Jon Stewart returned to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” last night after a 12-week hiatus from the Emmy Award-winning “fake news” program that bears his name. Stewart spent the summer in Jordan directing “Rosewater,” a film adaptation of the book “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival“ by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy.
Mercifully, Stewart & Co. kept the fanfare to a reasonable minimum. “The Colbert Report’s” Stephen Colbert joined Oliver and “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams in a mildly funny opening sketch about reversing the effects suffered by the now-bearded Stewart during his time in the Middle East. He eventually returned clean-shaven to his desk, recapped the top news stories he’d missed with fill-in host John Oliver, and dug into the difficult business of making people laugh about Syria. His concluding interview with Andrew Harper, head of the United Nations’ relief efforts in Jordan, was somber but not out of character for the show, which regularly shifts to a more grave tone for serious topics.
Twitter welcomed Stewart back with a most innocuous torrent of well-wishes, notably few of which included any disparaging remarks aimed at Oliver. In fact, it has been so widely reported during Stewart’s time away that fans and critics were more than pleased with his choice of substitute that even announcing his glorious return feels a bit like one of “The Daily Show’s” own fake news stories. Under Oliver, ratings slippage was negligible. The Brit comedian put his own, slight spin on Stewart’s signature pseudo-bafflement over the appalling behavior of political and pop culture figures. But it was obvious that, in Stewart’s absence, the mandate in the writers’ room was “stay the course.”
I’m not a frequent watcher of “The Daily Show” — I had to stop years back when it became clear that I was relying too heavily on a Comedy Central program for my actual news. But, during this temporary substitution, I grew to appreciate Oliver’s somewhat more controlled energy. Whereas Stewart seems to have grown more and more world-weary over his dozen-plus years as host — understandably so — Oliver came across as a little above it all while still freshly and appropriately indignant. Maybe it’s the British accent, but his snide otherness made me smile.
I know the airwaves are crowded, and I should be a little less cavalier in this space about suggesting personalities to fill them. Nevertheless, I kind of wish that, in addition to announcing Jon Stewart’s return, we were heralding the debut of a suitable vehicle for Oliver — perhaps something more offbeat and globally focused, like “Wacky World News With John Oliver.” The title needs work — but you can see it, right?