TIME Television

RECAP: Dancing With the Stars Watch: Latin Night, Now With 100% More Ricky Martin

Livin la vida loca, naturally

Welcome back to Dancing With the Stars! Grab a bowl of chips and watch the salsas , because it’s Latin Week on our beloved dance competition show. Stalwart fans know that means this week will be filled with the ersatz celebrities and their more famous pro dancing partners doing their best to get in touch with their inner Ricky Martin and shake their bon bons for our entertainment and the judges’ scores. Who better to judge their success at that noble goal than the real Ricky Martin? Much like Redfoo before him, Ricky will be joining the judges at their table, assessing the merits of the scrum of stars on their kicks, flicks and rumba moves.

Here’s what happened on Dancing With the Stars:

Safety First: Danica McKellar broke a rib during rehearsal, because Val Chmerkoviskiy doesn’t know his own man-strength. She will sally forth and barrel through, though and to reward her for her fortitude, Tom Bergeron announces that she is safe from elimination this week. Who will be joining her next week? Paralympian Amy Purdy, who is tasked with dancing first.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: During rehearsals for their saucy rumba, Amy admitted that she was having “challenges at home” because her DWTS schedule was impeding her personal life and then she started crying, which Derek found very awkward. To make things less uncomfortable for himself (but probably not helping her personal relationship) Derek choreographed a sultry and sexy rumba to “Light My Fire.” The judges ate it up, but Carrie Ann Inaba a.k.a. resident Lift Cop busted Derek for putting a lift in the number. Ricky loved it, though: “I go by what my heart is feeling… You were stunning.” 36/40

James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: In typical meanie DWTS style, James and Peta were told that they were in jeopardy and then ordered to hit the dance floor. And hit it they did. The duo started out clad in gas station attendant coveralls that were stripped off during the course of their samba, leaving Peta in her red sequined garters and James shirtless, which everyone with a pulse loved, but none so much as Bruno Tonioli — who announced that he will need the “full service” tomorrow because he has “blown his spark plugs.” Despite what Len Goodman considered to be sloppy footwork, Ricky summed it up best: “It was like wow after wow.” 35/40

Best Bergeronism: “That’s amazing. That’s exactly what happens in the gas station I go to,” said Tom.

Danica McKellar and Val Chmerkovskiy: Despite having a broken rib, Danica and Val delivered a fast-paced salsa routine with Danica setting the mood in her outfit of nothing but cut-off booty shorts, hot pink high tops and crimped hair. While the judges knew she was injured and she had the x-ray to prove it, they judged her strictly on her routine, which Carrie Ann deemed “stifled” and Len called “a little bit careful.” 33/40

Safety Last: Amy injured her back during her routine, and was taken to the medics for examination and then ordered to the hospital before she could do the team dance. Also not safe? Olympic ice dancer Charlie White and Real Housewife Nene Leakes.

Nene Leakes and Tony Dovolani: Despite being dapper in his vest and tie, thanks to a last-minute Twitter campaign, Tony was required to hit the dance floor sans shirt. Luckily, he had no problem with the creepy call and stripped down for his Argentine tango. The routine let Nene’s show off her skills as an entertainer, but unfortunately her dance moves were still off. Len noted that she “sold it,” but the footwork and leg action “could have been a bit crisper.” Carrie Ann backhandedly said she was impressed by how far NeNe has come in the competition, which is the telltale sign of a star about to head home. 31/40

Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: While Charlie and Sharna are in jeopardy this week, everyone knows it’s just the producers are using it like a pep speech in Rudy to try and create additional tension to propel the Olympian to greatness on the dance floor. They delivered a passionate and aggressive paso doble that looked amazing to the untrained eye, but left the judges unimpressed. Len didn’t think it was “special” and Carrie Ann said he needed more “sharpness” in his moves. Everyman Ricky Martin loved it, though, and gave them a 10. 36/40

Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: Candace had to go see a sports psychologist to drum up sympathy to discuss her insecurities and the fact that she is “blanking out” on the dance floor. After years on the hit show Full House, the actress isn’t used to failure and she feels like she is letting Mark down. Candace incorporated her psychologist’s suggestions into her Argentine tango. Bruno noted she had “great legs,” but it was unclear whether the psychologist had anything to do with that. 35/40.

