John Oliver's new HBO show debuted last night, and it featured possibly the most aggressive interview anyone's managed with former NSA Chief Keith Alexander. Almost all of Oliver's questions were barbed ("What would you like Snowden to know right now, other than significantly less?"), and sometimes he descended into outright mockery. ("You do understand that 'collect everything' is also the motto of a hoarder?")
The segment ended with Oliver suggesting the NSA re-brand itself "Mr. Tiggles," an adorable cat in a boot, or "The Washington Redskins," which Oliver described as "a slightly less tainted brand than yours." Asked which he'd go with, Alexander (who generally weathered the interview with equanimity), suggested people vote on it. Opening up Oliver for his final gag: "At long last, Americans are being allowed to vote on something to do with the NSA." Here's what people are saying about the debut:
- That interview segment saved an episode that "seemed in danger of bombing," writes Tom McCarthy at the Guardian. "The value of the confrontation was not simply that Oliver made fun of Alexander," he writes. "Oliver also showed himself to be an effective interviewer by coming back at Alexander with a quickness and precision that the former top spy has very rarely encountered in public."
- While the Daily Show is clearly "Oliver's spirit animal," this show "suggested the sharpest possible version of its inspiration," writes Darren Franich at EW. It was "as if Oliver spent his Daily Show tutelage making a list of everything that works—and everything he wanted to do just a little bit differently."
- James Poniewozik at Time appreciated Oliver's "sharper tone and his globalist, English-outsider perspective," which showed itself in a "sweeping essay" in India's election and the lack of coverage it was getting in the US. But the show "did feel simultaneously long and breathless, maybe because there was very little to vary it." Oliver might need a few more taped segments, or to get himself some correspondents of his own.