Jon Stewart returned to 'The Daily Show' Tuesday.
(Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
(USA TODAY) Our daily TV routine just got a bit better.
Not that fans of Comedy Central's The Daily Show had any great reason to complain over the last 12 weeks. John Oliver proved an often terrifically funny substitute for the vacationing Jon Stewart. But as sarcastically amusing as Oliver may be, he seldom conveys one of the principal qualities that separates Stewart from most of his late-night competitors: conviction, that ability Stewart has to make us think his eager intelligence and rapier wit are tied to a set of beliefs he's unwilling to betray.
Lots of comics do righteous indignation. Stewart makes you think he actually is indignant. That's a rarer talent than you might assume.
Returning to his desk from a summer spent in Jordan directing a movie (which caused the show to call in Stephen Colbert to "de-Middle East" him), Stewart opened by promising viewers he'd missed them. "You don't know what it's like out there in the real world. Nobody applauds every stupid little thing you do."
After telling us the main lesson he learned from the Middle East - "I'm Western" - he moved into a fast "thanks for stepping in" bit with Oliver. Then it was off to the main segment of the evening, an attempt to find comedy in the Syrian crisis. Against all odds, he succeeded.
If you want to know where Stewart stands on bombing Syria, well, let's just say he's against it. If the point was pacifist, however, the jokes were non-partisan, mocking both President Obama's red line - "Oh right: We have to bomb Syria because we're in 7th Grade" - and the complaining Republican hawk members he called "the idiot parade."
Under both hosts, of course, one of the distinguishing features of this comedy newscast is its willingness to drop the comedy and conclude with a serious interview, in this case with Andrew Harper, head of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Jordan. There were no jokes and no lighthearted banter; just a sincere (albeit brief) discussion of the plight of the people fleeing Syria. It's a subject many viewers might not have considered had they not tuned in to see Stewart's return.
Which is just one more reason to welcome him back.
Robert Bianco, USA TODAY