Meryl Davis and Maks Chmerkovskiy: Let it be known that Meryl knows how to rock a perm. The enormously curly hair she wore for her salsa with Maks was worth a perfect 10 in and of itself. In rehearsal, Meryl said the “depth of the sexuality” she needed for the routine was new to her, but Maks knew how to turn on Meryl’s “sexy switch” — all of which was clearly a dig at her real life dancing partner Charlie. The duo got down and dirty on the dance floor for a high-energy, super-fast salsa that included a team of backup dancers, wild flips and, naturally, Maks ripping off his shirt and throwing it to the crowd. Obviously Bruno and Ricky loved it. 39/40, with Len being the lone holdout.

Saddest Moment In Television History: In homage to Ricky Martin, the stars were divided into two teams: Team Vida and Team Loca. They were then forced to dance for the guest judge’s pleasure to one of his own songs. Candace was the last person picked for the team dance, which will not help her self esteem issues.

Team Vida: Due to the fact that they were all in jeopardy of going home, Charlie and Sharna, NeNe and Tony, and James and Peta delivered a spicy number that Bruno declared was “incredible fun.” 35/40.

Team Loca: Amy rudely left her teammates hanging and was loitering in a hospital triage room instead of dancing live to Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca.” That meant that instead of seeing the live routine, the television viewing audience was shown the footage from the dress rehearsal, while the studio audience got to see shirtless Maks, Val and Mark dance live with Meryl, Danica and Candace. Carrie Ann deemed it the “tightest group dance” ever. 39/40

The Leaderboard: Meryl and Maks top the rankings with a nearly-perfect 39 followed by Amy and Derek and Charlie and Sharna tied with a respectable 36. At the bottom of the charts? NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani with a 31

Who Went Home? Nene, who took a moment to speak of herself in the third person: “I am proud of NeNe Leakes!”

MORE: RECAP: Mad Men Watch: “Field Trip”

MORE: RECAP: Game of Thrones Watch: Soul on Ice

 

TIME Television

Why Replace Craig Ferguson At All?

Lyle Lovett and Ferguson on the April 23, 2014 Late Late Show. Sonja Flemming/CBS

Get ready for another debate over who should get to host a talk show. But the question should be whether we need one more talk show, period.

Craig Ferguson, who will leave CBS at the end of the year after a decade, was arguably the only person actually doing a “talk show” in late night: that is, a show in which the distinguishing attraction was not viral videos or comedy bits or the standup routine but the talk. Ferguson, a funny comedian in his own right, stood out for his words–his wide-ranging, essayistic monologues, his idiosyncratic choices of guests whom he engaged with sincere curiosity and interest. It never earned him a big profile, it was fortunate he lasted as long as he did, and he will be missed.

That said, I’d be a phony to act too outraged over his departure or worked up over who will replace him. Because truth be told, I admired Ferguson a lot and watched him very little. It was nothing personal; I also watch relatively little of Conan and Dave and Arsenio and the Jimmys and all the very talented guys (because they are guys) hosting late-night talk shows. If I didn’t write about TV, I’d probably watch even less; I have kids, I wake up early, there’s a lot of TV crowding my Tivo, and there are too many other alternatives I’d choose first.

And I’m not alone. The audiences for the big 11:35 p.m. shows have been declining over the years, and by 12:35 the numbers are infinitesimal. If we’re going strictly by ratings, we should be at least as concerned about what new shows Adult Swim is programming as who takes over another talk show.

Ferguson’s audience was small but intense, but for many others, late-night only exists as a kind of cultural proxy. There should maybe be a punch-card system, in which you need to show proof of having actually watched 20 full talk-show episodes in a year before venturing a heated opinion as to who hosts one. As a colleague once told me back during the Jay/Conan disaster, “I don’t really watch Conan, but I like to know that he’s there.”

