Bill Maher Returns With a New “Real Time” Season, Green Day Theme Song and All

The episode returned to some familiar terrain in its second half

Bill Maher
Bill Maher kicked off a new "Real Time" season this week.

The — checks notes — 21st season of Real Time With Bill Maher kicked off with a new opening credits sequence, along with a new theme song courtesy of Green Day. The familiar set remained the same, however, as did its host’s preoccupations — including plenty of snark directed at cryptocurrency, Kevin McCarthy and other nominal technological advances. “This is not even me. I’m not even here,” Maher said of the rise of ChatGPT and its potential to replace humans.

Much of Maher’s opening monologue covered the events that had transpired since the show last aired two months ago — including the saga of Rep. George Santos, which seems like comedy gold for a satirist like Maher. 

Former Attorney General William Barr was the night’s first guest, there to discuss his new memoir. Maher pointed out that the two have remarkably similar names — which sometimes led to confusion while listening to the news. Though that wasn’t all that frequent. “You and I don’t often say the same thing,” Maher said. And their conversation began amicably, with Barr and Maher discussing the similarities in how they were raised. (Each grew up with one Catholic and one Jewish parent.)

When conversation turned to religion and public life, the differences between the two men became more pronounced, including their stances on marriage equality and Barr’s comments that he would vote for Donald Trump again in 2024 if the election was a rematch of 2020.

Maher also criticized Barr for his initial description of the Mueller Report. “I feel like that was shady, Bill,” Maher said. Barr defended his conduct; Maher pushed back in a few areas. Maher closed things out on an amicable note: “I’m going to shake hands with the guy who resigned when Trump tried to steal an election,” he said.

Rep. Nancy Mace and frequent guest Andrew Sullivan joined Maher for the night’s panel discussion. This was Mace’s first time on the show, and she characterized herself as “fiscally conservative, socially moderate” in terms of her politics. (She also used the phrase “a caucus of one.”) “You’re working with a lot of nuts,” Maher observed — and went on to bring up the many, many ballots that it took to elect Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House.

Maher then brought up the question of the debt ceiling, and the effect that Republicans in the House might have on it. For his part, Sullivan argued that this behavior — which he described as “reckless” — ran counter to his own definition of conservatism. “They’re perfectly prepared to take this country to the fiscal brink, to destroy this economy, to make a little point,” Sullivan said. And later, Maher and Sullivan both critiqued the hypocrisy of the Republicans who attack Democrats for their spending but spend freely when they’re in power.

In the second half of the panel, Maher steered the conversation to the subject of schools. “My sister’s a teacher — I’m a big defender of teachers — but what’s going on in the schools is outrageous,” Maher said. Specifically, he raised the subject of violence in schools, beginning with the six-year-old who shot a teacher and expanding outward from there.

Mace, a mother of two, spoke of her own parenting experience, including taking away her kids’ iPhones due to concerns over their grades. Sullivan pointed to a lack of authority figures, both literally and figuratively, as an issue. Gradually, both Sullivan and Mace took the conversation into frustration over (sigh) “wokeness.”

Among the frustrating elements of this part of the segment — and there were many — was the way that all three participants in the conversation were largely on the same page. It got a lot of cheers from the studio audience, but three people agreeing with each other, regardless of the topic, doesn’t make for compelling viewing. 

New Rules found Maher returning to some less thorny topics, including Maher’s desire to have his body composted and used to grow weed after his death. The bulk of the segment, however, focused on George Santos’s unexpectedly successful run for office. “If you’re hazy on the details of Santos’s life, don’t worry — so is he,” Maher said.

Part of the segment addressed the brazenness and quantity of Santos’s assorted lies, and some found Maher pointing out the sheer weirdness of some of them — like Santos’s claims of being a college volleyball star and running a nonprofit that spayed and neutered cats. Maher’s larger argument, however, was that Santos’s rise showed his ability to appeal to voters on both the left and right on the most surface levels possible — without the slightest hint of substance.

Barr joined the panelists for a lengthy Overtime. The segment began with regulation of massive tech companies — something Maher noted was one of the few areas that the political right and left both agreed upon. The bulk of the segment focused on perceptions of Joe Biden and the Biden presidency — with the 2024 presidential election looming ever closer. As was the case last year, this segment made for some of the most interesting moments of the night — including a heated discussion of the Republican Party’s position on abortion that closed things out. 

Where does this leave the series going into 2023? The theme song is new, but some of the frustrations the show can call to mind have endured. We’ll see where things go from here.

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