TV | August 20, 2022 6:00 am

Bill Maher Made an Unexpected Case for the Shopping Mall

It was the conclusion of a wide-ranging “Real Time”

Bill Maher
Perhaps it's time to head back to the mall? Bill Maher made the case for it.
HBO

On the third Friday in August, Bill Maher took to the stage of Real Time to cheers, and quickly took things in a candid direction. “I hate to ruin your summer,” Maher said, “but it’s my job to report the news.” In this case, Maher brought up the latest development in the war in Ukraine — namely, shelling taking place near a nuclear power plant. Not surprisingly, that allowed Maher to segue to jabs at Donald Trump (and Deshaun Watson), and to express bewilderment at Republicans criticizing the FBI.

“They’re the squares!” Maher said. “They iron their underwear. That’s who the FBI is.” Strange days indeed. Maher then compared the ongoing scandal here involving coups and elections and compared it to Finland, where the current scandal involves…the prime minister dancing

Maher approached this from two angles: first, that Finland’s scandal was far less existential than those happening on this side of the Atlantic; and second, that it was bizarre that world leaders were being asked for their reactions to something so innocuous.

Cue the segue from one form of media critique to another. Maher’s first guest was B.J. Novak, whose new film Vengeance has a media satire component. Novak described the film as being about “why are we obsessed with vengeance?” 

Maher spoke about relating to the film’s protagonist, who travels to a conservative region and finds himself bonding with people with whom he shares little in common politically — something Maher has also experienced. Novak spoke of “the warmth that I was shown” when he was traveling to Texas to research the film.

“Once you sit down with people in an actual room, it’s 180 degrees different from who you think you are online,” Novak said.

“How can we do that on a national level, en masse?” Maher asked. Novak responded by addressing not “picking at the scab” when it comes to areas of disagreement, and suggested finding areas where common ground can be found.

For the night’s panel, Maher was joined by Washington Post opinion columnist Catherine Rampell and The Rise of the New Puritans author Noah Rothman. “Finding corrupting influences in innocent cultural fare was a right-wing thing for most of our lives,” Rothman said — but argued that this had changed. Rampell interjected the point that right-wing efforts were still happening in this vein today, pointing to conservatives’ recent criticism of Disney.

Rothman spoke about his goal of trying to find historical counterparts for what he felt that the modern Left was doing. Rampell spoke about her concerns regarding “original recipe Puritans.” Maher, for his part, said that he wasn’t — and spoke of being frustrated that casting concerns had kept Jaime Foxx’s film All-Star Weekend from being released.

On one hand, the panel was one of the more engaging ones the show has had in a while, owing in part to the ideological distance between Rothman and Rampell and their willingness to debate one another. On the other, a few of the examples that Maher brought up — such as that of a Bay Area camp that closed down for the summer due to a controversy over swastikas on the premises — were described in something of a secondhand manner, which occasionally left the proceedings feeling like a game of telephone.

“There are plenty of people who have gotten ‘canceled’ who probably make more money post-cancelation,” Rampell said. 

In the second half of the discussion, Maher raised the subject of the primaries — and of the success rate of Donald Trump-endorsed Republicans. “That’s impressive, in an evil way,” Maher said. Was the solution here, he asked, to rely on more open primaries around the country? One thing that all three participants agreed on? The phrase “jungle primary” is not at all appealing. And it wrapped up with a discussion of COVID funding, with Rampell alluding to the need for greater efficiency in government and Rothman citing Harry Truman’s political rise. 

Novak joined the panel for Overtime, which began with Rampell describing a recent visit to an IRS office in Texas. This segment covered a lot of ground, from Novak sharing his impression of western New Jersey to the panelists discussing the Japanese government encouraging people to drink more.

New Rules found Maher taking jabs at Michael Flynn and outdoor chess sets, among other topics. The bulk of the segment, though, found Maher making the case for revitalizing shopping malls. Dubbing online shopping “the most inefficient means humanly possible,” Maher went on to note that malls making a comeback could also address the pervasive sense of loneliness that many Americans are feeling.

There was a bit of Maher’s usual critique of Millennials and Gen Z in the segment, but a lot of his overarching points hit home. Shipping does come at a high environmental cost, both in terms of packaging and in terms of transportation — and that’s without getting into the idea of treating certain purchases as, effectively, disposable. When Maher addresses his concerns about the environment, it makes for some of the show’s most engaging segments; this was no exception.