So people will debate, again, who should host CBS’s late-late show, but there’s a good argument that we don’t need the show at all–not, anyway, a show with a monologue, a house band, two interviews and a musical guest. CBS might do much better creating a program to reach some part of the vast, vast audience that does not watch talk shows, period. For instance (and I’m not the first to throw these ideas out):

* a sports roundup/roundtable, taking advantage of CBS Sports’ resources
* a panel-discussion show, harking back to the days of Politically Incorrect on ABC
* a talk-parody show, like the brilliant, short-lived syndicated Fernwood 2-Night and America 2-Night that starred Martin Mull and Fred Willard in the ’70s
* virtually any kind of targeted-interest show–music, politics, what have you–to distinguish CBS’s late night from the raft of general-interest talk shows already out there

CBS will probably do none of these things, of course; well before Ferguson left, its leadership was talking about looking for another host to do another talk show. But if it does, it probably won’t be because there’s that much viewership to be found or money to be made but because, well, NBC has a 12:35 show, CBS had one, and it would seem to diminish Stephen Colbert not to be followed by a full-fledged talk show as David Letterman was and Jimmy Fallon is.

There will be a late late show on CBS, in other words, because that’s what you do. You most likely will not watch it. But at least you’ll know it’s there.

TIME Television

Craig Ferguson Is ‘Consciously Uncoupling’ From CBS

Another late-night funnyman is leaving the network as the Late Late Show host announced this week he will step down in December, marking an overhaul of CBS' after-dark lineup with the pending departure of David Letterman next year

Another late-night host is leaving CBS. The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson will be stepping down in December, marking an overhaul of the network’s late-night lineup with the pending departure of David Letterman next year.

Ferguson announced his exit during the Monday-night taping of his show (which will air at 12:35 a.m. E.T. Tuesday), Variety reports. CBS issued a statement Monday, in which the Scottish-American host said:

CBS and I are not getting divorced, we are ‘consciously uncoupling,’ but we will still spend holidays together and share custody of the fake horse and robot skeleton, both of whom we love very much.

There has been speculation that Ferguson, who has been in the slot since 2005, would be departing this year with his contract expiring and Letterman’s production company reportedly not producing any more late shows after the host departs. The Late Late Show was averaging just under 1.5 million viewers vs. Late Night’s 2.2 million recently.

Ferguson’s contract also reportedly guaranteed a payout of between $8 million and $10 million if the network decided to give the Late Show hosting gig to anyone else, which it did when Stephen Colbert was tapped to take over for Letterman when he retires in 2015.

And while Colbert is already in place to join the late-night lineup, Ferguson’s replacement has yet to be announced. Neil Patrick Harris has been floated as a contender, though other hosts who were rumored to be in the running like Chelsea Handler have already been ruled out.

On Monday, Lena Dunham tweeted support for Ferguson, who conducted the Girls creator’s first talk-show interview.

[Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Television

Sarah Silverman Joins Masters of Sex Cast

Audi Golden Globes Weekend Cocktail Party
JB Lacroix—WireImage/Getty Images

The Season 2 cast of the acclaimed drama just got a lot funnier, as the comedian has agreed to play the recurring role of Helen, a palm reader and the former lesbian lover of Annaleigh Ashford’s character Betty

Comedian Sarah Silverman is joining the Season 2 cast of Showtime’s drama Masters of Sex. The cable network released a statement Monday announcing the addition of Silverman, whose previous TV credits include the Emmy-nominated series The Sarah Silverman Program and Monk.

The acclaimed series is based on the true story of St. Louis-based duo William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose pioneering research shed new light on the human sexual experience. On the show, Silverman will play in the recurring role of Helen, a palm reader and the former lesbian lover of Annaleigh Ashford’s character Betty, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Breaking Bad star Betsy Brandt and Akeelah and the Bee star KeKe Palmer are also joining the Golden Globe nominated cast that includes Michael Sheen as William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson. Season 2 of Masters of Sex premiers on Showtime July 13.

