There’s a bit of tonal weirdness baked into the Last Week Tonight concept—entertaining an audience while also educating them about serious issues surrounding inequality and corruption is a delicate balance. A good John Oliver segment needs jokes, obviously, but you don’t want to seem like you’re making light of the subject of the week, or anybody who might have been negatively impacted by it.
That tightrope walk is more evident than usual in this segment from last night’s episode. If you were wondering why there’s been a flurry of Cop Rock mentions on social media since last night, it’s because of John Oliver, who started off his look at the frequency and misuse of police raids with a couple of clips from ABC’s infamous 1990 disaster. I’m always ready for a good Cop Rock joke—and even more so for clips from Stephen Bochco’s inexplicable musical take on the police procedural—but it is a bit weird to go from that “Baby Merchant” song to a recap of Breonna Taylor’s murder within like a minute.
After a brief bit of Cop Rock nostalgia, Oliver examines how law enforcement’s raid tactics were influenced and exacerbated by that eternal fount of police overreach: the War on Drugs. Initially devised as a response to emergency situations, police raids are now mostly used for drug searches, like the one in which Taylor was killed. It’s just one more way in which the increasing fervor over drugs, the hard-on-crime mentality, and fawning coverage by a complicit media hypercharged law enforcement from the ‘80s to today, blurring the lines between local police forces and paramilitary squads.
Oliver doesn’t just look at the rise of raids and the use of disproportionate force. He also examines some of the possible reforms and solutions to these tactics. And yes, there are lots of jokes, but within a segment that’s just a little bit grimmer than Oliver’s already grim standard. You will laugh during these 25 minutes, but you’re not always going to like it. Still, you should watch.