlimited fried shrimp for 20 bucks was unwise, but the host reminded people that the real reason why so many seafood lovers can’t bring their overachieving lovers to the chain for a post-coital “good work” feast these days is the all too common predation of greedhead private equity firms.

Oliver threw hot butter all over both Golden Gate Capital and Thai Union, companies who, after taking control of the beloved cheddar biscuit emporium, proceeded to loot their acquisition for every red penny at the expense of the chain’s financial health. Oliver noted how Golden Gate Capital immediately recouped its investment by forcing restaurants to start paying rent on property they already owned, and how seafood supplier Thai Union forced the chain to buy the aforementioned shrimp only from them, at business-crippling prices. It’s a process Oliver aptly termed, “bleeding it dry to make a handful of idiots rich,” and led to the second inspired bit of Last Week Tonight comic f**kery of the episode. Oliver—after initially faking his audience out, as is his way—revealed that, yes, of course the show had used HBO’s money to win one of the ubiquitous Red Lobster winner-take-all equipment auctions going on around the nation.

Panning over to show a fully authentic onstage repurposing of the entire contents of a defunct Red Lobster restaurant, Oliver gleefully boasted that he couldn’t possibly do a worse job at running the joint than some venture capital d-bag. He did note that nobody relished the thought of the scent of a “carpeted seafood restaurant” haunting the show going forward, instead revealing an army of smiling waiters to duly distribute the beloved cheddar biscuits to everyone in attendance. Making a point while spending your corporate bosses money on useless junk, plus everybody gets biscuits. That’s John Oliver for you.

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  1. Bobby says:

    It’s hard to follow all this shit.