Not an especially funny week on Real Time with Bill Maher, though there were mildly interesting discussions of factory farming and religion. Is it wrong to say that I already miss the comic potential of Rick Santorum?
The Brown Lagoon
The monologue wasn't especially funny. Maher joked about 4/20 being "pot day," about the Secret Service prostitution scandal, and of course about Mitt Romney. A joke about George Zimmerman shooting One Direction had the audience turning on him momentarily. Maher's first guest was farmer Lynn Henning, who exposed the damage that factory farms have been doing in her region, won a Goldman Environmental Prize, and met with President Obama. They had a thoughtful but scatological discussion about how the factory farms dispose of their waste in inappropriately named "lagoons," and the environmental risk they pose.
Panelists Break the Show
I want these panels to be better. Tonight was one of those nights where I was just waiting for Maher to jump in with a joke and break the tedium. The guests were Thomas Frank, who wrote What's the Matter with Kansas?, Chrystia Freeland, Canadian-accented Global Editor-at-Large for Reuters, and Todd Buchholz, former Director of Economic Policy under George H.W. Bush.
I thought Freeland came off okay. She's been on the show often enough to know how it works. Frank was unpleasantly smarmy. He was so cocksure he was right in his disagreements with Buchholz that it was almost like he didn't have to say anything. He could just smirk. Buchholz was worse, though, trying to claim that Obama wants gas prices to go up, because that's good for the environment. After Maher mocked and debunked a FOX News anchor for saying that 46 percent of Americans don't pay any taxes, Buchholz essentially repeated the same nonsense back in a ridiculous analogy about the Pilgrims. Freeland tried to respond with a cogent argument about income inequality, but there's only so much time.
Heathens and Atheists
The special extra panelist was author and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. They had a long discussion about changes in American religion, with Douthat trying to make subtle points gleaned from his book, and Maher trying to make his usual argument that faith is a ridiculous waste of time. Even when I agree, sometimes I get tired of hearing it.
New Rules was mostly cheap one-liners until Maher got to the final one, which involved Republicans coming out in favor of pink slime in our hamburgers, just because "liberals" are against it. Sure enough, there are pictures of Rick Perry, Sam Brownback, and Terry Branstad all eating it as though it was food.
"It would mean passing something."
-- Maher on why the Senate didn't celebrate 4/20 by smoking a joint.
"To call him a threat is ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as to call him a rock star, but ridiculous nonetheless."
-- Maher jokes about Ted Nugent being investigated by the Secret Service.
"Mitt Romney did a photo-op at a zoo. That was a mistake, because he stood next to the chameleon and he changed colors."
-- Maher mocks Romney in the monologue.
"See the governor smiling on the left? That's literally a s__t-eating grin."
-- Maher jokes about the Republican governors eating pink slime.
"I think if the Democrats came out against eating yellow snow, Rick Perry would eat yellow snow."
-- Maher mocks the Republicans for their knee-jerk positions.