John Oliver: Terrifying Times
Comedy Central // Unrated // $19.99 // August 19, 2008
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted August 23, 2008
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:
Am I the only one who gets all misty-eyed thinking back to my halcyon high school days when I watch The Daily Show? After all, there's the slightly nerdy yet still quasi-hip teacher (Jon Stewart), the gonzo jock (Rob Riggle), the know-it-all prim and proper girl and her dopey boyfriend whom you're convinced are well on their way to procreating (Samantha Bee and Jason Jones), the superior seeming (and probably actually superior) exchange student (Aasif Mandvi), and then there, over in the corner, the understated brainiac muttering witticisms under his breath that usually only he understands. That, of course, would be John Oliver, a British talent who takes deadpan to levels heretofore unexplored, at least before John Hodgman joined the ranks of Daily Show cast members.

Terrifying Times is Oliver's first foray into the Comedy Central standup arena, and this DVD presentation offers an unexpurgated version that is both intellectually challenging as well as laugh out loud hilarious, as is Oliver's wont. You know you're in for something unusual right off the bat with the start-up menu; I won't spoil the surprise for you, only to say you don't want to press any selections on the menu, despite Oliver's increasingly desperate exhortations to get you to do just that.

Once the actual show begins, Oliver riffs on a tried-and-true, yet never less than amusing, array of typical Daily Show material: his British accent, the stupidity of Bush 43, China's emergence as a world player, Wikipedia, and on and on. Augmenting Oliver's jokes is a proscenium-sized screen that projects illustrative gems, as when Oliver mentions he's glad there weren't 24 hour cable news programs during Britain's imperialistic wars.

If Oliver is occasionally too smart for his own good, his slyly dimpled smile usually overcomes the audience's collective "huh?" to some of his more arcane jokes. While he's nowhere near as manic as a lot of Comedy Central's usual suspects, he does actually ratchet up his performing style from his usual Daily Show buttoned down style (albeit with those explosive cadences he always does).

Two segments with "Professor" Andy Zaltzman are also hilarious, especially the second one, where Oliver's take on Britain's pioneering efforts in alternative energy (let's just say they involve burning people of various differing religious stripes) segues into a very funny discussion about God's personal biases. Zaltzman's score-keeping between Catholics and Jews may be blatantly politically incorrect, but it's one of the funniest bits in the set.

Oliver is keenly observant, the hallmark of any great comic mind, and he puts that ability to good use in some brilliant material. One of my favorite riffs of his concerned an inflatable grill. Aside from the patently absurd nature of the product itself, Oliver is able to transmogrify that into a cogent statement about the American consumer class and how it differs from its world neighbors. And all with his "authoritative British accent."

The DVD

Video:
The concert itself is presented in an enhanced 1.78:1 ratio with a somewhat muted color scheme, perhaps the result of the stage not being especially brightly lit. Detail is sharp, though the projected elements are a bit fuzzy, probably by design.

Sound:
Both the DD 2.0 and 5.1 mixes are perfectly excellent, though the audience sounds are more immersive, as should be expected, in the 5.1 mix.

Extras:
The extras, all in 1.33:1, include four vignettes from The Daily Show, a sort of "warm-up" for the taped show with Oliver at the UCB Theater in New York, and another back and forth between Oliver and Zaltzman. Make sure to play with your directional arrows on the Extras screen to get to a semi-Easter Egg (hint: look for Bush 43's face).

Final Thoughts:
Oliver brings some intellectual vigor and strong writing chops to what can sometimes be the fratboy ethos of Comedy Central. If Terrifying Times isn't a nonstop riot of hilarity, it nonetheless delivers its many brilliant punchlines with an unerring sense of humor that will delight discerning comedy audiences. Recommended.



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