John Oliver’s Red Lobster Prank Bears Fruit While He Examines Ocean Balls

You might think that last week’s Last Week Tonight‘s stunt in which John Oliver used HBO’s money to buy up the contents of a recently shuttered Red Lobster restaurant would be a one-and-done sort of affair. But the world, as Oliver continually demonstrates on his award-winning show, throws nothing but curve balls, as Sunday’s show ended with an unexpected follow-up in which the host invited a New York bakery to literally bite his bum.

As ever, that bit of culinary gamesmanship was the more light-hearted digestif to aid viewers in processing Oliver’s main story concerning yet another potentially earth-threatening crisis nobody’s been paying attention to. Yes, hopping into his comedy bathysphere, Oliver and his ever-diligent team braved the depths of international ocean mining rights (and found his new favorite undiscovered species) in search of some hotly-contested, naturally occurring little brown balls that might hold the key to our energy future—or might just be another pristine new frontier for ruthless capitalist weirdos to despoil. Along the murky way to the bottom of his story, Oliver’s attention was momentarily distracted by France’s poop-iest river, the dumbest Wheel of Fortune contestants ever, and some stories that news anchors assure us are nothing to laugh at.

It’s Been a Busy Week

With the Paris Summer Olympics just weeks away, Oliver devoted a majority of Sunday night’s news segment holding his nose at plans to have several of the Games’ aquatic events take place in the famed River Seine.

As Oliver noted, the French waterway is essentially an overflow outlet of the Paris sewer system, with a long history of everything from mass Protestant-drowning to the occasional raw sewage dump adding to the river’s reputation of being, as Oliver noted, “f*cking disgusting.” Even with a billion-dollar cleanup and other measures in place, Oliver roundly mocked French politicians’ plans to take a demonstration dip in preparation for the world’s greatest athletes to dip their toes into an historical cesspool, all while tipping his goofy French mascot hat to the country’s trolls who have flooded social media with threats to, well, flood the Seine with their strategically held bowels—right as the Mayor of Paris takes her unwisely announced dip.

Toss in a side-story which saw Oliver highlighting the spectacle of a bigoted Ohio city councilor solemnly decrying such Pride parade signs as “I love vagina, nom-nom-nom-nom,” while a guy in the background can’t keep it together, and the Last Week Tonight host’s opening salute to his fellow cheeky sh*t-stirrers was off to a fine start.

And Now This…

With long time Wheel of Fortune game show host Pat Sajak retiring this week, Last Week Tonight‘s first of two “And Now…” segments focused on those times when even the smoothly professional Sajak was faced with some very, very dumb contestants. And, sure, the lights are bright on TV, but guesses to the show’s almost entirely filled-in puzzles like “A feather in your lap” and “I Have the Line by Johnny Cash” are the sort of things the now-retired and infamously right-wing Sajak will see in his dreams (presumably alongside phot0-ops with grinning insurrectionists.)

Controversial Balls

One of the benefits of Late Week Tonight‘s once-a-week format is how John Oliver can sift through the news for more granular big stories. On Sunday’s show, Oliver dug deep enough to sink his news nets all the way down to the 15 thousand foot deep ocean region known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a near-pristine undersea realm where the eternal battle between environmentalism and greed is set to begin over nondescript brown balls.

Those balls, knows as manganese nodules to those uncomfortable with saying “balls” so much, are sedimentary concretions whose long-gathering layers often include valuable metals like nickel and cadmium, both of which are essential in the production of electric vehicle batteries.

Hands up if you can see where this is going, especially since the individual at the center of the inevitable desire to scoop up these valuable little guys is an eccentric Australian billionaire who compares himself, without reservation, to Elon Musk. Yeah, uh-oh.

As Oliver noted in response to The Metals Company CEO Gerard Barron (described by Oliver as the result of asking Chat GPT to “make Sean Penn the most Sean Penn”) depicting the harvesting of these seafloor-covering nodules as a benign matter akin to scooping up golf balls at the driving range, the reality of this resource-reaping is bound to be a whole lot more complicated—and destructive. Picture choked gills and disrupted habitats for untold numbers of sea creatures who depend on the nodules and their hitherto undisturbed beds, the truly fascinating array of species discovered every day by scientists in the lightless, frigid deeps, including a Dr. Seuss-looking blobbie called the Gummy Squirrel, which Oliver asserted is his new favorite animal. (Sure, he imagines wolfing them down at the movies, but that’s just blobbie-talk.) As Oliver explained bluntly as he extolled the untold natural discoveries and medical breakthroughs already provided by more cautious exploration of the region, mining the CCZ is likely to “f*ck everyone’s sh*t up.”

Countering the eagerly pitching Aussie mogul further, Oliver did his signature deep exploration of the tangled nets of regulations and money-driven corporate workarounds thereof, pointing to the fact that the United Nations organization in charge of safeguarding the Earth’s 80 percent uncharted ocean floor, the International Seabed Authority, is hampered by the U.S. refusal to ratify the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty—and the fact that its clearly beholden to the very mining interests it’s supposed to be monitoring. “It’s not ideal that a body responsible for protecting something as important as the deep sea has lower standards than the University of Phoenix,” Oliver stated, referring to the fact that the non-scientist head of the ISA Michael Lodge has never rejected a single corporate mining application. (Oliver also took part in his favorite sport of rich guy-baiting, as courted legal retribution by defiantly echoing the “Michael Lodge is a cheerleader for mining interests” accusation that’s triggered lawsuits in the past.)

