Television

What Else? The Problem with Jon Stewart

As it turns out, we did need this.

Sometimes there isn’t enough time on the Taking It Down podcast to get to all of pop culture. With “What Else?” Blaine Duncan covers some other things he’s watched, heard, or read.

Though coverage leading up to the production of Jon Stewart’s new Apple TV+ show was manifold (What sort of show would it be? Was he going to HBO? Would he do interviews?), after its premiere on September 30th, the online chatter tamped down.

As it turns out, the show was Apple TV+’s most watched unscripted show. Do you know who else has an unscripted show on Apple TV+? Oprah.

There’s nothing revelatory going on here. In fact, as I queued up the first episode, I wondered “Do we need another one of these shows?” Sure, The Problem with Jon Stewart is different than his breakthrough stint on The Daily Show, which veered into the funny, albeit sillier, version than what it was with Stewart at the helm. The Daily Show, though, lost a lot of steam during the pandemic. Shifting to filming at home and without an audience killed Trevor Noah’s brand of humor, a brand that relies on goofy, nice interplay with a crowd. Luckily the show still has Roy Wood Jr. and Ronny Chieng who always deliver. And in truth, now that The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is back in a (new) studio, they’ve taken a more informal route so as not to mimic real news and instead just joke about current events. It’s the same, but it’s different.

More importantly, there’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, perhaps the apex of this type of hybrid television and the closest in resemblance to The Problem with Jon Stewart. Not to mention the same first name, both Last Week Tonight and The Problem With take a deep dive into a complex issue affecting America or the world at large. There are key differences, though.

Where Last Week Tonight has John Oliver’s biting humor to feed people knowledge on an information, The Problem With features Jon Stewart’s self-aware absurdity combined with a breakdown, interviews with stakeholders, and — the most vital — Stewart’s weary but heartfelt worldview.

It’s really great to have Stewart back on television in the format which he excels the most. And since the show produces episodes once every two weeks, it’s just the right amount to be squeezed in between the excellent Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, notably once under the helm of Stewart himself.

I welcome the show, though. It’s really great. The interviews are in depth but not stuffy, investigative but not pedantic.

As many of these shows exist, there’s still no one to do them like Jon Stewart. Welcome back, Jon.

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