Recent episodes of Real Time With Bill Maher can be thought of in terms of the events around them. “The one before the election,” for instance, or “the one after Joe Biden was declared the winner.” This one was the one after the inauguration, and it raised a big question: just what would Maher do now that Trump — who’s given him plenty of material to work with — is now out of office? As it turned out, Trump remained a presence throughout the episode, though it might be more accurate to say that the idea of Trump and Trump’s legacy were both present. Which certainly seems like fair game.
That said, the mood of Maher’s opening monologue was largely one of relief. “It’s nice to have a president who’s hinged,” Maher said. Even so, he didn’t miss his opportunity to crack a few jokes at Trump’s expense, including quipping, “Bye, Propecia” with a gleeful wave. And that segued into what felt like a final kiss-off, with Maher’s tone getting progressively more infuriated as he checked off a litany of Trump’s post-election behavior.
When it was done, he seemed a little surprised by his own intensity level. “I had to get that off my chest,” Maher admitted — and then took a few shots at QAnon for good measure, along with a little venting in the direction of antifa and a recent protest in Portland. ”Gen Z,” he said. “They’ll binge watch 30 episodes of a TV show before it gets good, but they’ll only give Biden one day.”
Maher’s first guest was former FBI counterintelligence head Frank Figliuzzi, author of The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence. Maher’s line of questioning focused on the Capitol breach — specifically, the evidence that it may have been planned. “While the vast majority were wandering around dumbfounded that they even got in, the guys up front, the guys breaching, the guys beating police officers — they were ready, they were planned, it was coordinated,” Figliuzzi said.
For all of the loose energy of his opening monologue, Maher struck a somber tone in the interview. Figliuzzi spoke of a political echo chamber containing the organizers of the breach — one which left them convinced that more people would join them. Here, Maher pressed him on precisely how bad things had gotten. Maher used the phrase “fifth column,” and Figliuzzi spoke about the need for laws against domestic terrorism. Here, Maher paused, noting the existence of laws that would cover such actions already — and noting that the FBI hasn’t always had the best record when it comes to surveillance. The discussion that followed offered few easy answers, and found Maher raising a number of relevant concerns.
The episode’s panel consisted of Good Luck America host Peter Hamby and The Fifth Column co-host Kmele Foster. Maher’s first question, after an allusion to the season of Dallas revealed to be a dream, again focused on Trump — namely, how much power he would have in his post-presidential life. Foster pointed out that Trump’s brand, centered around winning, had taken a hit in the wake of the 2020 election.
Would Trump, as he’s discussed, start his own political party? Neither Hamby nor Foster seemed entirely convinced that Trump’s skill set would lend itself to the creation of a successful political party, though they differed on the likelihood of this actually happening.
What happened next found the panel morphing rapidly from topic to topic, all under the broader heading of the pandemic response. Maher wondered if, absent Trump, the coming weeks and months would make flaws in the system more visible. Foster raised the concern of how much relief legislation was going to cost. And Hamby expressed surprise about the extent to which Andrew Cuomo had been praised for his handling of the crisis.
For this episode’s New Rules, Maher riffed on hypocritical invocations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the continuing existence of cloakrooms. He closed out the episode by reviewing some newly-prominent Republican politicians, including Tommy Tuberville (“like if a hot mic slur was elected to office”), Josh Hawley and Madison Cawthorn (“hyped the riot at the Capitol like it was the Fyre Festival”). It wasn’t necessarily Maher at his most insightful, but the laughs were plentiful. With a new president inaugurated, sometimes that’s enough.
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