Dave on Demand: Oliver a good stand-in on 'Daily Show'

TV Jon Stewart
This Oct. 18, 2012 file photo shows host Jon Stewart during a taping of "The Daily Show with John Stewart", in New York. Stewart took a break from "The Daily Show" starting in June to direct and produce his first feature film. Correspondent-writer John Oliver has hosted the fake news show for the eight weeks of original episodes scheduled during Stewart's hiatus. The British-born Oliver has been a "Daily Show" regular since 2006. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)

Can we all agree that, as summer replacements go, John Oliver has been doing a smashing job of filling in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show?

Despite his Mr. Bean-like fussiness, Oliver has proven to be an engaging and energetic host. While Stewart is undoubtedly a more resourceful comic, the quality of The Daily Show rises or falls from night to night on the quality of the writing - no matter who is at the desk. (The Colbert Report, by comparison, is far more performance-driven.)

The explanation for Stewart's extended absence is flimsy. Does it really take three months for him to direct the sequel Death to Smoochy 2? Jimmy Kimmel returned far faster from his recent hiatus, and he got married and grew a beard in the interval - two acts that for him must have required unnatural tenacity.

Still, it's commendable that Stewart appointed a proxy, instead of condemning us to a tired pageant of reruns. Glance around the late-night moonscape and you'll see that substitute hosts have become rarer than drive-through photo booths.

Late night used to be a format of snap-on parts. And why not? It's a fairly foolproof formula: monologue followed by puffy interviews leading into the musical guest, sprinkled excessively with commercials.

Now, it's one-man platforms everywhere you look. The hosts have convinced themselves, and the networks, that the show simply can't go on without them.

As Stewart's capable steward, Oliver has proven that's bunk. The great Johnny Carson used a regular rotation of pinch-hitters. Though in a different daypart, Regis Philbin was also quite comfortable with surrogates.

No man is irreplaceable. Late-night hosts just think they are.

Unrecognizable. I don't think I've ever seen a show more dramatically made over than Unforgettable, which returned to the CBS schedule last week. Of course, when you come back from the dead, you're bound to look a little different. The police procedural is getting a miraculous second life, 14 months after it was canceled. Poppy Montgomery and Dylan Walsh are still the stars, but everything else has changed.

The two NYPD detectives have shifted from a dumpy primitive precinct house in Queens to a swanky, high-tech high-rise in Manhattan. The supporting cast has been upgraded with actors like Dallas Roberts (The Walking Dead) and Tawny Cypress (House of Cards). So, apparently, has the guest-star roster. (The re-debut featured Andrew McCarthy and Rescue Me's John Scurti. The Killing's Elias Koteas is in the offing.)

The central premise of the show - the freakish eidetic memory of Montgomery's character - is employed less as a parlor trick and more as a superpower. And the draggy subplot about the protagonist's obsession with solving the murder of her sister, a crime that took place 24 years ago, has been walled off.

Even the music is more exciting.

This is boldly ambitious in a network climate where just changing the opening sequence between seasons is considered a major renovation.

The only negative in this scenario is the law of diminishing returns. Unforgettable came back with 5 million fewer viewers than it left with.

Losing my appetite. In the immortal words of Popeye, "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more."

Those ubiquitous commercials for Wendy's with the redheaded woman boasting, "Now that's better," have driven me completely around the bend.

Smug and perky is an insufferable combination. Where do you get off being so contemptuous of other people's food options anyway, honey? You're munching drive-through fast food.

Now that's better? I don't think so, Red.


Contact David Hiltbrand at dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.inquirer.com/daveondemand, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_TV.