11 John Oliver Episodes To Watch Before 2020 If You Want To Get Informed

by Seth Millstein
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

When it comes to informative, entertaining television shows about politics, HBO's Last Week Tonight has it all. Equal parts news and comedy, the program returned for its sixth season in February after a brief hiatus, and if you're looking for some John Oliver episodes to watch before 2020, there are several from current and past seasons that will be highly relevant going into the next presidential election.

While the majority of news shows tend to touch briefly on several stories of the day, Oliver instead focuses on one topic per half-hour show, and explores it in-depth. He's addressed everything from trade policy and the Brexit referendum to gene editing and forensic science, and has a knack for making wonky, complicated subjects easy to understand and entertaining to learn about.

"We like the idea of not just regurgitating stuff people have already seen," Oliver explained to NPR in 2018. "The truth is, if you dig deep enough on anything, everything is interesting. So you just have to get to the point of a story where it becomes fascinating."

As America plunges into its next presidential election, here are 11 of Oliver's past episodes that deserve a rewatch before 2020 rolls around.

Abortion Laws

In 2016, Oliver took a deep dive into anti-abortion laws, and the many ways in which anti-choice lawmakers have attempted to restrict access to abortion without technically violating Roe v Wade. States have passed a flurry of anti-abortion laws since Donald Trump's election, and the current state of the Supreme Court means the issue will almost certainly be a high-profile one in the 2020 election.


The anti-vaccine movement has received a burst of attention lately, due largely to the recent measles outbreak and new state laws seeking to impose stricter vaccination requirements. As such, the 2020 candidates' views on vaccinations have come under a spotlight, and in 2017, Oliver explained exactly why the anti-vaccination movement is a legitimate public health hazard.


Much has been written about the recent rise of right-wing authoritarian attitudes in America and across the world. Oliver covered the topic in 2018, and given that several Democratic presidential candidates have accused Trump of having dictator-like qualities, authoritarianism will likely be on many voters' minds during the 2020 general election.

Migrants & Refugees

The United Nations estimates that there are 68.5 million refugees worldwide, and America's refugee policy continues to be a highly controversial and pressing policy issue. Back in 2015, Oliver looked at the facts behind the refugee crisis, and explained how many countries' asylum policies end up hurting migrants.

Trump Vs. The Truth

Democratic presidential candidates regularly take aim at Trump for the many documented lies, false statements, and mischaracterizations he's made during his short political career. In a 2017 segment, Oliver looked at Trump's complicated relationship with the truth, a subject that will no doubt be brought up regularly by Democrats during the 2020 campaign.

North Korea

Relations between the United States and North Korea have oscillated wildly in the last several years. Trump made international news for becoming the first U.S. president to hold one-on-one negotiations with a North Korean head of state, but questions remain about what those talks actually accomplished, and tensions escalated in May 2019 when North Korea launched several missiles. Oliver's explainer is a great crash-course in the nuances of the mysterious, isolated country and its history with the United States.

The Mueller Report

In April 2019, after over a year of anticipation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump was finally released. But it's over 400 pages long, and around a third of it is redacted, leaving many people unclear on exactly what the report concluded. Oliver has an explainer on the topic ready, and it focuses on many of the small but important nuances in Mueller's report.

Student Debt

Student loans have become a central topic of debate in the Democratic primary, with many candidates pledging to fund free college for all Americans and, in some cases, cancel all student debt. In this 2014 segment, Oliver explained why student debt is so much harder to pay off than some other forms of debt, and accused for-profit colleges of bilking students out of tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for vocational training that's questionable at best.

Voting Laws

Ever since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, a handful of Republican-led states have implemented policies that make it harder for eligible residents to vote. Multiple courts have found that these laws are intended to disenfranchise black voters from the electoral process, and independent research has shown that they do exactly that. Oliver devoted a segment to explaining how voting laws disenfranchise voters — and why voter fraud, which those laws are ostensibly aimed at preventing, is not a consequential problem in American elections.

Primaries & Caucuses

The process by which parties nominate presidential candidates is incredibly complicated, with pages upon pages of rules determining exactly how each vote in the nominating contest is counted. In 2016, Oliver broke down how primaries and caucuses work, and that will be useful information to have as Democrats choose a candidate for 2020.

State Attorneys General

Election coverage generally focuses on candidates for president, governor, and Congress, but there's another elected office on the ballot that's hugely consequential for American policy: State attorney general. In this episode, Oliver explains why the position matters so much, which will be important for the 10 states that will elect state attorneys general in 2020.

If past is any indicator, Oliver's show will continue to be a source of news and comedic relief once the 2020 campaign properly kicks off. Until then, these past segments are a great way to stay informed and entertained during what's certain to be a brutal, lengthy presidential campaign season.