Thursday, October 7, 2021

Intelligence at the root of ‘The Problem,’ Jon Stewart’s funny, thought-provoking new series


The problem with Jon Stewart is he signed off as host of “The Daily Show” in 2015, at a time when we needed him the most. Not that Stewart didn’t deserve to take a break from the grind of a four-times-a-week show after 16 Emmy-spangled years and not that Trevor Noah hasn’t been a worthy successor — but it would have been awesome to hear Stewart’s wry and sardonic and fact-fueled takes on all the madness that has transpired in our world over the last half-dozen years.

Here’s the good news headline: Stewart is returning to the current-affairs milieu with the Apple TV+ series “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” a multiple-season, single-issue show in which Stewart (backed by an enormously talented team of writers and producers) will introduce a major topic on each episode and then do a deep-dive into the subject. We start with a Producers’ Meeting in which Stewart and senior staffers kick around ideas and share stories; continue with Stewart seated at a desk in a loft-like studio, delivering a monologue to a live audience; break for the occasional short comedic filmed bits, and continue with Stewart talking to guests who have been impacted by the issue of the day.

If it all sounds a bit like a grad school lecture delivered by the hippest and funniest prof on campus, well, that’s kind of what we’re getting, and it’s vintage Jon Stewart: thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud funny, insightful, clever, occasionally a bit too pleased with itself but on balance, pretty flippin’ great, only they don’t say “flippin’ ” on this show cause you can swear on Apple TV+.

“The Problem With Jon Stewart” plays like a particularly compelling segment on “60 Minutes” crossed with a late-night comedy talk show. In Episode One, titled “War,” Stewart shines a harsh spotlight on the military’s use of Burn Pits, i.e., the common practice in Iraq and Afghanistan of digging huge holes next to bases and burning chemical drums, vehicles, medical waste, food waste, amputated body parts, tires, tarps, batteries and mountains of human waste. Pour on the jet fuel, light it up — and toxic, black plumes of smoke would be inhaled by the soldiers on the bases.

“In this divided country, the one thing we can agree on, is we love our troops,” says Stewart. “We support our troops — unless they actually need support.” We see evidence of the grave damage caused to veterans who have been exposed to burn pits and learn some 72% of related claims filed with the VA have been denied, for reasons of, well, money. Money and bull----. “I was retired from the Army at 27 years old,” says Sgt. Isiah James, who says he could once run five miles but now can hardly breathe at night. “Burn pits are our generation’s Agent Orange.”


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