Real Time With Bill Maher



11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16

It has been three months since Bill Maher's live weekly dissection of current events left HBO. Three long months. In the interim, fans of the irreverent comic had to face a question every bit as profound as the one about the tree falling in the forest: If Maher doesn't lampoon it, did it really happen?

It's all moot now. Maher launched his fifth season Friday night, picking up from where he left off. The format (parody tape piece, monologue, interview, panel discussion, second interview and "new rules") was completely unchanged, and Maher was provocative as ever. Some samples: "We should be going to war with Saudi Arabia." "You remember scientists. They're the idiots who don't believe in Genesis." "(Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Mormon religion) was, excuse me, a con man."

Overall, though, the show was less memorable than some. Maher's opening interview with John Edwards was bright and pointed. His second interview, though, was with John Amaechi, the former NBA player who announced he was gay. By the time Maher got to him, Amaechi had given so many TV interviews that his face had almost become screen wallpaper.

The heart of each show is the panel made up of Maher and three guests. One of them, CBS' "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson, was witty and opinionated. The other two, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Carly Fiorina, former CEO at Hewlett-Packard, were too pedagogical and overthought their responses. No matter. Maher is still like Dolly Levi. It's so nice to have him back where he belongs.