Jon Stewart, fresh from his hiatus from television, has condensed John Oliver’s deep-dive format into a single episode and taken it a step further in “The Problem With Jon Stewart.” If “The Daily Show” put a satirical spin on the news, this Apple TV+ series is more of an advocacy-based newsmagazine, with the comedy coming more by accident than by design.
Stewart, who has already taken on this role with his crusade on behalf of 9/11 first responders, has taken advantage of the freedom that his celebrity grants him in order to take this risk, serving steamed vegetables to viewers who might have tuned in expecting salty snacks.
During segments in which he strategizes with his producers, some of whom come from news backgrounds, he sheepishly admits as much, which speaks to the program’s hybrid nature.
Despite this, Stewart has always practiced journalism through the medium of comedy. At “The Daily Show,” this meant attracting viewers who might not otherwise consume a lot of news by presenting current events in a more appealing manner.
Stewart has dropped the pretense of spooning out sugar to help the messages go down by moving to the less commercially pressured realm of streaming.
The reasonable conclusion is that, after surveying the state of the US and the world, the comic — who can’t help but joke in asides and while speaking with guests and newsmakers — has determined that the stakes are too high to waste time clowning around.
Stewart’s show, which airs every other week and is accompanied by a podcast, begins with a topic close to his heart: veterans whose health claims related to “burn pits” have gone unheard by the US government.
“We support our troops unless they actually need support,” Stewart says, before interviewing wounded military personnel and their families, and then sitting down with current US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.
A second episode actually achieves a better balance of what “The Problem” aspires to be, examining the most deceptive cries of “Freedom!” in response to vaccine and mask mandates before moving on to the United States’ drift toward authoritarianism. Stewart speaks with people who have seen the process unfold firsthand in Venezuela, the Philippines, and the Middle East, including journalist Maria Ressa and Bassem Youssef, who was once dubbed “Egyptian Jon Stewart.”
Stewart has always had excellent interviewing skills, and with episodes lasting about 45 minutes, he has plenty of opportunities to show them off. This show is based on a never-made series at HBO, whose former CEO Richard Plepler assisted in bringing the project to Apple, which clearly gave the comic all the creative freedom he needed.
The most obvious flaw with “The Problem” is that its focus on righting wrongs and exposing wrongdoings comes at the expense of being entertaining, at least in the way that audiences have come to expect.