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Has “Oathkeeper” — Get Your Sword Name Here

Use TIME's Game of Thrones Sword-Name Generator to dub your dagger

The reason behind the name of the April 27 episode of Game of Thrones, “Oathkeeper,” became obvious about halfway through the show: Jaime Lannister gives Brienne his Valyrian steel sword — a sword he can’t make proper use of now that he’s missing a hand — and sends her off to keep their promise to find the Stark girls. “They say the best swords have names,” he tells her. What will hers be called? Oathkeeper, natch.

Thus Oathkeeper joins a long line of great Thrones swords with names — like Ice (Ned Stark’s sword, and the source of the steel for Oathkeeper), Widow’s Wail (the other sword made from that steel, which went to Joffrey as a wedding present), Needle (Arya’s blade), Lightbringer (Stannis’ enchanted sword) and Longclaw (the Mormont sword).

But is Jaime right about great swords and their names? Game of Thrones is fantasy (duh) but the show contains myriad links to medieval-ish history. So at first the answer seems like another “duh”: Arthur had Excalibur. Charlemagne had Joyeuse. El Cid had Colada. (Nor is sword-naming limited to European history; Asian and Near Eastern traditions have swords of their own, but they’re less relevant to Game of Thrones.)

Though those legendary swordsmen don’t approach Thrones levels of obvious fiction, the line between medieval folklore and medieval history can get a little blurry when it comes to famous swords. As for King Arthur, for example, historians are still unsure exactly how much historical fifth-century truth lies behind the stories of the king himself — much less his sword. Swords and scabbards with inscriptions are in the historical record, but many of those inscriptions are merely the equivalent of a name tag in a jacket or the stamp of the craftsman; as for Westeros-worthy names like Oathkeeper, historians have a chicken-egg problem with the myth and the reality of sword-naming. Which came first? As Hilda Ellis Davidson explains in her book The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England, literature and folklore have helped pass down the names of famous swords through the ages but it’s “hard to determine how far the naming of swords was a literary convention only, and how far it existed as a practice among Anglo-Saxons and Vikings of an earlier period.” The further along history goes, the less doubt there is — a real Joyeuse can be seen in the Louvre, though its oldest parts are dated to the post-Charlemagne 10th century — but even then the source of the tradition is cloudy.

Whatever the source, sword-naming started to taper off by the time the Middle Ages were ending — until now, thanks to TIME’s handy Game of Thrones sword-name generator. Get yours up top.

Photographs courtesy HBO

TIME Television

How I Met Your Mother Cut a Funeral Scene From Its Finale

From left: Josh Radnor as Ted and Cristin Milioti as Tracy in the finale of How I Met Your Mother.
From left: Josh Radnor as Ted and Cristin Milioti as Tracy in the finale of How I Met Your Mother. Ron P. Jaffe—Fox Television

The show's buzz-worthy ending could have been even more tear-jerking, according to star Alyson Hannigan

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Fans were dismayed to find out in the show’s series finale that the mother of the title, Tracy, would go on to a premature death. Viewers learned of her passing in a montage of her and Ted raising a family together and a conversation between the main character Ted and his kids. But the tragedy could have been even more prolonged.

According to series star Alyson Hannigan, the finale was about 18 minutes shorter than the original script the actors were given at the table read. Among the cut scenes was a montage of Tracy’s funeral. “Honestly, if you saw [that] cut, it would be even more heart-wrenching than what the finale was. They were like, ‘No. It’s just too gut-wrenching.’ And I was like, ‘That’s what I want. I want my heart ripped out and slammed on the floor and, like, stomped on!’” she told TVLine.

Though some fans might have found Ted’s decision to pursue his old flame Robin after his wife’s death even more tasteless after seeing Tracy’s funeral, Hannigan argued that it would have given the audience more closure: “[The scene] would have been better for the audience, so that then they can process, ‘Oh, [Ted] mourned. He got closure’ — and then they’d be happy that [he and Robin] got together. Rather than be like, ‘Oh, wait. She died? What? They’re together, huh?’ And credits. That’s what I think was too fast.”

