Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Monarchy Around The World, Dr Oz & Dietary Supplement Regulation
June 23, 2014 1:34 PM - Season 1, Episode 8 - Subscribe

This week: Iraq continues to fall to ISIS. Thailand undergoes a military coup d'etat. Antarctic ecosystem threatened by tourists. A long piece on monarchy around the world. And the top story, on Dr. Oz, dietary supplements, and their regulation. To show Dr. Oz that he can pander on his show without making questionable claims, Oliver finishes up with a pander-palooza, which has to be seen to be believed.
posted by JHarris (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Dr. Oz segment on YouTube. Warning: unexpected awesomeness at end of clip.

General news
Iraq continues to fall to ISIS. Some US troops sent in to advice. In a press conference on the measure, the phrase "this is not a combat mission" spoken six times.

Thailand undergoes a military coup d'etat (its 12th in 82 years), its leader promising to establish a "genuine democracy" there. A photo of that general standing before a phallanx of white-suited officers on stage casts some doubt on his intentions. "I'm telling you, just add Kyle MacLachlan and a tiny dancing man in a red suit and you've got yourself an actual David Lynch movie." Since then he's launched a "happiness campaign," mostly with PR gimmicks like promising free World Cup match showings, concerts with singing soldiers, and horse pettings, and even him, personally, writing a ballad about Thailand freedom.

Antarctic ecosystem threatened by tourists. "I know we're not supposed to go to Antarctica, but there are free penguins and sno-cones there!" So, the show created a short commercial anti-tourism spot for the continent. "You want to feel the bracing cold on your skin? Stick your dick in a freezer."

On monarchy around the world
King of Spain Juan Carlos abdicates after an almost 40 year reign. Response was somewhat subdued: as the show points out, the city of Los Angeles held a bigger parade to celebrate their team, the LA Kings, winning the Stanley Cup, than the nation of Spain held to celebrate their actual new king.

Discussion led then to that of the surviving institution of monarchy around the world, and its uses, such as marrying off royal family members to each other: "Let us celebrate this treaty by having our children fuck. Still invade Italy? Let me check the family tree... I'm afraid not, our cousins are still banging their cousins." Also: "The gene pool of European royalty is so small, the only difference between that [a royal wedding] and an Alabama wedding are the amount of paper plates in the reception and how drunk the violin player's going to be."

Upon bringing up the UAE Sheik who was aquitted of the crime of torture despite being caught on tape doing it, Oliver points out this is the problem with inherited power: "Every family has that one dim-witted fuck-up that nobody talks about."

Thailand's problems turn out to be caused because while the nation loves its king, he's about to die, and the nation is... not pleased with the prospects of his son becoming king. Thailand people can get 15 years in jail for insulting the monarchy, but that's hard not to do when the crown prince was taped throwing a lavish birthday party for his poodle, in which his wife was topless and fed the dog cake.

Meanwhile the British queen is set to visit the Ireland set of Game of Thrones, prompting show's staff to Photoshop her (a shrunken old woman) onto the Iron Throne, thus "embodying the harsh irony that is her existence. Because at that moment next week, she will be a queen with fake power, visiting a fake kingdom, which arguably has more impact on the lives of her countrymen than she does."

And Now: Political Figures Telling You What They Are Not
Doctor, psychologist (twice), psychiatrist, security professional, drink measurer, witch, scientist (twice), optometrist, politician by trade, control freak, Ron Paul Republican, dingo (see last week), doorman?, (something I couldn't make out), empty dress, rubber stamp, cheerleader.

Top story: Dietary supplements
Dr. Oz hawks untested weight loss supplements in laughably laudatory terms, like "Miracle flowers." ("Miracle flowers? Are you a doctor or an old west traveling salesman?") Dr. Oz is so good at selling these supplements that the phenomenon has its own name, the "Dr. Oz Effect."

On the Senate floor however he was less effusive. In a Congressional hearing, Dr. Oz was asked "Is there a miracle pill out there?" and his response was, basically, no. Oliver: "No, no one's claiming there's a magic pill out there, that would be stupid." Dr. Oz (on his show): "This little bean has scientists saying they've found a magic weight-loss cure for every body type." Oliver: "See? He never said there was a magic pill. He said there was a magic bean! That's clearly entirely different, because magic beans are a very real thing, that you trade your cow for, so you can steal a golden harp from a giant. That's science!" Oliver suggests that, instead of presenting the untested products out as a doctor, he should rename his show "Check This Shit Out With Some Guy Named Mehmet."

