“Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons” made its debut on Wednesday, June 22 on HBO. The half-hour show covers pop culture, sports and features conversations with special guests, field segments and additional commentary. For its first episode, the sports commentator chatted about the basketball greats with Charles Barkley and had a heated DeflateGate chat with Ben Affleck. Here’s what the critics thought about the first show.
IndieWire’s Liz Shannon Miller thought the talk show opened with a confident debut. Writing, “Point-of-view is everything now. And that’s something which Bill Simmons does not lack.” Adding, “‘Wednesday’ has no demonstrable difficulties with keeping the show flowing despite the lack of commercial breaks (which offer their own particular rhythm to late night). ‘Wednesday’ is deliberately meant to emulate the podcasting world that helped cement Simmons’ star status, leading to interviews that have the rhythm of conversations.”
“Bill Simmons shows he can get under the skin,” writes Sonia Saraiya of Variety. While she does think that the show is “brilliant” and that it “feels fun,” Saraiya notes that it comes with its own set of problems. “Much like Bill Maher, another of HBO’s talking heads, Simmons’ presence on the network is both electrifying and immediately divisive; how many white men who are convinced they know everything can HBO possibly employ at once?” Overall, it was quite a ride watching the premiere and she thinks Simmons could be a big hit, “Such a strong installment right out the gate suggests that Simmons’ show could very well become a must-watch for undiluted, uncensored voices commenting on the sports, politics, and culture of the day.”
On the other hand, LA Times’ Mary McNamara clearly states that Simmons needs to work on his TV presence. “There’s just one tiny problem. As even his biggest, truest fans would agree, Simmons isn’t very good on television, something he proved once again on Wednesday night because HBO is a network, not a magical transformation machine.” McNamara critiqued his “first-night jitters” and hopes in the next episodes he “will calm down a bit, figure out how to hit his jokes better, and the show will improve.”
Daniel D’Addario of Time Magazine seems to agree with McNamara writing that the series brings out the worst in Simmons. “His delivery is stiff and halting; he seemed overmatched by the most basic aspects of TV talk,” he said about the host. He does admit that he admires Simmons work with Grantland and The Ringer, but “Wednesday” lacks insight, “By contrast, ‘Any Given Wednesday’s’ dark attitude makes sports and popular culture feel like a slog.”
“Bill Simmons’ HBO show debut is sloppy, but not without potential,” is The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg’s bottom line. He notes that Affleck’s enthusiasm was probably the best thing to happen in the series premiere and will get people sharing his passionate rant. While he points out that the talk was awkward, he knows there is room to refine the hopeful series, “Producers can now tinker with the mechanics of the thing in peace and let the raised eyebrows point in Affleck’s direction, while also knowing that the Barkley interview and the smooth distillation of Simmons’ voice exhibit the show’s potential.”
Simmons’ knows his stuff, but he still needs to work on being a TV personality, according to Neil Genzlinger of The NY Times. “Some of his detractors have suggested that this background would not translate well to a talk show. So far, they are right. He’s not a natural yet on camera, or adept at keeping up with guests who are going at the speed of Mr. Affleck,” he writes. “But dial up some early footage of, say, Conan O’Brien. Hosting is a learned skill.” So, there’s hope.