The series creators promised a recut, happier ending to the show in the DVD boxset after fans expressed disappointment at the finale.

[TV Line]

TIME Television

Jim Gaffigan On Obsessed and Making Laughter Out of Doughnuts

© 2014 Alan Gastelum ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

"Do you really need to curse when you talk about doughnuts?" says Gaffigan

Comedian Jim Gaffigan is best known for two things: his children and his love of food.

He covered a lot of material about his five kids in his bestselling book, Dad Is Fat — so on his most recent comedy special, Obsessed, which debuted April 27 on Comedy Central and is available now on iTunes, Gaffigan dives deep into his passion for cuisine. Topics include kale propaganda, Southern food and what exactly is the difference between an anchovy and a sweaty eyebrow (hint: nothing).

TIME spoke with the stand-up comic about comedy and why there’s no need to swear about bacon:

Are there things you would never make fun of?

As a comedian I have a core belief that anything can be funny, but I am not built in a manner where I need to figure out a way to make abortion funny. There are comedians who are great at that stuff and I’ll leave it to them. I kind of want my comedy… I don’t want anyone in the room to feel uncomfortable. I am not really into “us vs. them” comedy where it’s like, “How ‘bout those idiots?”

So you’ll make fun of yourself with your pale skin and sun allergy, but won’t make fun of anyone else’s?

I think everyone can relate! But it’s not some sort of elaborate plan — it’s just what works for me. I think comedians get so much credit or criticism for the time of comedy that they just do. It’s just how it comes out. Like Bill Burr is doing the exact right kind of comedy that he should be doing and so is Chris Rock. It’s not like they are both sitting at home thinking, “If only I was a little more angry.”

You tend to be a very “clean” comic. Is that your default setting?

I’m not the kind of person who feels comfortable cursing or talking about some intimate sexual experience in front of strangers, but I curse in everyday life. I think some of it is the topics that I discuss. What’s wrong with your life if you’re cursing about bacon? Do you really need to curse when you talk about doughnuts? But it’s great when some comics curse! Who would want Lewis Black not to curse?

Or George Carlin!

Exactly. Standup has such a rich tradition of battling censorship. It crosses the line, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to cross the line.

Lenny Bruce took his comedy all the way to the Supreme Court. Your comedy probably won’t end up there.

My comedy isn’t even going to end up on the People’s Court. It’s interesting doing these interviews. I do a special every two years and do a round of interviews with them because you forget… standup is so great, because there’s an honesty to the conversation. You know exactly how you come across. It’s a great opportunity to learn who you are in the context of other comedians or the entertainment industry. I don’t think about myself as clean — we have a tendency to categorize things, and I think the clean thing is kind of silly. It’s not like we live in a culture where someone not cursing is that exceptional. It’s not like people are saying, “Unbelievable, go see this comedian who doesn’t curse for an hour!” That’s not what is going to drive people into a theater. It comes down to funny or not, identifiable or not.

I don’t think it’s necessarily what you’re known for, but doing research for this conversation it came up, a lot. I don’t think I had noticed it before.

Right. People come up and ask me, “Why don’t you curse?” and I say, “Because Jesus told me not to.” Brian Regan is probably the best comedian on the planet and he doesn’t curse, but it’s a strange thing, because my favorite comedian is probably Dave Attell and he’s filthy! But I don’t think of him as filthy, I think of him as just as funny as Brian Regan. I think there’s just a tendency — you’re a writer, you know this — to look back on what we’ve done and do a surgery on it. “Okay, what made George Carlin great?” What made him great can’t be summed up in one sentence. His career spanned decades.

Right, but some people — and I’m being a bit facetious — do think Carlin’s career could be summed up in seven dirty words.

Of course there are people who think that. But that’s doing a huge disservice to this incredible wordsmith. Seven dirty words is a brilliant piece of comedy, but when it came out, it was a powerful statement that captured a moment in time and these words that weren’t allowed to be said on television, but now, they are allowed to be said on television and, as an observation, it’s been done.

A lot of comedy has been diffused because society has caught up with it. What was once transgressive is now commonplace.

