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Tear Jerker / Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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  • A rather humourous example as well, granted, but admit it — you had at least a small lump in your throat at John's tribute to the frozen Russian space sex geckos.
  • John noting how Sesame Street talks about kids whose parents are in jail. Sesame Street is the pinnacle of innocence and education, but it's also one of the few kids' shows that talk about the issue in a serious and heartwarming light. Thus, it's a red flag if parents in prison are more commonplace.
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  • The show's segment on drones included Congress testimony by 13 year old Zubair Rehman, whose grandmother died in a drone strike:
    Zubair: I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey, and for a short period of time, the mental tension and fear eases.
  • Many of the longer segments are either sad or horrifying when you take the comedy away. Yes, while he does make jokes to alleviate the mood, it doesn't prevent the fact that he talks about real life issues and injustices.
  • The segment about military translators features an interview with one of them named Mohammed, whose extradition process dragged on for years. During this time, Taliban agents murdered his father and kidnapped his little brother. While talking about using his life savings to get his brother back, he has a Freudian Slip and says "father" instead, then notes he wishes he could have saved his father the same way.
  • The fact that Edward Snowden was largely unknown by those interviewed on the street and that the National Security debate had to be framed by dick pics in order to get people to care. While not sad, it's incredibly depressing.
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    • The look on Snowden's face when Oliver plays the interviews showing that the average American has no idea who Snowden is or exactly what he did. At best, they think he's "the WikiLeaks guy"; at worst, they think he outright sold information to our enemies. The meaningful conversation Snowden had hoped to start has been all but lost to the uncaring of the public at large. There's a particular moment when you can see the horrifying realization that he has destroyed his life forever for what looks to him like no apparent reason at all.
  • John does a whole segment about the plights of IRS employees, including how they are unfairly hated for things that are in absolutely no way their fault at all. These poor people have to keep up with uncontrollable instances like 500 changes to the tax code in one year!
  • The clip of the eighth-grade girl from Florida who breaks down in tears while explaining that she can't continue with her favorite subjects because she struggles with the standardized tests is very hard to hear for anyone who has been in a similar position.
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    • Another girl from Florida while her reaction is not shown also demonstrates just how unrealistic and downright impossible a lot of standard testing goals are as her predicted score of 286 was while the maximum a student can get on the test was 283. In other words she literally had to be more than perfect and as a result counted negatively towards her teacher's evaluation while still getting a perfect score! And this is what happens when you have a formula modeled after livestock reproduction.
  • In the episode on congressional fundraising, clips of congressmen describing it as degrading and embarrassing are interspersed throughout. One woman was even taken out of her first hearing to make phone calls to supporters. The room that they have make the calls in is described as having a foul odor, and the experience as draining. The worst of it is John's interview with Democratic Congressional Chairman Steve Israel, who describes the several hours each day where they have a little phone address book and someone making sure they keep their quota over their shoulder as torture. As Israel describes the little cubicle he makes the calls in, and the repetitive, mind-numbing work of calling a supporter, making polite talk, then asking for their support to several hundred people each day, with no rest, you can slowly see John get honestly upset and saddened at the horrid conditions. When Israel is finished describing it, this is all John can say:
    [beat]
    John: [in a strained voice] ... Oh my GOD that's depressing.
    • Not to mention that congresspeople are forced to do this instead of helping decide important legislation. They have the job to put laws in action, and a large percentage of their time is spent making phone calls.
  • The status of people living in the U.S. territories. Thanks to court decisions made in 1901, which were written by the same guy who wrote Plessy v. Ferguson,note  the territories cannot vote and their delegates in Congress have the same voting power as "a six year old voting on whether or not to go on vacation". In the case of American Samoa, they don't even have American citizenship,note  despite the American Samoa army recruiting station being the most successful in the US in 2014.
  • In the episode about the Brexit, John pleads to not have Britain leave the EU, pulling out all the stops and is frightened at the possibility. He doesn't show, but you can tell. Britain voted to leave the EU a few days later.
    • Even worse, lots of people on the sides of Great Britain and the EU took his jokes completely at face value, viciously insulting him, and the comments section on YouTube quickly devolved into vulgar and crude insults being thrown from both sides, both at John and each other.