It's the FTC and FDA that are empowered to go after medical scams but dietary supplements in the US are largely unregulated. The FDA has little authority to investigate those claims until people get sick from them. People have to get sick or die first, then the FDA can do something. Efforts have been made to change this in the past, but when people died from L-Tryptophan supplements, the industry organized a televised ad campaign, and paid for PSAs featuring "jackbooted thugs coming to take your vitamins," and got more people to write Congress to avert the FDA getting the power to regulate supplements before people get harmed than wrote about the Vietnam War. They even got a celebrity to be the voice of their PSA. Oliver: "Oh, 1993 was a different time, when you could plausibly say 'Hey, be quiet everybody, let's all be quiet and listen to what Mel Gibson has to say.'"

They also contributed to lawmakers, including Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who became the two top recipients of funds from the industry (according to, for 1993-4 -- as we learn later, they also led the list for 2011-2). "And, in a crazy coincidence, they co-sponsored a bill to de-regulate it."

Orrin Hatch (a clip was presented on the show, but this is from the Congressional Record):
Mr. President, this is a momentous day in the U.S. Senate. Today, we honor the wishes of 100 million people, consumers of dietary supplements, people who simply want the ability to lead healthy lifestyles without the constant intervention of one tiny agency which is possessed by a regulatory zeal equaling none.
It is entirely appropriate that we consider the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act today, as the Senate completes another day of debate on the health care reform legislation. For there is no bill which can lead to improved health more than S. 784.
Oliver: "He just criticized a regulatory agency for being too into regulating things." While they claim to be one of the more "highly-regulated industries," they don't need FDA approval before marketing products, can make health claims without prior governmental approval, and don't have to prove safety or effectiveness before sale. Perhaps due in part to the bill sponsored by Hatch and Harkin, since 1994, the supplement industry's income has jumped eight-fold, from $4 billion to $32 billion. Oliver: "With almost no side-effects...." Then follows the clips of news reports of the health issues caused by some of the supplements, including severe bleeding, strokes, liver damage and death, from products such as OxyELITE Pro, and Ephedra, which likely killed Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. 16,000 people were harmed by Ephedra products before it was taken off the market, with 155 deaths. Oliver: "Wow. That's enough to make you wish for an agency with a certain amount of, what's the phrase, regulatory zeal."

Two years ago, when a bill was proposed suggesting that supplements should merely carry warning labels about potentially harmful side-effects, Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin (they're both still around!) strongly protested the bill on the Senate floor, claiming the FDA already has enough tools to regulate them. Harkin (gesticulating wildly with arms): "Every supplement has a label, has the ingredients, and the potency, by law, on every single item that is sold as a supplement." (Congressional record) Oliver: "See? Two decades later, those campaign contributions: still working! Who says nutritional supplements don't have long-lasting effects?"

On Harkin's claim that supplements have labels detailing what's inside it, Oliver points out a recent study in which a group of researchers DNA tested supplements from a dozen North American companies and found that one-third had no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle. "If one-in-three milk bottles didn't contain milk, you might think twice about pouring the white mystery liquid all over your cereal."

"But none of this is likely to change, because companies have access to the one genuinely, truly effective wonder drug: lobbying. And here's how the science works." What follows is a Pepto-Bismol-style animation of the effects that LOBBYINGTM can have on your corporation's, um, bottom line. "Ask your lawyers if LOBBYING is right for you!"

Back to Dr. Oz. If he hadn't been paid to endorse products, why did he effectively endorse them? He claims his statements were just effective presentation. Maybe the problem is just the rigors of having to do a daily medical show? "Sooner or later, you're going to get tired of doing shows about What Your Poop Should Look Like with Cameron Diaz." (Clip from that show: presented.) Another show he's done: "Can an Asprin a Day Keep Cancer Away?" Oliver: "To which the answer is, clearly, no! Not entirely! 'Cause I feel like, if it did, we wouldn't be hearing about it for the first time at 4 PM on a Wednesday afternoon! 'Hey! Did you hear that they cured cancer?' 'No, I was watching Wendy Williams!'"

And then, in reference to Game Of Thrones' season ending.... Showing us how easy it is to fill your show with shameless pandering without making faulty medical claims, Oliver then presents a very short Skype interview with George R.R. Martin:
Oliver: "Hey George! How's the writing going?"
George R.R. Martin: "I just killed three of your favorite characters!"

That worked, let's bring out a puppy! "Look! Neither I nor the puppy, and I'm not making dangerously unsubstantiated claims about potentially dangerous dietary supplements!" Then the ladies in trashy dresses throwing wine at each other. Then, yes, the T-shirt Cannon. Because it's John Oliver. And Steve Buscemi tap dancing. "Any thoughts, Steve, on the questionable benefits of dietary supplements?" And finally the Black and Gold Marching Elite.

