Midterm elections are over! Did you vote? Or are you like me, here in Georgia, where we’ve been dealing with broken machines and long lines, possibly intentional. Modern US politics can get pretty dark, scary, and depressing, which is why I’ve been watching comedian Hasan Minhaj’s new show on Netflix, Patriot Act.
Netflix is home to tons of individual comedy specials from tons of different comedians. For many, a Netflix special is a pretty huge career milestone. But in contrast with these specials, Patriot Act is a little bit more like a political talk show, following in the footsteps of John Stewart, Steven Colbert, Trevor Noah, and countless others. But Minhaj doesn’t confine himself to the “guy behind the desk” model of other shows. Rather, he incorporates his particular style of media and graphics presentation onto a bunch of screens that he himself describes as “like Michael Bay directed a Powerpoint presentation.”
Indeed, Patriot Act plays out kind of like a sassy student’s extremely high-budget classroom presentation. The topic at hand? Current events. But beyond that, Minhaj’s show explores the contemporary global history behind current events in the US. His most recent dives into the growth of Amazon.com, its exploitative monopolistic business practices throughout its structure, and the many tendrils of their influence. The show tends toward a sort of modern youth audience, having so far discussed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and affirmative action, and connecting them to the brutality of Saudi dictatorship and the hypocrisy of ambitious Asian-American parents trying to get their kids into Harvard.
The weekly release pattern of the show allows Minhaj to incorporate current events as best he can into each week’s episode. Unlike the normal Netflix model that releases a whole season at once, Patriot Act is coming out one episode a week for 32 episodes. That’s pretty insane. That’s at least one half-hour show a week for 32 weeks. Format wise, it’s an interesting inverse of what most comedy specials are like; a tour of shows leading up to one final show with a taping. Still, if you’re taping every week that’s an insane amount of rehearsal, especially if you’re looking to write new material as news comes out. I applaud Minhaj’s dedication to this concept.
Hasan’s fact-driven narration nevertheless manages to elicit laughs and educate at the same time. He dives into cultural trends and contemporary political history, and spreads the blame around, noting that more than one thing can be responsible for something terrible. His performance and presentation space looks like a pop concert stage, all “on a bunch of screens like a Drake concert.” The show evokes Ted talks and your favorite college professor who was really good at lecturing in an interesting and engaging way, pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the talk show medium.
As a footnote, I want to note how interesting I find the release strategy. The binge-release used by Netflix has been effective. Why fix what isn’t broken? I strongly suspect that this has something to do with the impending launch of Disney Play and the impending hole in Netflix’s content library. Something huge like that is going to make a few company-wide ripples. Perhaps the comedy division is looking for ways to encourage viewers to come back, and see all the other new Netflix originals that will show up on your home screen? Regardless, it’s an ambitious project and I wish Hasan the best of luck as the season goes on. I know I’ll be watching.