Netflix on Sunday went “Hasan the record” with the launch of Patriot Act, a weekly political commentary series led by former Daily Show correspondent Hasan Minhaj. Does the show have what it’ll take to succeed on the streaming service where Chelsea Handler, Michelle Wolf and Joel McHale all have failed?
In a crowded field that includes, but is certainly not limited to, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and two guys named Jimmy, it’s not easy to distinguish yourself from the pack. But Minhaj has chosen wisely not to mimic the format originated by any of the aforementioned hosts or their predecessors. His show, if it can be compared to any show at all, is perhaps most like Last Week Tonight — that is, if John Oliver’s long-form segments were delivered in the style of a “woke Ted Talk,” as Minhaj himself puts it.
What’s more, the show doesn’t appear interested in the day-to-day goings-on at the Trump White House, which — and I can’t stress this enough — benefits Minhaj greatly. Handler and Wolf honed in on very recent current events on their respective Netflix series, which made it unlikely for the casual streaming-service user to check out an episode weeks, or even days, after its release. This is not to say that current events and members of Trump’s cabinet aren’t reflected in Minhaj’s “articles” — a term the show uses to distinguish its myriad segments — but are instead a small part of a bigger picture. Take, for instance, Episode 1, which features a particularly scathing joke at the expense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions during an article on affirmative action. Episode 2, meanwhile, takes a closer look at U.S.-Saudi relations in direct response to the recent killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Affirmative action is a heavy subject for Minhaj’s first episode, but it works because of how he approaches it. As an Asian-American, Minhaj brings a very specific point of view that only he, among his fellow hosts, is in a position to discuss. The article brings to attention recent accusations made by Asian-American coalitions against Harvard University, then focuses in on Students for Fair Admissions president Edward Blum, a white political strategist who has been using prospective Asian-American college students as props to eventually bring his case against affirmative action to the Supreme Court.
In Episode 2, Minhaj delves into the “complete mindf–k” that is America’s “marriage of convenience” with Saudi Arabia. Then, from his perspective as an American Muslim, he describes what it’s like to watch crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud distract the rest of the world while he constructs a template for modern-day authoritarianism under the “guise of progress.” In the following segment, Minhaj changes course and builds his own Mount Rushmore of “terrible Indians,” comprised of fellow Indian-Americans he says are giving all Indian-Americans a bad name. Those include U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, former governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal and, last but not least, far-right filmmaker Dinesh D’souza, for whom Minhaj reserves two spots on his hypothetical monument.
What did you think of the first two episodes of Patriot Act? Does Minhaj have a winning format on his hands? Weigh in via the following polls, then hit the comments to flesh out your thoughts.