If you are a fan of John Oliver's political commentary show, Last Week Tonight, every Sunday you likely look forward to hearing Oliver's witty and humorous thoughts on the events of the previous week. However, what you may overlook when you tune in are the Last Week Tonight intro images that flash across the screen at the beginning of every episode. There is a surprisingly nuanced and interesting backstory to these intro images, one which fans of the show will likely find especially fascinating.
The images in Last Week Tonight's opening sequence appear almost encyclopedic in nature, with grids of pictures and their corresponding Latin or "Latin-esque" descriptions quickly flashing across the screen. The pictures in the grids typically represent current events and their descriptions offer a sort of brief, witty commentary on the picture. For example, an intro image photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin is captioned with the words, "POTUS Operandi,"or "Operating U.S. President," offering commentary on President Trump's often-questioned close relationship with the Russian president. Another intro photo depicts the White House captioned with the phrase, "Domus Bannon," or "Bannon's House," referring to the White House Chief Strategist's seemingly overly influential role in Trump's presidency.
The grid images that open Oliver's show, like those of Putin and Bannon as well as many others, appear to change every season to reflect current events. However, in an interview with Art of the Title, Kelli Miller, one of the designers of the Last Week Tonight title sequence, shared that all of the little grid icons are modular and can be easily changed to more accurately reflect current events or a special focus of an episode, like an election.
Furthermore, as astute Last Week Tonight viewers may have noticed, one aspect of the opening sequence consistently changes from week to week: the image at the end of the opening sequence. According to Miller, the closing image is designed to "feature something of the moment, a fun way to make a little joke in the open and also keep things fresh and exciting with each viewing of the program." Indeed, some fans revel in the intrigue of these end- of-sequence images; the website Decider has even compiled dozens of them for your viewing pleasure.
As you may have noticed, on this Sunday's show, the closing image consisted of a drawing of a border wall entitled, "Fiasco," offering a not-too-subtle commentary on the show's take on President Trump's proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.
In addition to offering helpful insight into the meaning behind Last Week Tonight's opening image sequence, Miller also provided some fascinating details about how the opening sequence was chosen in the first place. According the designer, the encyclopedia-like nature of the intro was specifically designed to reflect Oliver's style and British heritage and to juxtapose the seriousness of world affairs with more lighthearted comedic satire.
As Miller stated, the concept was inspired by encyclopedic reference books. Added Miller:
Overall, the opening image sequence on Last Week Tonight seemingly involves a great deal of concerted preparation that seeks to capture the essence of the show, John Oliver himself, and his insightful, comedic take on the world. I know that I will certainly watch the opening sequence with much more appreciation and consideration from now on.
Images: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/HBO