The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj on Netflix is the Late Night Show We Need
The subjects Minhaj explores are also a factor: timely as well as weirdly pertinent to the host, a millennial Muslim Indian-American comic, born to immigrant parents.
The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, which recently debuted on Netflix, may just be the breakout late night show that the streaming giant, as well as viewers, needed.
Despite its abject comedy, the Late Night Talk Show game is a fierce competition, with most major television networks in the US slugging it out for ratings and viewing, even if their hosts downplay the behind-the-scenes rivalry. And since 2016, after a reality show star (and quasi business tycoon) became leader of the free world, the role of the late night talk show, as well as its host, has changed dramatically.
What used to be essentially a variety show, with an admixture of celebrity interviews, sketches, skits and musical numbers, with only passing mention of the news, has now become a journalistic exploration of issues of the day with in-depth investigative reporting and fact-checking, broken up by clipped celebrity interviews. Even the skits and sketches now have a sociopolitical motif, and people are loving it.
It’s also telling of the times we live in that people, in the US as well as abroad, are increasingly getting their news from these late night shows rather than the traditional news channels. It’s almost as if everyone needs some comic relief to lighten the mostly depressing cycle of information coming out from around the world.
HBO provided an outlier to the traditional late night show format with Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The show airs one episode a week, and that too on Sundays, as opposed to the usual schedule of every week night. It also concentrates on one subject for the entire show, and explores it in detail, and also eschews the usual celebrity interviews (though plenty of celebrities have featured in its within-topic skits). Given its exhaustive investigation, as well as Oliver’s penetrating wit, it’s no wonder Last Week Tonight has dominated at award shows in the last three years consecutively, picking up practically every trophy it’s nominated for.
Netflix entered the game quite late, and its first few attempts didn’t prove successful, or particularly engaging. The Break with Michelle Wolf was cancelled after only a few episodes, while Norm McDonald Has a Show and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with late night legend David Letterman are more vanity projects for their hosts than anything else.
Hasan Minhaj may be the exception.
While The Patriot Act has aired only three episodes in the week that it’s been out (its debut on October 28 featured two episodes, with a new one coming out every Sunday after), it’s already generating a lot of positive feedback. Like Oliver, Minhaj concentrates on one subject in the show’s 18-odd minute run, thereby providing an in-depth and incisive exploration of the topic.
Unlike Oliver, however, Minhaj doesn’t sit behind a desk but rather bounds up on to a stage surrounded by cheering audience members. He remains standing the entire time while he engages with the audience, with a few skits and news clippings flashing on the screen behind him, thus providing viewers with a new format: part stand-up comedy, part news coverage, part in-depth analysis, and all fun.
The subjects that Minhaj explores are also a factor: timely as well as weirdly pertinent to the host, a millennial Muslim Indian-American comic, born to immigrant parents. His first episode concentrated on the recent class action lawsuit taken out by parents of Asian-American students against Harvard’s admission policies, while the second episode concentrated on the House of Saud vis-à-vis the recent murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Minhaj doesn’t pull any punches either, noting how he was rejected from Stanford, and how, being a practicing but liberal Muslim, he feels about repressive Saudi Arabia, which has Islam’s two holiest sites: Mecca and Medina. To hear about the son of typically 'helicopter' NRI parents discuss Ivy League affirmative action is hilarious; to hear a Muslim discuss his frustration over one autocratic family setting the realpolitik for his entire faith, even if by default, is eye-opening.
The latest episode concentrates on Amazon and its services, which Minhaj frankly confesses being addicted to, and how a company that began as a bookstore is on the verge of monopolizing world commerce. And despite Amazon's "Weinstein-level predatory pricing and practices", Minhaj points out, as an Indian, if he has to pick between 'Woke' and 'Lazy', the latter wins.
It helps that the team of reporters and writers of The Patriot Act have done a fantastic job, whether it’s in investigating what goes on behind the scenes of large news stories or in couching it in easily comprehensible terms, which are as informative as they are funny. No easy task that.
While it would be premature to suggest that The Patriot Act is the new Last Week Tonight, the signs so far look promising. Watch out Oliver, the Indians are coming.
The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj streams new episodes every Sunday on Netflix
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