In a span of a few words, Bill Maher’s opening monologue for the latest episode of “Real Time With Bill Maher” captured the blend of earnestness and irreverence that the show has had in the lead-up to the 2020 election. After thanking his audience for dealing with the safety protocols required of them, Maher reminded them that it was 11 days until the election — then pivoted to this week’s Jeffrey Toobin quasi-scandal. “He’s been a guest on the show,” Maher said warily. “I had to shake his hand.”

Also up for discussion in the opening monologue? The recent presidential debate, for one thing. (“We discovered the monster’s weakness — the mute button.”) Rudy Giuliani’s recent Borat 2 appearance, for another. (“That’s who you want looking into high-tech corruption in the former Soviet Union — someone who can get fooled by Borat.”) All of which provided a segue into a wide-ranging episode. Really, any episode with guests including Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Scaramucci. McConaughey and The Mooch! Name a more iconic duo, as the saying goes.

Up first, though, was Ben Sheehan, a former Funny or Die producer who’s written a book about the Constitution. That would be the memorably-titled OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say?: A Non-Boring Guide to How Our Democracy Is Supposed to Work, which has drawn hearty praise from everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Broad City’s Ilana Glazer. 

While Sheehan’s background is in comedy, his conversation with Maher was deeply serious, as Maher quickly brought up his ongoing concern that we’re “on the honor system” with respect to a lot of things when it comes to the government. Both Sheehan and Maher expressed concern over a transition of power in the event of a Biden victory. Sheehan reminded the audience of the chaos that followed the 1876 election, and suggested other areas where the Electoral College could be reformed.

From there, Maher was joined by panelists Anthony Scaramucci and Heidi Heitkamp, former Senator from North Dakota. The first topic up for discussion? The recent discovery of what 60 Minutes dubbed as the “flight from hell” — a charter flight in the early days of the pandemic which led to a group of contagious passengers roaming around Atlanta’s airport. “Something is wrong that’s beyond Trump,” Maher said, pointing to evidence of institutional failure. 

The conversation ventured in a number of directions, touching on everything from QAnon and economic disenfranchisement to the importance (and occasional absence) of critical thinking. Maher eventually turned the conversation to the subject of language — specifically, what neologisms might spring up and endure beyond the pandemic era. Besides a second allusion to Jeffrey Toobin, Maher also suggested “Nostrildumbass” for someone who injures themselves while self-administering a COVID-19 test. The debate also featured the unexpected sight of both Scaramucci and Heitkamp speaking favorably of Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income proposal. 

And then a bespectacled  Matthew McConaughey showed up via videochat to discuss his memoir Greenlights. To what, you may ask, does the title refer? An extended metaphor for transformative moments in McConaughey’s life, essentially, based on his going back and revisiting 36 years’ worth of diaries. Apparently, there’s also a section on the time McConaughey tried peyote and then encountered a mountain lion.

As befits McConaughey’s career, the conversation was wide-ranging, and eventually shifted gears to how McConaughey had gone from the ubiquitous star of romantic comedies to working in a broader range of projects. The conversation shifted to McConaughey’s family history and his own experience of marriage — and then ventured into an almost hallucinatory discussion of violent memories and bizarre dreams. Through it all, McConaughey spoke about love in a thoroughly tactile way, making for an unexpectedly optimistic take on the world.

Maher concluded the episode with New Rules; for this episode, that encompassed everything from Jeffrey Toobin (yes, again) to the travails of playing harmonica. He wound the segment up on an impassioned note, inveighing against voter suppression measures of all forms. With under 2 weeks to go before Election Day — and early voting already underway in many parts of the country — his message hit home.

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