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‘Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons’ Already Has the One Thing It Needs To Survive

The new HBO talk show opened with a confident debut.

Charles Barkley and Bill Simmons in “Any Given Wednesday.”

Jordan Althaus/HBO

For longtime fans of Bill Simmons (and he definitely has his fans), bringing the sports commentator to HBO means watching one of the most opinionated men on television get his chance to let loose like never before.

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For those who haven’t been religiously following Simmons (or, hell, sports), “Any Given Wednesday” was a chance to see what it looks like when on-air talent with years of experience gets even more freedom than before.

Judging a talk show based on its first episode is always a bit foolish, but it does help that Simmons is such a veteran, and so aware of what he does best — ranting about sports, and enabling the rants of others.

Ben Affleck and Bill Simmons in "Any Given Wednesday."

Ben Affleck and Bill Simmons in “Any Given Wednesday.”

Jordan Althaus/HBO

After an opening sequence that smashes together sports equipment with pop culture memorabilia, Simmons launched right into a monologue about LeBron James. For people who might think Simmons is self-obsessed, it is pretty notable that the first name he says on the show is not his own — though maybe there’s an ego to assuming that anyone tuning in knows who this guy is and why his opinion matters — and the segment flows smoothly to debating the basketball greats with Charles Barkley.

I have spent too many hours of my own life ranking “X-Files” episodes to sit in judgement over two guys debating whether LeBron James belongs in the top three of basketball players ever, and Simmons does keep the conversation relatively accessible. It’s followed by a rant about Steph Curry’s advertising campaigns, and then a one-on-one conversation with Ben Affleck. Affleck’s passion for the topic of DeflateGate has raised some questions about whether or not Affleck was totally sober during the interview, but there’s no doubt that Affleck really likes Tom Brady.

Compared to, say, “Chelsea” on Netflix, which after a month’s worth of episodes is still pretty shaky when it comes to transitioning between segments, “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. The lack of a studio audience gives the show an intimate feel, though does lead to the weirdness of being able to hear the unmiked crew laughing.

One thing about the podcasting world is that when you first start listening to a new one, all the quirks that make it unique will feel fresh and intriguing at first — eventually, though, those quirks start to feel tired or overplayed. And when that happens, what matters is the underlying content.

Standing out is the toughest challenge of late night TV today, and more and more, we’re seeing people in the late night world make big statements and take real stances to do just that. Just last night, Stephen Colbert took a pretty hard swing of support for the Democratic Congressional sit-in, hearkening back to his Comedy Central days, and James Corden, who’s far from a political guy, took a stance on the upcoming Brexit vote, telling viewers that he supported the UK staying in the European Union. Point-of-view is everything now. And that’s something which Bill Simmons does not lack.

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