Right, look at Richard Pryor! You look at him and a lot of his material — I wouldn’t say ripped off, but a lot of his material has been bastardized by a lot of comedians. You look back at his material and say, “Oh, that is where the joke started.” Something about my material, though, is that I don’t deal in irreverence. “Irreverent” is like liberty or your concept of freedom — it’s constantly shifting. What is considered irreverent today isn’t going to be considered irreverent in ten years. It’s constantly moving. Dealing with nuts and bolts and observational comedy, there is some longevity in it. That’s why a Bob Newhart CD is still funny, but some topical stuff can wear thin.

The topics you talk about are things that everyone tends to agree on — everyone loves food, everyone loves doughnuts. Your topics aren’t going to get dated.

It’s weird, and again, none of this was intentional — none of it — but I feel like I got lucky. My special Beyond the Pale still sells and it’s because the topics are still relevant. I mean, I’ve definitely written my fair share of jokes about answering machines that are not relevant, but there is something about the topics that still work. If you look at the track names on my CDs, you’d be like, what is that, a shopping list? I love what I do, but there is something about what I do that — there’s not a sexy angle. I’m not talking about stories of me with hookers — I’m talking about doughnuts. There’s an absence of a dynamic taboo breaking.

Do you think that has affected your career at all, though? It seems like that could be a positive.

I love what I do. Sometimes when I talk to other comics, we get to this point in the conversation where I think, “We get paid to do what we want. That’s a victory in itself!” Sure, I can worry about whether I get more attention or less — I mean, I make a living as a stand-up comedian! I can afford to have 5,000 children. That’s a miracle! I grew up in a small town in Indiana where the closest thing to the entertainment industry was the marching band. But, again, I think the type of comedy that I do is authentic to me. I don’t think I can do the Garth Brooks thing and create a dark side version of me. I don’t think it’s either hurt or helped, but I think it’s a miracle that I get to do what I want. We all could have ended up lawyers! No one aspires to do construction on the side of the FDR highway. I want to be sensitive to that, too. I think you can get caught up in all of it, but the entertainment industry is not fair. It’s a weird business. That said, stand-up comedy is the only aspect of the entertainment industry that is somewhat merit-based. If you put in the effort and the time and the audience responds, that’s it. You can’t hoodwink people for a couple of decades. There’s no debate that Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld and George Carlin were great comedians. They had careers that spanned decades. It’s not a fluke.

This is your fourth comedy special, so you must be doing something right.

This is my fourth special, but stand-up comedy does not feel like a job. The thing that I love about stand-up is that I feel like I’m getting better at it. There’s something very rewarding about that. I can do four specials, because there’s an outlet for it. I can tour and do that. I’m lucky because I can write everything with my wife and we have this collaboration. It works, but I’m not under some delusion that I’m going to be in the same category as Carlin or Seinfeld.

How long did it take to write this one?

Maybe a year or a year and a half. I feel like this one took less time than the others. I know Louis does an hour a year and the British comics do an hour a year. Jake Johannsen has done a new hour of comedy for like 20 years. 20 years! That’s insane! Different topics take different amounts of time, though. Cheney shoots somebody and then a social satirist gets ten minutes. For me, it takes longer to write an hour and because my topic isn’t based on the news cycle, I would rather spend time with the material and make it really good.

You do have a lot more children to distract you from writing.

Yes, in the end, I would rather be considered a decent dad than a prolific comic.

You are fairly prolific, even if you don’t get your one hour a year that other comics are getting.

Right, but I have to. I love it, but I have to. I’m constantly touring and there’s an unspoken arrangement that the comedian has with the audience that you’re going to bring new stuff. Otherwise they are not going to come back. I want people to leave one of my shows thinking, “I’m definitely coming back.” So new material is pretty important, but it’s also really fun to come up with. There’s nothing better than coming up with a new joke. Nothing.

MORE: Todd Barry Talks Working With Louis CK On His New Crowd Work Tour Comedy Special

MORE: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Clown Sex and the Rise of Funny-Naked Women

TIME Television

REVIEW: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

HBO

Oliver's bare-bones fake-newscast is an extended version of what he did as a Daily Show guest anchor. And that's not a bad thing.

