As a frequent sports media consumer, I have a complicated relationship with Bill Simmons. I guess I am a fan of his, but most of the times I discuss him or his work with friends, I make fun of him. His ridiculous hypothetical NBA trades proposals and Boston sports homerism have always infuriated me. At the same time, I listen to his podcast regularly (if the guest is good or the topic is the NBA), and I was genuinely excited to watch the premiere episode of his new HBO show on Wednesday (even after seeing the terrible promos for it). Though there was a good chance the show would just provide me more fodder to use when I goof on Simmons with my friends, I have to admit that I actually liked it quite a bit.
The show was not without its flaws. The opening title sequence featuring floating sneakers, a deflated football (a subtle jab at Roger Goodell, a frequent Simmons target), Apollo Creed’s boxing trunks from the Rocky movies, and even a Ford Bronco (because the OJ Simpson trial is, for some reason, all the rage right now) did not start things off on a strong note. His opening monologue about LeBron’s greatness was strong, but Simmons’s delivery of teleprompted material needs some work as his voice often gets really high when he oversells jokes. The Ben Affleck interview was absolutely terrible. The latest Batman used it as a way to even the score with comedian Robert Wuhl for a standup bit that poked fun of him and to rant about the injustice of Tom Brady being suspended for his role in the Deflategate scandal, which no one outside of the New England area wanted to hear. I understand Simmons wanted big names on his first episode, but let’s hope Affleck is not in the regular rotation.
That said, I enjoyed the first episode of Any Given Wednesday and will continue watching. Since the show is essentially a (choppily) edited version of what Simmons has been doing on his podcasts since 2007, it works and I think it will improve as Simmons and company figure out how to repackage an already popular product into a 30 minute television program.
Since it is my belief that his podcast is strongly dependent on the quality of his guest, which I think is probably true of 90% of podcasts, it is no surprise this was also the case in episode one of Any Given Wednesday, where the Affleck interview was a dud while the Barkley interview was the best part of the show. Say what you want about Simmons, he is truly knowledgeable about the NBA and its history, so watching him and Barkley debate LeBron’s greatness, the quality of the product today vs. the ‘80s, and whether Barkley and Moses Malone deserved to be fined for helping Dr. J to cheap shot Larry Bird all exemplified Simmons at his best.
While Simmons is no John Oliver, whose weekly rants on his own HBO show are one of the best things on TV right now, the show’s opening monologue and Simmons’s take that Steph Curry’s commercials suck were, much like the Barkley interview, classic Simmons. They were in his wheelhouse, and because of this, they were interesting and entertaining. Hopefully Simmons is able to stay in this comfort zone, as his podcasts have shown that when he ventures too far from what he knows, he struggles as much as Golden State in the last 4:40 of game seven of this year’s Finals and bullshits his way through conversations by throwing out flawed sports or pop culture analogies that make him look a bit silly.
I give Simmons a lot of credit, as he has turned bullshitting about sports, TV, and movies into a massive following. This show is the most ambitious of his projects yet, and it is a work in progress. But, considering that it took him less than two minutes to make his first reference to the movie Teen Wolf, I think we’ll be getting the Simmons we have gotten to know since his early days at ESPN, and though that means he’ll talk too much about Boston and occasionally (or maybe frequently) piss you off, his following and his many imitators have proven that what he does works.