John Oliver (“The Daily Show”) is back and ready to tackle more tough top­ics when “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” re­turns Sun­day.

The Hamilton Spectator - - THE SPEC TV - BY CASSIE DRESCH

John Oliver sure won’t be lack­ing for sub­ject mat­ter when his weekly talk show re­turns. The Bri­tish co­me­dian, who rose to fame as a writer and cor­re­spon­dent for Jon Ste­wart’s “The Daily Show,” is never one to shy away from talk­ing about tough top­ics, and af­ter a three-month hia­tus, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” re­turns for a fourth sea­son Sun­day, Feb. 12, on HBO.

In the sea­son fi­nale in Novem­ber, he bid 2016 an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous farewell, blow­ing up a gi­nor­mous “2016” sign and walk­ing off with­out look­ing at the explosion. A lot has tran­spired in the short months since, and since sea­son 3 of “Last Week Tonight” touched heav­ily on Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, there’s lit­tle doubt that it will come up again.

But don’t think that just be­cause Pres­i­dent Trump dom­i­nates head­lines — “You can’t take much pride from a se­ries of com­edy layups,” Oliver told Vul­ture last year in his quin­tes­sen­tial self-dep­re­cat­ing way — that he won’t tackle other sto­ries. The show has touched on a va­ri­ety of top­ics since its premiere in 2014, from a con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Fanta and the leap sec­ond to paid parental leave and pay­day loans. De­spite the se­ri­ous­ness of the top­ics, he in­sists that “Last Week Tonight” is a com­edy show, not a news mag­a­zine.

“News is ab­so­lutely not our lane,” he said in the Vul­ture in­ter­view. “Say­ing some­one watches the show for news is like say­ing to a mu­si­cian, ‘A lot of peo­ple use your mu­sic to work out. Do you make work­out mu­sic?’ No, this isn’t de­signed for the gym. We’re ob­sessed about mak­ing sure that all the things that we say are ac­cu­rate, but that’s only be­cause those things are the struc­tural foun­da­tion upon which the jokes are based. You re­move that, and your jokes are all non­sense. It’s a com­edy show.”

Com­edy show or not, Oliver and his staff have cre­ated a se­ries that fans and crit­ics alike are lap­ping up. It has gar­nered praise from the likes of Time mag­a­zine, En­ter­tain­ment Weekly, As­so­ci­ated Press and the New York Times, among oth­ers, and has re­ceived ring­ing en­dorse­ments from the var­i­ous awards or­ga­ni­za­tions. “Last Week Tonight” has won a Crit­ics’ Choice Tele­vi­sion Award; a Pe­abody Award, which rec­og­nizes “dist i ng uished a nd mer­i­tor ious pub­lic ser­vice” by U.S. TV sta­tions and net­works; a Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica award; and four Em­mys, in­clud­ing Out­stand­ing Writ­ing for a Va­ri­ety Se­ries and Out­stand­ing Va­ri­ety Talk Se­ries last year.

The praise and ac­co­lades are well de­served, es­pe­cially since the se­ries has proven to be pretty inf lu­en­tial.

In sea­son 2, Oliver hired a team of lawyers to es­tab­lish the Our Lady of Per­pet­ual Ex­emp­tion church as part of a segment de­signed to show view­ers just how easy it was to set up a tax-ex­empt re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion. Do­na­tions from around the world poured in, but the church was dis­solved in Septem­ber, and the money given to Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders. An­other sea­son 2 episode saw Oliver sit down for a very se­cret in­ter­view with NSA whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den, which made head­lines around the world, and last sea­son he did a segment on debt buy­ing, dur­ing which he bought — and for­gave — mil­lions of dol­lars worth of bad med­i­cal debt.

Long be­fore he was dis­cussing opi­oid abuse or tear­ing into mul­ti­level mar­ket­ing, Oliver was a cor­re­spon­dent with “The Daily Show,” then un­der the tute­lage of Jon Ste­wart (“Rose­wa­ter,” 2 01 5). Oliver f i rst ap­peared in the late-night satire talk show in the sum­mer of 2006 — not a day af­ter ar­riv­ing in the U.S. from Bri­tain — and was an in­stant hit. Over the next seven years, he was part of some iconic bits, and even oc­cu­pied the host’s chair when Ste­wart went away for 12 weeks to film his di­rec­to­rial de­but.

“The fact that he asked me to take over the show when he was away felt like such a huge leap of faith from him,” Oliver told Vul­ture, “and I thought that faith may have been a lit­tle bit mis­placed.”

John Oliver in “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”

Kee­gan-Michael Key and John Oliver as seen in “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”

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