  • While talking about sweatshops that The Gap has employed for over three decades and noting how America forgets because they and other companies launch glittery campaigns, John shows footage of girls in sweatshops. These girls lie about their age to get a job and are not allowed to leave until the work is done. The girls from India are no older than twelve yet they hand-sew each shirt or pair of jeans.
  • In his segment on unpaid maternity leave, John plays a clip of a woman who decided it would be best to go back to work just days after giving birth six weeks too early so she could use all of her leave time when the child was well enough to go home. The sheer sadness in her voice as she says, "It was like a piece of me got left in that hospital, and now I have to pretend that I'm okay" is simply heartbreaking.
  • The episode on mandatory minimums ends with the reveal that none of the people it focused on were part of Obama's mass pardon the previous week. While legislation to get rid of the minimums is well on its way, it doesn't apply retroactively, meaning they'll still be stuck serving their blatantly unfair sentences. One offender who had been pardoned tries reading the statement sent to him by the White House, but sobs uncontrollably while doing so.
  • The Sex Ed segment has a clip of the famous kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart giving a speech on how, thanks to abstinence-only sex education, she started to think of herself as an old chewed-up piece of gum that no one would ever want after she had been raped by her captor.
    John: Learning nothing would have been better than learning that.
  • The segment on Public Defenders shows how public defenders, due to being given too many cases to conduct, have no other option except to get their clients to take a plea bargain. What's worse is that in many jurisdictions, people are being charged for a mediocre service, which violates the Miranda Rights.
  • During the segment covering prisoner re-entry, John shares the story of one parolee who was given only a $20 gift card when leaving, which was practically used-up after just their first meal outside of prison.
  • The final two stories covered during their segment on abortion laws.
    • The first story is about a woman who, after informing her nearest clinic that she couldn't make the trip, then asked, "What if I tell you what I have in my kitchen cabinet and you can tell me what I can do?"
    • And the last story is about a hypothetical 13-year-old sexual assault victim who has to travel a long distance to her State's nearest clinic, be overtly denied treatment, and is forced to seek an abortion in a neighboring state. Then John reveals that it's not a hypothetical situation.
      Marva Sadler: In order to see her, I need to put her to sleep. And in order to do that, I need a nurse anesthetist, and because of this crazy law, it is impossible to find people to work for us... She's 13 years old, and she's a victim of rape, and she drove 4 hours from McGowan to San Antonio... and we had to turn her away. And there was nothing I could do to save her. And so now if she has a procedure... and that "if" is huge... she'll have to go all the way to New Mexico. And pay 5,000 dollars. And get there. And spend three days. It'll never happen - we know it won't.
      John Oliver: And at that point, we have sentenced a child to motherhood.
      • He then notes that this particular case is being seen by the Supreme Court in March 2016 - but due to Antonin Scalia's recent death leaving the court at 8 Justices, a 4-4 tie would result in the Texas law that permitted that situation to occur being upheld as legal, though it wouldn't be held as having legal precedent.Update 
  • Hearing the 911 call of a woman who died because the dispatcher couldn't find her despite her giving a perfect description of where she'd crashed her car.
  • "Stoplight," the spoof trailer about a reporter struggling in vain to get his hard-hitting political expose published as the newspaper turns to click bait puff pieces. It causes I Need a Freaking Drink in the newspaper movie reviewers.
  • Police brutality against black people has now become so common that high schools have classes for exactly what they should do if they get a cop's attention. We get to see a couple minutes of one, with close-ups of the students' soul crushing faces.
  • After an epic video Take That! to the entire year of 2016, John blows up a giant sign of it and walks off. Then the music cuts off and we continue watching the numbers burn with the crackling of the flames as the only sound, a spectacularly somber and poignant image to end the show's run in the year.
  • The final credits image after the 2016 election: a pair of bald eagles trapped in a sewer grate with the caption "Metaphorus Apta."
  • In the Season 4 premiere, John does a quick run through all the stuff the show missed between seasons, including that his initial reaction to Mary Tyler Moore's death was relief that the news alert wasn't yet more horrible stuff from the White House.
  • In the episode "Trump vs. Truth", John reveals to the audience that one of Trump's most trusted news sources is Alex Jones's InfoWars. The problem with this? Jones is a Conspiracy Theorist who believes that the Boston Marathon Bombing and Sandy Hook school shooting were staged by the U.S. government to push for tighter gun control laws. Judging from the audience's dead silence during this revelation, as well as the fact that they only let out a half-hearted chuckle when John ruled this impossible since it would result in massive bragging from stage moms, it's fair to say that at least some of them lost loved ones in those very real disasters, or at the very least were horrified that someone could believe something like that.
