Wy­att Cenac aims to in­form

HBO HOST TOOK IN­SPI­RA­TION FROM JOHN OLIVER

Lethbridge Herald - - TELEVISION | ENTERTAINMENT - David Bauder

Wy­att Cenac, the lat­est en­trant in late-night tele­vi­sion com­edy with a se­ries that de­buted Fri­day on HBO, took in­spi­ra­tion from John Oliver in his de­sire to in­form along with be­ing en­ter­tain­ing.

Cenac’s “Prob­lem Ar­eas” is de­scribed as a com­edy “docu-se­ries,” and re­sem­bles Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” in how each episode has a cen­tral story ap­proached with jour­nal­is­tic rigour, and quicker comedic bits. Oliver is an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and the show’s back­stage is pop­u­lated with peo­ple who worked with him and also at their shared alma mater, “The Daily Show.”

That’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Cenac’s more laid-back style re­places Oliver’s hy­per­ac­tiv­ity. “Prob­lem Ar­eas” has no stu­dio au­di­ence, and in each episode, Cenac travels some­where dif­fer­ent in the coun­try to ex­plore as­pects of the main story. His en­tire 10-episode season con­cen­trates on dif­fer­ent facets of one story, in this case polic­ing and how it af­fects dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties.

The show airs Fri­days at 11:30 p.m. East­ern and Pa­cific times.

Oliver’s suc­cess “def­i­nitely gave me a lot of con­fi­dence that there could be an ap­petite for a show like mine,” Cenac said. “I looked at his show for in­spi­ra­tion in that way.”

Pod­casts like “Se­rial” also con­vinced Cenac that some peo­ple are in­ter­ested in sto­ries told in depth, spread over sev­eral episodes.

With its cre­ative graph­ics and a cool vibe, “Prob­lem Ar­eas” estab­lishes right away that view­ers have landed in a dif­fer­ent spot than other latenight com­edy shows.

Cenac also makes that clear. He looks into the cam­era early in the open­ing episode and says that it’s prob­a­bly the point at which he’s sup­posed to talk about Don­ald Trump and all the trou­ble ev­ery­one’s in. “But you al­ready knew that,” he says.

“It was less about think­ing about mak­ing some­thing orig­i­nal and more about think­ing about build­ing some­thing for my skill set, and what I feel my strengths as a per­former and sto­ry­teller are,” he said.

Like many black men and women, Cenac has his own un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ences be­ing pulled over by the po­lice. Be­sides look­ing into some well-known cases where po­lice ac­tions were ques­tioned, the show also looks into how po­lice of­fi­cers are trained and in­ter­act with cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties.

“I come in with the cu­rios­ity of a con­cerned ci­ti­zen,” Cenac said. “I live in this coun­try, too. It’s not enough for me to sim­ply de­mand bet­ter on so­cial me­dia, or go to a march when there’s a march and have a sign,” he said.

As­so­ci­ated Press photo

Wy­att Cenac mixes hu­mour and in­for­ma­tion in his new HBO se­ries.

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