Hasan Minhaj
Watch and laugh. (Illustration by Rachel Glucksman, Rhode Island School of Design)

Since the first season of “Last Week Tonight” in 2014, John Oliver has been ruling the stage of long-form political and news satire. But in October of 2018, Hasan Minhaj stepped up with his series, “Patriot Act.” Named in reference to the controversial law that allowed increased government surveillance, this Netflix original is not afraid to discuss controversial topics and relevant social issues.

In covering immigration enforcement, Saudi Arabia, deforestation and the global impact of the NRA, Hasan Minhaj and his team have highlighted a variety of pressing issues. The show digs deep into topics, spending nearly half an hour on each, which allows viewers to look at popular subjects with a fresh perspective and gives lesser-known issues the depth they deserve.

Although each episode tackles important social, economic and political challenges, it is unapologetically and consistently funny. Hasan Minhaj, a Peabody Award-winning stand-up comedian and a former correspondent on “The Daily Show,” is certainly no stranger to having fun with serious content. The subjects and statistics discussed on the show can be complex and concerning, but Minhaj’s witty comedic style always keeps viewers engaged.

Hasan Minhaj’s mid-90s basketball references and jokes about Beyoncé should be reason enough to watch, but it’s his sincerity that makes the show unique. Minhaj discusses his own parents’ experiences of immigration while shedding light on immigration enforcement. In discussing the future of the planet, he mentions the world he wants to leave behind for his daughter. The genuine nature of Minhaj’s words and actions make this show a huge hit with Netflix viewers.

In addition to hot button issues, Hasan Minhaj and his research team also cover issues that might be new to viewers. The show’s episode on Fentanyl doesn’t merely regurgitate the history of the opioid crisis; rather, it sheds light on the new challenges America will face. As a newer opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin, Fentanyl is changing the way the world will have to deal with the scourge of opiate addiction.

But “Patriot Act” doesn’t only feature sad realities with humor. Sometimes, the show covers interesting pop culture phenomena that have a bigger impact than we think. With episodes about Supreme, Amazon, hip-hop streaming and cricket (the sport, not the bug), the show is able to convey the relevance of pop culture in the current economic and political climate.

In discussing the corruption in international cricket leagues, Hasan Minhaj notes how cricket plays a role in international diplomacy and has served as a way for colonies to beat colonizers at their own game. The episode about Supreme looks at the business model and global economic impact of the world’s most popular streetwear brand. Although it would be easy to dismiss some of these topics as trivial, the show’s in-depth research and interesting perspective will show you how these subjects are relevant to your own life.

Visually, “Patriot Act” is stunning because Hasan Minhaj is mobile through the entire show. Working with a background and floor of screens, the graphics team at “Patriot Act” is unparalleled. This scene allows Minhaj and the audience to interact more directly with the statistics, graphs and photos featured in the pieces — it truly brings them to life.

In addition to providing great content and comedy, “Patriot Act” is important in the fight for representation in the media. Hasan Minhaj is an American-born Muslim Indian; his unique perspective on current issues and what it means to be American makes the show worth watching.

Hasan Minhaj speaks for no one but himself, but it is encouraging to see an Asian American playing an important role in the media, especially since comedy and journalism have historically been dominated by white males.

Hasan Minhaj is also breaking down barriers as to who has access to this sort of programing.

Traditionally, shows that feature satirical news segments and in-depth looks at difficult political topics have been restricted to cable television stations. “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” have been featured on Comedy Central, along with “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. These programs are only available to certain audiences — ones that have enough money to pay for them. As an unfortunate result, some of the people that need to see these stories most might not have access to them.

“Patriot Act” combats this restriction by putting content on Netflix. With over 139 million Netflix subscribers, there is a broad audience for the show. Of course, not every person has a Netflix account, so each episode is also put onto the show’s YouTube page in full. In addition to the show, the “Patriot Act” YouTube channel features “Deep Cut” segments where Minhaj discusses audience questions. Sometimes funny, sometimes weird, sometimes heartwarming, this segment gives greater depth to both Minhaj and his content.

Now in its fourth season, “Patriot Act” releases a new episode each Sunday on Netflix. Despite there only being six episodes per season, each one packs a punch. Minhaj’s most recent season ventures into the realms of worker abuses in the video game industry and the importance of adequately funding public transportation.

No topic is off limits for the creators of this show, and there are plenty of intriguing global issues that the show could dig into.  There are currently three episodes left in the series, and its viewers are anxiously awaiting the topics that “Patriot Act” will cover next.

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