TV | March 13, 2021 6:00 am

Bill Maher and Guests Talk Infrastructure, Inequality and Aging on a Cathartic “Real Time”

Larry Wilmore, Annabelle Gurwitch and Scott Galloway covered a variety of topics

Bill Maher
Bill Maher on the March 12 episode of "Real Time."
HBO

Can you make the looming end of the pandemic funny? Bill Maher had a go at it during the opening monologue of the latest Real Time episode. This included comparing the latest round of stimulus checks to “reparations for being stuck with your family” and describing Republicans who voted against the latest stimulus bill but then took credit for its accomplishments as the equivalent of coworkers who don’t chip in for birthday gifts but say “it’s from all of us” anyway.

“In just 12 months, COVID went around the world, touching everyone,” Maher said. “Like Andrew Cuomo.” As with last week’s episode, Cuomo’s political implosion made for Maher’s most enduring digs of the monologue. 

Maher’s first guest was Annabelle Gurwitch, author of You’re Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility and host of the Tiny Victories podcast — and Maher’s co-star in the 1991 film Pizza Man. Their conversation began with a discussion of the border between Boomers and Generation X; Maher posited that it had to do with whether or not you remember watching Bonanza growing up. And from there, Maher pivoted to the subject of aging “This is a country that is shitty to older people,” he said.

Gurwitch discussed her use of the phrase “nevertirement generation” in the book — both in terms of a lack of retirement and a gig economy that doesn’t let most people get tired. Gurwitch spoke about her own experiences with financial instability, particularly as it relates to health insurance, and movingly discussed the education she received in how many Americans are experiencing housing insecurity. 

The conversation had some interesting friction from time to time, largely when Gurwitch pushed back on Maher’s occasional forays into snark. She closed out the interview by comparing the opportunities both she and Maher had had when they moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s with the lack thereof facing their counterparts today. 

Maher’s guests for the episode’s panel discussion were a disparate pair: television creator and podcast host Larry Wilmore and Scott Galloway, academic, entrepreneur and author of Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity. Maher began the discussion with a big number: the $35 billion that Jeff Bezos made in a single month during the pandemic. “What does this tell us about America?” Maher asked. Wilmore and Galloway exchanged a look and a chuckle. “It’s worse than that,” Galloway said. 

“The dirty secret of this pandemic is that the top 10%, much less the top 1%, are living their best lives,” he added. Galloway went on to talk about the growth of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in the last year — and made the case for them to be broken up. 

Wilmore spoke ominously about the sense of inevitability that came from hearing that these companies had done so well in the last year. And Galloway argued that the rising stock prices of these companies made the country’s response to the pandemic less urgent than it might have been. 

Galloway got plenty of applause for his comments throughout the discussion, prompting him to effectively shush the audience at one point. In discussing the current state of capitalism in America, he said, “We have capitalism on the way up and socialism on the way down — that’s not capitalism or socialism. That’s cronyism. It is the worst of all worlds.” Wilmore made a cogent point as well — that the economic system in the United States has constantly evolved, as has the role of government in its citizens’ finances. 

In the panel’s second half, the conversation turned to Andrew Cuomo and the news that New York’s  Senators had come out in favor of his resignation. Galloway spoke in favor of due process — and also brought up Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate. Wilmore pointed out that, unlike Franken, Cuomo was accused of misconduct during his time in office. 

New Rules brought the episode to a close, which included riffs on uneaten food panic-bought at the beginning of the pandemic and the Giuliani family. Maher focused the bulk of the segment on the United States’ rivalry with China (though he also managed to shoehorn in a riff on the Dr. Seuss controversy from earlier this month). Largely, the segment focused on infrastructure: China’s ability to build high-speed rail versus the US’s seeming inability to do the same, for one thing. 

Whether this could be chalked up in part to ongoing debates about historical racism, as Maher suggested, seemed more of a stretch. That said, the new Secretary of Transportation is a onetime guest on Real Time. It could be interesting to see Maher raise these frustrations with someone in a position to address them more directly.