Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator
Bill Simmons, former Boston Sports Guy and antagonistic ESPN employee, has finally struck out on his own. On cable, no less. Essentially, this means he can now use the word “fuck” while wearing a Brooklyn-Dad-Approved outfit and allowing Ben Affleck to further alienate himself from the American people.
I must come clean and admit my pre-existing bias: I have never been a fan of Bill Simmons on television. But I was willing to give him a chance. I loved Grantland for years, and I still miss the perfect combo of think-piecey sports writing and pop culture coverage that the Ringer just can’t seem to make pop like it’s creator’s beta version. (Granted, it’s young. I haven’t completely given up on the Ringer) That said, now I just go to Vulture, where I already spend 88% of my online time, to get my Rembert Browne fix.
I watched the premiere of Any Given Wednesday so you don’t have to. It’s clear within minutes that this is not the same kind of Simmons product as Grantland—it should be so lucky. Here are some takeaways.
Barkley: The best (or most marketable) part of Simmons is his access to the sportscasters with star power like Charles Barkley. Barkley always has some good jokes, and he’s likable in that shake-your-head-at-your-crazy-uncle kind of way. This appeared to be the most natural segment of the show, and by natural, I mean Barkley seemed at ease. Simmons, on the other hand, sat rigidly and spoke shrilly, his artfully cuffed indigo wash jeans and unbuttoned flannel portraying a more casual lack of effort than he could ever pull off as a host.
The Steph Curry advertising call: Legit. Simmons pointed out that any charisma Splash Brother #1 has on the court is completely obliterated when he reads something from a script in his endorsement ads. And it’s true. Every time I see a Steph Curry commercial, I am reminded of the athletes who sat in the back row of my Intro to Poetry class in college. When it was their turn to read aloud, their voices deadened, making the poems of Ezra Pound and Hart Crane sound about as lyrical as Time Warner’s hold music.
Curry should aspire to achieve that level of feeling. We must all thank Simmons for pointing out to the world one of the best throwback commercials of all time, Scottie Pippen’s Mr. Submarine spot, where the player enjoys a six-foot sandwich party with two Bulls cheerleaders in the middle of the court. More of that, please.
The Set: When I first saw the set of Any Given Wednesday, I suppressed an eye-roll impulse so strong that I had a flashback to my teen years. This set was a cliché brought to life. First and foremost, it’s fucking massive. So massive, in fact, that it made Charles Barkley look like a reasonably sized human being. The ceilings were cavernous, the windows floor-to-ceiling, the furniture sparsely placed in random corners. There was mahogany wood quite literally on every surface: the walls, the floors, the tables. There were dark brown, expensive-looking leather couches. (In case you didn’t put this together, brown=manliness). In the corner sat a globe, a few weathered trunks stacked on top of each other, all to prove your testosterone counts are high enough to enable you to talk about the World of Sports with authority. Thank god the producers didn’t forget to throw in some exposed brick, because otherwise we wouldn’t have truly gotten that urban-loft-man-cave vibe. Phew.
The Ben Affleck Rant: Watching Hollywood Douche Dujour and resident Nanny-fucker Ben Affleck’s rant on this show had to be one of the most painful moments I’ve experienced on HBO, right up in the ranks with the Battle of the Bastards last week. I can’t imagine something the good people of HBO Now (and the HBOGo password poachers of the world) could possibly want less than a 10-minute rant about Deflategate with Ben Affleck. Not only is the guy responsible for cheating on goddess Jennifer Garner, but his Boston stan attitude is exactly the kind of shrill fan-boying that he should avoid with a ten-foot pole. How many times did Ben Affleck say “fuck” on Any Given Wednesday to emphasize his points? More times than actual interesting points were made in the entire 30 minutes of the premiere of Any Given Wednesday.
I could see Affleck’s makeup sweating off him in rivulets, and in minute four, when I could no longer hold it in, I turned to my viewing partner and blurted the only question rocketing around my head: “What the fuck is this?” He had no reply—nothing could explain this away. I nearly turned the TV off. Two shrill white guys from Boston ranting about the Pats? In June? It was almost enough to make me log out of my borrowed HBOGo account forever.
Bill Simmons’ & His Voice: Something about Simmons voice just…sets me off? Upsets me? Makes me want to change the channel? TBH, I’d rather hear Kim Kardashian’s read the yellow pages in her most grating vocal fry than listen to Simmons nasally voice tell me what he believes* one more time. Clearly, Simmons is a smart guy. Clearly, I’m letting my own biases get in the way of objectively analyzing his new show. But as the world now knows for sure, there is only one conclusion to be drawn after the premiere of this show: Simmons should not be on TV. He was a stilted, nervous host. Whatever authenticity and bad-boy rep he once cultivated was obliterated by the meticulous and phony curated set, his unintelligible monologue about LeBron James, the Affleck Disaster, the wannabe John Oliver segments.
If this is what Simmons is offering on Wednesdays, I’m not interested.
*Will these commercials finally cease now that the show is actually on? Please?