  • In the episode on kidney dialysis, John explains that when hemodialysis was first introduced to the United States, it was so hard to get a hold of and pay for the necessary technology that American hospitals needed ethics panels to decide who would get to use them. Thankfully, Nixon signing Medicare into law solved this problem, but it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking that there was once a time in this country when people had to decide who would and wouldn't get life-saving medical treatment.
  • One episode focuses on Immigration Courts and how disturbingly broken they are from absurdly long waiting periods mostly thanks to backlog, most people on trial are made to defend themselves, depressingly that includes children as young as two, and many people that desperately need asylum to escape violence were turned down after only a minute-long hearing and two questions (some of which even died after being deported back to their country!). And a lot of chief officers are pretty apathetic about it. With one dishonorable mention going assistant chief of immigration Jack Weil being disturbingly blasé about children as young as three or four being made to defend themselves with no adult help, claiming they are able to understand them... which was immediately disproven a series of YouTube videos depicting mock trials with randomly selected small children which while funny and adorable is disturbing to think would be in a real, serious court setting.
    • Later, in that same segment, Oliver mentions how a woman who fled Honduras to get away from Gang Banger abusive boyfriend, was asked if she tried to move to another town in Honduras. When she answered "no," the judge told her that she had no right to claim refugee status, and was immediately deported, where later it was revealed that she once again fell victim to her abusive boyfriend. Also, a Mexican police officer who crossed the border to avoid a hit that was placed on him by a drug cartel, was found brutally murdered months after he was sent back to Mexico.
  • The episode focusing on the drug rehab industry is both nightmarish and heartbreaking to watch. It turns out the industry is extremely poorly regulated, with no industry-wide standards for practices or quality. The patients seeking help are not the customers, but the commodities, as a big chunk of the money being generated is from referrals rather than actual treatment. It's so bad that Tom McClellan, a former deputy drug czar, could not navigate the system when his own son became addicted to heroin. And the final gut punch comes from the reveal that one particularly funny and outspoken addict featured on the show, as well as McClellan's son, have since both died.
  • In the episode dealing with sexual harassment particularly in the workplace, John Oliver interviews Anita Hill.note  During the interview, there's a moment when he admits that he, as a young man, wouldn't necessarily have stepped in to help if he had witnessed sexual harassment of a colleague taking place, given he was in a much lower position than he was today, though he readily admits that is a poor excuse. When asked how he would react now, he responds by saying he'd try to put a stop to it, only to immediately clearly feel ashamed when he realises his first instinct wouldn't necessarily be to provide comfort for the victim. Throughout this whole exchange, you can see how guilty he feels over what he feels are inadequate responses, especially considering that so much of his show is often based around trying to help people.
  • The segment on Trump's family separation policy is particularly heartbreaking:
    • The segment ends with an incredibly hard to watch video of a five year-old from Honduras who was taken away from his mother and traumatized as a result. The child cries hysterically, begs to go back to the jail he was held in, and says things like "you're not my mom anymore", "I don't want to be your son", and "you don't really love me" to his mother. Rarely have we seen John this angry and upset on the show, to the point where, when the video ends, he genuinely looks like he's about to cry.
      John: Yeah. We did that. And not because we had to, but because we chose to. [...] [Family] seperation is by far the most emblematic moment of [Trump's] presidency so far. It was cruel, sloppy, needless, racist, and ultimately, exactly what we should have expected. And I would argue that the biggest threat to our status as "the greatest nation on Earth", is not a caravan a thousand miles south from us, it's whoever thinks that doing THIS is an acceptable fucking response.
    • The mother's reaction in the clip is utterly heartbreaking as well. All she can do is rub her son's back as he's lying on a bed sobbing to try and calm him down and attempt to (apparently unsuccessfully) reassure him while he's saying these things. The sheer sense of resignation in her voice as she's describing the situation to the documentary crew who filmed the footage, saying that "the separation was too long" and that "there's been too much trauma" for her son, is absolutely awful.
    • When responding to a pundit's callous assertion that family separation is "the right thing to do" because it's an effective deterrent, John is apopleptic even as it sounds like his voice is about to break.
