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Ben Affleck has ruined many things: Armageddon, the Batman franchise, Jennifer Garner's career. But he was the last person you'd expect to potentially derail Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons, the title host's new half-hour talk show-slash-vlog for HBO. In last week's debut episode, an ostensibly inebriated Affleck went on a five-minute tirade during which he castigated Roger Goodell and the NFL for the Deflategate scandal. The rant wasn't necessarily unusual—what was odd was that Affleck frequently slurred his words, dropped F-bombs like he was on the set of a Kevin Smith movie, and at one point shouted so loud it looked like was going to have a Tom-Cruise-jumping-on-the-couch moment.
I had read about the Affleck snafu on the Internet, and when I finally saw it I was underwhelmed: the interview is the most boring part of the episode. Any Given Wednesday isn't the Internet—it's HBO. And it's a pretty good televisual interpretation of what Simmons does.
Simmons initially gained fame for his sports column, briefly hosted at AOL and then for many years at ESPN, where he also started 30 for 30, the documentary series for which he serves as an executive producer; The B.S. Report, his podcast; and Grantland, a brilliant sports and pop culture website that shuttered not long after Simmons left the sports-media behemoth in 2015. Simmons is a talented interviewer and has a distinct voice. His columns tended to be long, self-involved, and lowbrow—yet they were also packed with an encyclopedic knowledge of sports history, insightful commentary, and a charming common-dude voice.
But how could Any Given Wednesday convey all of Simmons's strengths in a brief half-hour window? The answer: by replicating Simmons's enterprises in condensed forms. The first four-and-a-half minutes of Any Given Wednesday is an extended monologue about LeBron James, abetted by frequent video clips and animation that make it look like Oliver Stone directed Simmons's column. And before the interview with Affleck there's a better, funnier conversation with Charles Barkley. Simmons is one of the rare people who can make a Q&A with famous subjects sound like a casual back-and-forth at a party (look no further than the discussion he conducted with President Obama for GQ). The exchange with Barkley indicates what Any Given Wednesday might be like when the subject isn't imploding on camera.
If anything, Any Given Wednesday reminds me of one of my favorite HBO programs: Dennis Miller Live. Before he got an abbreviated gig at Monday Night Football, 9/11 happened, and he subsequently lost his mind, Miller was a hilarious, eloquent, sarcastic know-it-all who excelled at two things: humorously reading the news and talking to other comedians. Those elements made Dennis Miller Live a sharp late-night talk show, loose and lively in a low-key, adult manner. By focusing and fine-tuning Simmons's virtues, Any Given Wednesday signals the potential for the show's longevity and sneaky appeal. My advice: next time, book Mark Wahlberg.
Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons Wednesdays at 9 PM on HBO