The year in John Oliver: How "Last Week Tonight" redefined political comedy

We lost "The Colbert Report" in 2014, but gained "Last Week Tonight." Here were our favorite segments

Published December 29, 2014 8:00PM (EST)

  (HBO/Eric Liebowitz)
(HBO/Eric Liebowitz)

Even before the debut of his inaugural hosting gig, "Last Week Tonight," it would've been hard to mistake John Oliver for some sort of comedy slouch. He had, after all, proven his bona fides time and again as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," and then as a stand-in host, while Jon Stewart was filming "Rosewater." But even for longtime Oliver fans, the seismic impact he made in 2014 probably came as a surprise.

"Last Week Tonight," which wrapped up its first season in November, had the difficult task of finding a niche in the hyper-competitive realm of late-night comedic news programs. Oliver could not be a Maher, a Stewart or a Colbert. He had to somehow take news that had been thoroughly churned by the 24-hour news cycle, repackage it, add to the conversation, and make it palatable and amusing for an audience who'd already heard all the punch lines -- no simple task.

Oliver didn't just exceed expectations; he steamrolled them. He and his team made brilliant use of the long-form segment, doing reports that were more like investigative journalism than sketch comedy, and displayed an Internet savvy that put even Jimmy Fallon to shame.

Here are our favorite segments from what was a great first season:

"Ayn Rand, how is she still a thing?"

The piece he did about translators for U.S. troops was both intensely emotional and informative:

Oliver deftly called out Dr. Oz for his pseudoscientific cure-alls:

Oliver did a smashing-good interview with Stephen Hawking, which was alternately informative and entertaining:

His debate with Bill Nye on climate change was a breakout segment for the show, launching it into a spotlight that it hasn't left since:

Oliver gave one of the most scathing indictments of our prison system (complete with muppets and a sing-along):

He did an incredible interview with Jane Goodall:

And an eye-opening segment on ALEC and its influence on state legislatures:

Oliver also did some deep-dive reporting into the ugly truth of the Miss America Pageant:

And, of course, we cannot forget his remarkable 17-minute segment on net neutrality, which inspired a flood of emails to the FCC and elevated the once-obscure issue to national attention:

For those reasons and more, Season 2 can't come fast enough.

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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