If you want to watch a TV show that rounds up the latest news with a healthy amount of jokes and weirdly bad photoshops, your options are many. There's the daily show with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central, TBS's Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and HBO's last week tonight with John Oliver. There's one less option this week, though: Netflix canceled the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, a show that on the surface wasn't too different from the competition, but turned out to be one of the best at every half-hourly rate.
2020 can be difficult to see these shows. As clever as the jokes may be and as deep as they can go to expose unseen problems, current events have become inconceivably bleak, and the United States' political response to them has been more terrible than our darkest satirical minds could have imagined. This type of programming feels like a relic from another time, the young liberal response to Fox News, which swaps racism and abuse for clever humor and fact-checked information. The ultimate purpose, however, is the same: a vessel for our collective anger, even if that anger was motivated by a desire for a more just world.
The Patriot Act, however, felt different. Patriot Act was already insane and knew you were too. It wasn't interested in getting upset about something new, but all that shit you threw through to get through the day? The show wanted to break that stuff down into its different pieces and tell you what to do about it.
"Patriot Act" was crazy and it knew you were too
Elections, college, retirement, streaming media, public transportation, video game harassment, drug prices, student loans – all of these topics that most Patriot Act viewers already have to deal with and that don't require any expertise to understand how broken it is are. The June 28th episode of the show – its de facto finale – was titled “Why It's So Hard to Collect Taxes” and serves as a good summary of what the show has to offer: immersion in something like this was thoroughly messed up, and so on, frequently, that it defied the test of a lively and energetic man with great comic timing and an even better stylist. Furthermore, like the coverage it was based on, it had a shelf life: making taxes sucked for a long time, and chances are nothing will change!
Minhaj and the Patriot Act team also sought to center non-white perspectives, thereby confirming non-white anger at a world that is clearly constructed to exclude them. It's a subtle thing, but on late night news comedy shows where the (white) subtext is a lot, we shouldn't have to worry about it. Minhaj's Show took the time to look for immigrant children and diversity workers in the US Eye from a place of understanding: You know this stuff, so let's find the cleanest way.
Photo by Cara Howe / Netflix
It also helped that Minhaj – a ridiculously easy-going man who, even during comedic performances like Homecoming King, seemed to want nothing but walk from one end of a giant stage to the other and talk about his five favorite sneakers – actually got mad . That's not to say that his peers weren't angry (anger is charcoal burned for a laugh in this genre), but Minhaj's stage personality comes across as razor-thin: he says something, and then you see what he thinks about that statement on his face as clearly as a Day.
It made the Patriot Act feel a lot more talkative. Minhaj's emotions were followed with yours and the show modulated with them. It helped that the show positioned him not as a neutral host but as an individual. Minhaj often made it clear that his identity influenced his perspective and centered (or called out) the South Asian community whenever possible.
It doesn't seem like there is a saving Patriot Act, at least in its current home. Talk shows don't work on Netflix, and the Patriot Act already has seven additional episodes beyond the original 32 episode sequence. There is some consolation that it will live there, however, a collection of mostly evergreen stories that all start with the same intro: hip-hop-inspired horns booming as the chaos of our modern world surrounds this skinny brown dude, confused He has to explain it all, but to do his best.