Last summer, John Oliver stepped in for Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show effortlessly–so effortlessly that it became almost a foregone conclusion that he would have his own show before too long, for someone. That someone turned out to be HBO, the show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. And while I’m not privy to the conversations that took place in signing and developing it, the debut suggested that what HBO asked for was: “That thing you did when you filled in for Stewart? We’ll take that thing, a half hour, once a week. Oh, and you can swear.”

There was no Carlos Danger on last night’s debut–there are new buffoons to kick around now. But the episode otherwise hewed so closely to the fake-news format and Oliver’s past work on TDS that it might well have been called The Weekly Show With John Oliver–an extra, weekend-magazine-length version of what fans have enjoyed on Comedy Central for years.

That is, of course, not a bad thing at all.

The first installment of Last Week Tonight was very much a one-man show, the bulk of it taken up with an extended news-desk segment—like Stewart’s, but with room for more segments and more time to build momentum. (It was such a familiar setup that as it went on something felt strange, and I realized I was unconsciously waiting for, phantom-limb-like, the Comedy Central commercial break.) Counterintuitively for a move to a big-budget network, it’s a stripped-down affair, in some ways like a podcast (i.e., Oliver’s The Bugle).

The fake-cast’s distinctions are its schedule, its length (an actual 30 minutes, not 20-ish with ads), and its host, and Last Week Tonight‘s first outing took advantage of each. Producing one show a week may make last week less timely (as the show’s promos have joked about), but it also lets the staff cherry-pick a week’s worth of news, and they got lucky this time. First, there was the serendipity of Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling (“It turned out to be a rough week for unrepentent racists and recording devices”), and the fact that the Sterling comments broke late in the week gave Oliver first crack at them.

Maybe more important in the long run is that that full half-hour gives Oliver the room to do more than one of those Daily Show-esque deconstructions of news and the media. The India elections segment must have been something Oliver and the writers had been marinating on for a while—he mentioned it to Jack Dickey in TIME’s recent profile—and it formed into a sweeping essay on news-media provincialism, the export of cable-news sensibilities around the globe, and the actual issues at stake in the world’s largest democracy.

All that came filtered, as it did on Oliver’s Daily Show interregnum, through his sharper tone and his globalist, English-outsider perspective. (“Let’s deal with Gandhi first–and I realize this is not the first time that sentence has been said in a British accent.”) Oliver is verbally nimble and able to deliver a joke, but he also, more often than Stewart, is willing to voice genuine passion over his subjects. Here HBO’s content guidelines come in handy: in a segment on misleading food marketing, his response to a claim that frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts will make your kids “rise and shine” was a single, pitch-perfect “Fuck. You.

The first newscast did feel simultaneously long and breathless, maybe because there was little to vary it or break up the topic segments. I can understand Oliver not wanting to further mimic The Daily Show with correspondent bits. (He served as his own correspondent, in a pointed interview with former NSA head Keith Alexander about the agency’s image, getting the former chief to volunteer the slogan, “The only agency in government that really listens.”) If Oliver wants to keep the show’s bare-bones format, some more varied taped pieces could work (like the Lisa Loeb parody of a twee Oregon ad for its glitch-plagued health exchange), as might some different desk bits that would give him the change to change up the show’s rhythms.

But it was a funny, confident start. I, like I’m guessing a few of you, DVR The Daily Show, watching it sooner when there’s a story I can’t wait to hear Stewart’s take on, later when there’s not. For now, I’ll gladly add Last Week Tonight to that pile and watch to see if it becomes essential. In which case, your Sunday TV glut just got a half-hour longer.

TIME Television

WATCH: The Trailer for HBO’s The Leftovers Is Here

Check out the slightly NSFW trailer for the HBO series that stars Justin Theroux and is based on the 2011 book by Tom Perrotta, about how survivors cope after a Rapture-like event

HBO has been teasing its upcoming drama The Leftovers for a while now, but Sunday night the first full-length trailer for the postapocalyptic show premiered in all its creepy, ominous glory.