      John: Yeah, maybe, Tom! And you know what, if we surrounded the border with randomly firing flamethrowers and snakes that we trained to stand up when anyone approached, that could potentially drive the caravan away too but we don't do things like that, because it's not supposed to be who we fucking are!
  • The segment on psychics and the manipulative tactics they use to trick people who pay for them to get supposed information from their dead or missing loved ones, or are just cold to them in general. One notable example was Amanda Berry recounting how she watched Sylvia Brown point blank telling Amanda's mother on TV that her daughter is dead. Even more heartbreaking is that Amanda was in captivity when she saw that episode and could do nothing to tell them otherwise.
    • Not mentioned in the show but adding to how much that sucks, Amanda never saw her mother again because she died 7 years before her daughter escaped captivity.
  • Monica Lewinsky's position in the infamous Clinton scandal. While she came out strong in the end and has a good sense of humor about the situation now, gaining a perspective about just how the media unfairly scrutinized her is heartwrenching, especially in an old interview of her crying about her attackers having no idea just how much it all affected her. And the show emphasizes how it took years for Lewinsky to put it all behind her.
  • Roddy Piper, like many other wrestlers, went back into the ring well past the point he should have retired due to extensive medical problems from his career. He had no insurance or marketable skills to get another job. He said in an interview that he can't touch his retirement fund until he turned 65, which he accepted was never going to happen. John then stated that he was right; he died at 61.
  • The saddest part of the Mount Everest segment is either the late Sir Edmund Hillary, the first Westerner to summit Everest, expressing his disappointment that most climbers have almost no passion for the art of mountaineering, or the case of a very inexperienced Canadian tourist's death, or the very palpable terror and grief on the face of an Icefall Doctor sherpa about to cross a rickety set of ladders over a deep crevasse near where one of his friends died weeks earlier, or the fact that all these deaths mentioned could have been prevented, but the Nepalese government and economy are so reliant on an unregulated tourism industry because they have little opportunity to diversify.
  • The treatment of warehouse employees by larger companies is sad enough with them being underpaid and pressured to work faster than humanly possible, but special mention has to go to a 58-year-old woman who died of cardiac arrest working at an XPO Logistics warehouse after being denied a break by her supervisor when saying she wasn't feeling well. Even worse was the fact that the company tried to cover up their part in her death by denying that the woman didn't complain about pain, and that it allowed workers to leave for the day (which contradicts witness accounts that said they saw the woman's request get rejected and that they were told to keep working as her dead body laid on the floor). While investigating, Last Week Tonight found out that XPO Logistics had not even bothered to fill out a report involving the incident.
  • The episode on legal immigration goes into detail how the issue is far more complicated than simply "getting in line" like many people assume it to be and shows the struggles that people have getting there with some waiting for visas for as long as twenty years. John himself shares his own experience with how stressful it was living in the United States under a work visa which he had to renew every year while fearing every day that it would be denied and he would be deported.
    • Increasingly disappearing paths to legal immigration to the United States, long wait times for visas, and plans on enacting laws making immigrants who use welfare ineligible for Greencard application shows just how little empathy many US politicians have towards people from less fortunate circumstances who want to make better lives for themselves, and it completely disregards the ethos of how the American Dream is not about who you are when you come to the country, but about who you want to become.
    • When getting on the topic of refugees coming to America, John brings up Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who fled Iraq after ISIS destroyed her village, slaughtered her parents and brothers, and abducted her. Murad tries telling her story to Trump, who clearly wasn't listening when he asked her where her family is now literally right after she told him they were all killed.
  • The segment on Trump's foreign policy and its effects in Syria briefly shows a potential war crime in progress: A Turkish soldier mugging in front of a smartphone camera as he shoots an unconscious Syrian Kurdish soldier right after U.S. withdrawal from Rojava. Aside from the sheer vanity onscreen, it makes you think how powerful, yet at the same time, how thoughtless the U.S. can be in not preventing genocide...
    • Not to mention the fact that the Kurds have assisted the U.S. military in its victory in the Gulf War and in its troubled withdrawal in the Iraq War, in the hope of being rewarded with an ethno-state of their own. Probably the most shameful part of the segment on Trump's withdrawal is the footage of Kurdish soldiers pelting U.S. armored vehicles with potatoes and shouting epithets at them.