Fun fact: Martin is at his computer in his bit, and it's true, he uses an old DOS word processor to write! happy happy happy....
posted by JHarris at 1:42 PM on June 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

A Bugle podcast announcement :-(
posted by Pendragon at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was a fantastic episode, and not just because of the pandering! The dietary supplements section was fascinating to watch as a non-American. And great recap JHarris.
posted by ellieBOA at 2:27 PM on June 23, 2014

I thought this episode was just good, not great.

I did enjoy this article about the effect John Oliver has been having.
posted by Night_owl at 2:58 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought, once we got into the monarchy stuff, it was very good, and became great when it hit Dr. Oz and the dietary supplement bit.
posted by JHarris at 6:40 PM on June 23, 2014

It was fun to hear "Buscemi" butchered in a whole new way. (No, John, it does not rhyme with sashimi.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:52 PM on June 23, 2014

I really hope sub one million viewers is enough to keep this going. The long form deconstructions/destructions that characterize the last act are my new sanity check in a way that Stewart/Colbert no longer are for all the reasons mentioned in that Salon article.

Also, he finally got to buy his own TShirt cannon! Congratulations John, your dreams have finally come true.
posted by absalom at 8:21 PM on June 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love that unlike The Daily Show, Oliver's show isn't just clips ripping on Fox News and CNN. Mind you, I only experience Fox News or CNN through The Daily Show. Oliver gives his show a healthy dose of international events, and for that I will watch it faithfully.
posted by Catblack at 9:15 PM on June 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wow, this is an incredible summary of the show. JHarris, thanks so much for posting!
posted by rebent at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Glad he tackled Oz. I saw the show for all of 10 minutes once and couldn't believe that an hour long infomercial was so popular and beloved because it shilled what was clearly bullshit.
posted by juiceCake at 11:02 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks, rebent! One of the hardest parts is deciding which jokes and points to leave out, so as to preserve it being a summary instead of a transcript.
posted by JHarris at 11:55 AM on June 24, 2014

absalom, I don't know what Oliver's ratings are, but considering that HBO doesn't have advertising, ratings aren't as relevent as they would be to a basic cable or broadcast show, at least in terms of survival. And all the buzz that Last Week Tonight's gotten throughout the internet has got to make it a substantial prestige piece for HBO to have, which has got to increase subscribers.
posted by JHarris at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2014

They're stopping Boardwalk Empire, one of the best shows on television, apparently due to lower viewership numbers but who can tell what the hell goes on at HBO.
posted by juiceCake at 4:56 PM on June 24, 2014

They're stopping Boardwalk Empire, one of the best shows on television, apparently due to lower viewership numbers but who can tell what the hell goes on at HBO.

Well, at least we know Buscemi will still have a gig.
posted by EmGeeJay at 9:46 PM on June 24, 2014

I really hope sub one million viewers is enough to keep this going.

According to this Guardian piece,
Four million viewers tune in to the show every week and two million more watch online the next day
so that's not nearly as dire (especially after a mere handful of episodes).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:26 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was just looking at Wikipedia breakdown. Those numbers sound great for HBO at 11 on a Sunday.
posted by absalom at 1:03 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

And on a premium cable channel as well! I mean, damn, Daily Show doesn't post those kinds of numbers; Comedy Central issued a press release crowing that at the end of 2013, it was pulling in 2.5M viewers, and it's just basic cable. It's great to see Oliver hitting it big. I hope he can pull Andy Zaltzman in sometimes. Or maybe that's just me reacting with trepidation at the prospect of not being punned at until September....
posted by JHarris at 3:23 PM on June 26, 2014

These ratings numbers indicate 1.2 million or so. This is similar to Veep and Eastbound and Down, ahead of Girls and Treme, although obviously a fraction of Game of Thrones. It will be interesting to see what the ratings do once GoT isn't the lead in show. But it's also worth noting that unless John Oliver is being paid a fortune -- I'm sure he's being paid well, but he's probably not being paid Jon Stewart money -- Last Week Tonight is presumably a hell of a lot cheaper to produce than even a fairly straightforward comedy like Girls, much less an expansive period drama like Boardwalk Empire.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:35 PM on June 26, 2014

I thought LWT had Veep as its lead-in. That's much weaker than GoT, even though Veep followed GoT so there might have been some additional carryover.
posted by Night_owl at 9:07 PM on June 26, 2014

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