Starring Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman and Liv Tyler, The Leftovers is based on the 2011 book by Tom Perrotta, who worked with Lost‘s Damon Lindelof to create the HBO version. The series takes place a few years after the sudden and mysterious disappearance of 2% of the world’s population in a Rapture-like event and follows how those left behind—the titular “leftovers”—deal with the loss (hint: join lots of cults, apparently).

Though it’s vague, the trailer offers just enough creeping dread to promise one hell of a gripping series and get us excited for its June 29 premiere.

 

TIME China

China Slaps Bans on a Bunch of Totally Harmless U.S. TV Shows

The Big Bang Theory
Since launching on the Chinese video-hosting website Sohu TV in 2009, The Big Bang Theory has racked up 1.3 billion views — equivalent to one view for every person in the country CBS/Getty Images

Shows like NCIS, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife and The Practice have disappeared from sites like Sohu TV, iQiyi and Youku, indicating they are just too wild and crazy for impressionable Chinese youth to handle

You could call it the Big Ban Theory. Chinese fans of American TV series are up in arms after discovering that some of their favorite shows have been yanked from the country’s most popular streaming websites without explanation. On Saturday, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice all disappeared from sites like Sohu TV, iQiyi and Youku.

At this stage it’s unclear why the government has targeted The Big Bang Theory, a seemingly innocuous show about the personal relationships and travails of a group of science geeks, while far more contentious programs like Breaking Bad and House of Cards continue to be broadcast online.

One reason could be its popularity. Since launching on the video-hosting website Sohu TV in 2009, The Big Bang Theory has racked up 1.3 billion views — equivalent to one view for every person in the country.

There is little doubt that the edict pulling the shows seems intended as a shot across the boughs of China’s freewheeling online video sector by government regulators. Until now, video providers like Sohu TV and iQiyi have been free to negotiate content deals with overseas rights holders and broadcast the shows they like without having to get official approval.

As a result, young viewers have been deserting the sanitized soap operas and turgid dramas about the communist revolution that are a staple of mainstream, government-controlled TV and are flocking to the more uninhibited realms of online TV. But the government has long indicated that it would clamp down on this unusually open media sector. Last month, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said that all American and British TV shows being broadcast in China would need to receive government approval — which would require them to come before the censors. The move to ban certain shows is, it would seem, the first move in rolling out this approval process.

The development comes as the Chinese government is strengthening its control over the Internet. Officials have repeatedly spoken of the importance of “seizing the commanding heights” of the web. The administration of Xi Jinping has already sanitized popular social-media platforms like microblogging site Weibo and strengthened control over online media organizations.

The Global Times, a normally staunchly nationalistic publication, published Monday a piece written by leading film critic Tan Fei, who argued that “the machetes the monitoring departments waved to the U.S. dramas are not only aimed at protecting teenagers’ physical and mental health but, on a deeper level, are aimed at protecting our weak domestic film industry.”

The decision to pull The Big Bang Theory, a hugely popular comedy, has rankled the show’s army of fans in China, where the story of nerdy graduates struggling to find their way in the world has struck a chord with millions of young people. With the job market in China becoming fiercely competitive and living costs soaring across major cities, graduates are now finding that their dreams of a career and high income don’t necessarily translate into reality.

Fans have taken to online forums to voice their approval for the show and to offer creative arguments for its return.

Wrote one user sardonically: “The Big Bang Theory described four young scientists who can’t find wives because they’re devoted to science, they can’t buy a house so they shared a small apartment and live on junk food, and the Indian immigrant with speech problems has to sit on the floor to eat. All these miserable phenomena highlight the racism, the unfairness and decadence of Western society. It’s an extremely strong educational tool for those in China who wish to emigrate.”

The pleas may be working, however. According to fresh reports in Chinese media, the state broadcaster CCTV has bought the rights and will broadcast The Big Bang Theory in the near future — but in how sanitized a form it remains to be seen.

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