Oliver also noted that Barron’s zeal to churn up a mysterious and complex biome for the sake speculative greed isn’t even the sure thing the CEO promises, since resource-heavy lithium ion batteries of the type the precious balls might power are already on their way to potential obsolescence thanks to the more-plentiful salt-fueled sodium-ion variety, and many E.V. companies have put a hold on environmentally devastating mining practices as a result. That hasn’t stopped moguls like Barron (who tellingly refused to outright dismiss a reporter’s claim that people with his sorts of world-reshaping plans are universally cast as movie bad guys) from exploiting ISA loopholes to enlist the tiny (and already environmentally stripped) island nation of Nauru (population 12,000) to apply for permits on The Metal Company’s behalf. Oliver even went to far as to play a snippet from the Nauru-funded and infamously derided West End flop Leonardo the Musical: A Story of Love to show how the cash-desperate nation has been hoodwinked into dodgy investment scams throughout its history. (“Like Les Mis on quaaludes,” raves John Oliver.)

And Now This…

There’s nothing Last Week Tonight loves to do more than comb the airwaves to show how certain clichés become lazy storytelling shorthand. This time out, it was a montage of local and national news types asserting in no uncertain terms that the stories they are about to relate are “no laughing matter.”

And while stories about puzzled toddlers stuck in wooden barrels, copyright-defying duck mascots, 91-hour erections, and water towers leaking through an unfortunately placed hole aren’t inherently hilarious, you can sort of see how the absurdity might cause a few stifled giggles. The concluding piece where some sort of health official solemnly lists the then-current Covid death toll while inexplicably wearing full clown makeup needs no introductory admonition not to laugh, however. That’s the stuff of nightmares.

The Lobster Strikes Back

Oliver’s final story was one of those pieces where he reaps what he has sown through judicious use of HBO’s deep pockets. Revisiting last week’s purchase at auction of the contents of a shuttered Red Lobster restaurant as part of his examination of how private equity firms ruin literally everything good and decent in this world, Oliver revealed that he had received some unexpected pushback from his seemingly innocuous stunt.

The complaint from the New York town of Kingston that Oliver identified the closed chain restaurant as residing in that town and not the actual neighboring municipality of Ulster was easily brushed away, especially since literally every internet resource listed Kingston as its location.

But another story picked up by local media proved perfect for Oliver to squeeze some more lemon onto his Red Lobster adventures, as the owner of one Deising’s Bakery (also located in Ulster according to the internet, for what that’s worth) complained that Last Week Tonight‘s bid for the Red Lobster’s insides deprived his bakery of the used flattop grill and convection oven he was certain the restaurant contained. The owner even left a note on the door of the darkened restaurant registering his desire for the appliances. (Can’t imagine how that didn’t work.)

Regardless, John Oliver is nothing if not helpful. And saucy. Saucily helpful, if you will. So on Sunday, Oliver, while asserting that Desing’s owner was mistaken (there was neither oven in evidence in Oliver’s haul), promised to deliver two brand-new cooking ovens to Deising’s at HBO’s expense, even showing the shiny, expensive machines decked out in gift ribbons on the studio stage.

Naturally there was a catch, as Oliver demanded that the bakery add his delicious likeness to the anthropomorphic treats the bakery turns out, like its famous Groundhog Day cupcakes and their St. Patrick’s Day confections so unidentifiable they might have come from the land of the Gummy Squirrel.

Specifically, Oliver wants the bakery to churn out a variation on its delicious-looking cake bears with Oliver’s face on them. The host was generous about how much edible rump the bakers gave his sugary likeness, noting of the frosted bears, “That cake’s got cakes.” So the cupcake’s in your court, Deising’s—let America eat John Oliver’s butt and those gleaming ovens will be yours.

Opening Titles End Card

John Oliver has been a frequent critic of right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, so it only makes sense that Jones would capture this week’s opening titles end card following news this week that he’s been forced to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy in order to liquidate his personal assets to pay families of Sandy Hook victims to whom he owes more than $1.5 billion in damages.

Last Lines Tonight

“That is an appealing pitch. I too like the idea of a Mother Nature who knows we f**ked up but is also giving us one last chance to make things right—all we have to do in return is go down on her.”

On The Metals Company CEO Gerard Barron portraying the creation of ocean balls as Nature’s gifT to man

“I’d say that fish is beautiful on the inside but we can see it isn’t.”

Oliver unsuccessfully walks back his looks-shaming of transparent-headed deep sea Barreleye fish

“And I know I talk a lot about the bad stuff Ronald Reagan did on this show, but to balance that out, I do want to mention something positive he did for the planet. In 2004, and this is true, he died.”

On reagan’s refusal to sign onto the law of the sea treaty

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