Constructor: Joel Fagliano
Relative Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Word of the Day: LAST Week Tonight
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, often abridged as Last Week Tonight, is an American late-night talk and news satire television program airing on Sundays on HBO in the United States and HBO Canada, and on Mondays (originally Tuesdays) on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom. The half-hour long show premiered on Sunday, April 27, 2014, and is hosted by comedian John Oliver. Last Week Tonight shares some similarities with Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where Oliver was previously featured as a correspondent and fill-in host, as it takes a satirical look at news, politics and current events, but on a weekly basis.
Oliver has said that he has full creative freedom, including free rein to criticize corporations. His initial contract with HBO was for two years with an option for extension. In February 2015, it was announced that the show has been renewed for two additional seasons of 35 episodes each. Oliver and HBO programming president Michael Lombardo have discussed extending the show from half an hour to a full hour and airing more than once a week after Oliver "gets his feet under him". (Wikipedia)
This is pretty solid, but also pretty boring. On the one hand, I don't think I see anything that looks at all FISHY [1D: Suspicious] about either the way the grid is put together or the cluing—with maybe the exception of ON TOP, which is pretty cruddy [2D: "...with a cherry _____"]. On the flip side though (yes, I have one hand and one flip side; this is a little known fact about me), there isn't really anything to get excited about either. I think we can all AGREE [3D: Think alike] that when your most interesting clue/answer combination is SHOES [7A: The T.S.A. makes you take them off], that doesn't exactly speak volumes as to your puzzle's noteworthiness. But that's fine. Not every puzzle has to be groundbreaking. Some of them need to stick around just to make the special ones more special. And this offering certainly fits the bill without descending too far into mediocrity.
I feel like LINGO could have been clued better [5A: Specialized vocabulary]. Google and I both think of it as an "informal, humorous" term, and I think the clue should reflect this. Basically, it is itself an example of what it describes, so something interesting and self-referential could even have been done here, but barring that the clue should at least gives some semantic hint that it's looking for a slang term, by itself employing such language.
I have a soft spot for ASTRO [6A: Prefix with physics or turf], because I was briefly amused by the fact that a connection can be made between those very different words. Of all the overly common techniques for cluing overly common vocabulary, the "[prefix/suffix] with [x] or [y]" variety, when done right, can be pretty ok. Although I am right in asserting that it's generally rendered as "...with [x] or [y]", not for, at least in my experience with the Times puzzle. I'm not sure why the convention was ignored here. Not bad, but....odd.
I am a yuuuuuge fan of LAST Week Tonight [5D: John Oliver's "____ Week Tonight"], So this puzzle definitely gets me on its side there. One of the failings of the Daily Show (IF it has a failing!) is that, for various reasons, they can't or don't get as in depth in their exploration of very complex, entrenched societal issues as you'd like, and LWT is very very good at that. But don't take my word for it; let me show you. I haven't even watched this one yet but I promise it's the best thing you will watch in the next twenty-one minutes.
Signed, Jonathan Gibson, suffix with CrossWorld