  • The word that best describes the tone of the second Coronavirus episode is bleak. With both the usual studio and his office having had confirmed cases of the virus, John films in a White Void Room, with no audience. While he still makes jokes and is very funny, the lack of laughter to take the edge off, and the lack of the energy that a studio audience adds, really forces you to realize just how serious and depressing the topic is. A pandemic is spreading across the globe, with the disabled and elderly particularly at risk, and many Americans have no idea what to do, because the media and the government can't be trusted to give reliable information. John ends the episode by saying that the show will return, but he doesn't know when, and in the meantime, he asks everyone to be careful, take care of themselves, and try not to give into panic.
  • Coronavirus IV ends with this:
    John: While many of the problems we're being forced to confront right now weren't created by the Coronavirus, it has thrown a spotlight on some of the biggest flaws on how our system operates. Things like paid sick leave and hazard pay are essentially band-aids and we absolutely need them right now because we're bleeding. But, when this is over, this country's gonna need more than band-aids, it's gonna need FUCKING surgery. Things need to change and not go back to normal. Control Z us back to how we were in 2016 is simply not gonna cut it and honestly it shouldn't have taken a pandemic to prove our unemployment system is a mess, that we need universal healthcare; and that workers need benefits, the right to organize, and wages that reflect how essential they really are. And, we also shouldn't have needed a pandemic to consider whether mass incarceration is tolerable as prisons and jails become petri dishes for the Coronavirus or whether our treatment of the homeless is adequate when we've seen photos of them sleeping in a parking lot six feet apart, or what we do about the multiple underlying inequalities that are making this virus in some places twice as deadly for black and Latino people as whites. And what's been infuriating is that some conservatives have seemed worried that we might do too much.
  • In "Coronavirus V," even as John riffs on the media's ridiculous claims regarding the virus, he just sounds too broken to find any joy in mocking them, as he's as uncertain as anybody else and feels there's a distinct lack of trustworthy leadership and unity during a time when such things are crucial. During his ending speech on why the right-wing media's misinformation is so dangerous, John mentions how he personally knows people who have died from the virus, as well as people desperately taking hydroxychloroquine hoping it will cure them despite results still being inconclusive.
  • In "Police" although John makes quips on senators and mayors for their reactions towards the police and how they've handled the situation, as the video drags on he noticeably gets angrier and more frustrated that a problem that has persisted amongst the police for decades is still happening today. By the end of the show he says he's spoken enough and lets the clip of Kimberly Jones' speech play, and by the time that clip is over, John looks completely heartbroken as he seems on the verge of crying and he quietly signs off with Silent Credits.
  • In "Border Wall II", after showing a clip of Tohono Oʼodham Chairman Ned Norris Jr tearfully reacting to construction crews blasting Monument Hill to make space for Trump's border wall. John lambasts Trump, and again signs off with Silent Credits.
  • The blatant cultural genocide and human right violations against the Uighur population of China. The people are monitored to the point where the most minor offense is grounds for suspicion and arrest, separated from their families and thrown into concentration camps and forced into slave labor, women are forcibly sterilized and sexually abused, and all the people are stripped away from any and all Islamic traditions such as prayers, headscarves, their own language, and even giving children Islamic names. The worst part about all of this is China completely spinning those horrors into Uighers simply assimilating into Chinese society and major companies such as Volkswagen completely and willingly overlooking the part slave labor plays into the manufacturing their products.
  • In "Asylum", John talks about how Trump had complicated the already difficult asylum-seeking process and invoked Title 42, which he has expanded indefinitely, which he used to deport asylum-seekers back to their home countries, where they will be threatened and likely killed. He ends the segment telling the audience to vote for Joe Biden, who while far from perfect, had promised to end the Mexico policy and restore asylum eligibility for domestic violence survivors and victims of gang persecution and shows a tweet by an immigration attorney describing migrants anxiously waiting for November 3rd.
  • In "Trump & the Coronavirus", John reviews Trump's incompetence and apathy regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the pain John's staff members went through after they were infected, making a final desperate plead for his viewers to vote for Biden. Which, thankfully, they did.
  • In "Trump & Election Results". after the Breather Episode covering Trump's loss, John expands on how Trump has staunchly refused to concede, refusing to let Biden in on coronavirus briefings and made baseless claims of fraud, which John describes as "unforgivable".
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