The cable and streaming “late-night” landscape has been flush with Daily Show ex-pats doing their best to blend comedy with a penetrating examination of the issues that often get underreported or outright ignored by the mainstream media in their trance-like quest to signal-boost the Trump chaos machine. Some shows have been a success like those guided by John Oliver and Sam Bee. Others have failed to find the same level of audience/buzz despite doing great work (Wyatt Cenac, Larry Wilmore, Jordan Klepper). And now, sadly, we must add Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act to the list of shows that are no longer.
According to a tweet from Minhaj, “Patriot Act has come to an end.” The journocomic hybrid went on to thank Netflix while reflecting on the passage of time and changes in his life (such as having two kids) during the show’s run and his opportunity to work with an immense staff of researchers, writers, producers, and animators. It took a village to make that show, as Minhaj has always been eager to point out., right through the end. So, what now?
First, let’s process the surprise of this. Netflix churns out a ton of original programming with its GDP of a small country-sized budget, but Patriot Act seemed like a jewel in its crown. Particularly in terms of late-night, where it has struggled to find consistent wins. We don’t have hard numbers, so it’s somewhat impossible to know how much of that was hype, but hype is currency in this media climate. Just not enough, I suppose.
The loss of the show is, first and foremost, a human one. Business is business but those researchers, writers, producers, animators, and everyone else involved in the creation of the show are now going to be without a paycheck at a time where it is quite brutal to be in that state. I don’t mean to be that guy, but that’s on my mind as I think about the loss of the show.
On a more global level, the loss of this show and its voice is troubling. Not because there aren’t other shows that live in the same space of creative dissection and exploration of deeper cut stories like the eviction crisis and food/worker safety. There are, but there are more shows that loudly and proudly abdicate the responsibility to shine a light on the myriad things that impact and threaten us on the regular, instead choosing to divide, scare, shock, and reap the rewards of low hanging fruit harvesting. And so when the chorus of good weakens, it’s a sad thing. The Patriot Act was in the chorus of good with a voice that resonated and stood out for its cleverness and inventiveness (and for its host’s flair for storytelling). But mostly, I dug how it hung back to consider things. Check out our interview with Minhaj and his thoughts on that when we discussed Kanye’s entry into politics. Let’s also point out that “late night” is whiter after this move. Representation matters, influencing the stories we see and the knowledge we gain. Minhaj’s blistering and timely look at racism within the South Asian community following the murder of George Floyd is a primary example of a story that comes from a perspective that is not in abundance in the political comedy zeitgeist right now. So there’s all of that to consider.
The proximity of this move to a vital election is another thing to consider. No TV show has the ability to change the world, and most people seem to be dug in with their views and their vote, but The Patriot Act‘s highly visual and fact-driven approach always held with it the promise of being able to activate people around a specific issue that mattered to them. And it’s sad to think that the show won’t have the chance to go all-in on the things that are swirling around this election and this moment. A Patriot Act episode around the grim nonsense around the U.S. Postal Service would really hit the spot right now or at any point as this roller coaster continues its ride, but it’s apparently not meant to be.