TV Review: HBO's 'Any Given Wednesday'

Jun 23, 2016
Originally published on June 23, 2016 7:48 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, LeBron James is celebrating his NBA championship with his Cleveland Cavaliers. It's worth remembering though that some years ago, LeBron ticked off a lot of people in Ohio when he made the move to the Miami Heat. Well, a lot of people are comparing that to Bill Simmons right now. He's the former ESPN star who has made a move to HBO.

And he last night debuted his new sports talk show "Any Given Wednesday." Simmons is considered one of the nation's top sports commentators. He's crafted a show that melds pop culture references, sports talk, celebrity interviews and a bit of satire. Here's a clip from him looking at NBA star Steph Curry, whose Golden State Warriors, of course, lost the other night to Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ANY GIVEN WEDNESDAY”)

BILL SIMMONS: We know who's not having a party, Stephen Curry. Remember when he had the highest approval rating of any NBA player in 20 years? It was like a mad scientist figured out how to merge March Madness buzzer beaters with golden retriever puppy photos. He made us say aw as much as he made us say whoa.

GREENE: All right, we have NPR TV critic Eric Deggans on the line to talk about this new show. And Eric, I mean, come on, people still love Steph Curry, right, even though he sort of lost this time.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: (Laughter) Well, that was like a rant where he was talking about how Steph Curry makes crappy commercials (laughter)...

GREENE: Right.

DEGGANS: ...So (laughter)...

GREENE: Oh good, Steph Curry under the attack now from Bill Simmons. Well, let's talk about Bill Simmons. I mean, he's such an important voice in sports media. What does it mean that he's now taken his voice to HBO?

DEGGANS: Well, it could mean a lot. I mean, Bill Simmons has sort of crafted this brand as the voice of the smart, pop-culture-obsessed sports fan. You might remember, he made a name for himself writing a really great sports column called the "Boston Sports Guy" at AOL. And then he went to ESPN, and he found a lot of success there. I mean, he created their well-regarded sports and pop culture website Grantland. He helped develop this high-quality sports documentary series "30 For 30," and he had a popular podcast.

But he's also known for rubbing management at ESPN the wrong way. So when he insulted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on his podcast, he was suspended, and then he was fired. And then Grantland got shut down. So he struck this lucrative deal with HBO. He's got a new show, and it could boost his popularity even further, maybe turn him into a kind of a John Oliver for the sports world and serve as kind of a nice rebuke to ESPN.

GREENE: So what do you think, is the show any good?

DEGGANS: Well, he's not exactly sports media's version of John Oliver yet. But last night's episode was an interesting start. I mean, he gave off this kind of every-man vibe. He's wearing sneakers and an unbuttoned collared shirt. And, you know, a lot of those guys on ESPN are all suited up...

GREENE: Yeah.

DEGGANS: ...And look a lot more formal...

GREENE: He's gone casual. He's gone, like...

DEGGANS: Exactly.

GREENE: ...Just sports fan casual.

DEGGANS: And he had this interesting mishmash of stuff. You know, he's got a commentary on LeBron James' career. He's got an interview with Charles Barkley. He's got some satire, even got movie star Ben Affleck to sound like a regular Boston sports nut when he asked him about how the NFL treated Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the deflategate scandal. Let's check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ANY GIVEN WEDNESDAY”)

BEN AFFLECK: They gave him a suspension for a quarter of the regular season, which would be equivalent of suspending a baseball player for 40 [expletive] days - 40...

SIMMONS: Yeah.

AFFLECK: ...And a quarter days to be exact.

SIMMONS: Yeah.

AFFLECK: Which is what they do for - when you get busted taking steroids.

DEGGANS: (Laughter) Yeah, I forgot to mention it's HBO. So they dropped a lot of F-bombs.

GREENE: OK, good to know. Yeah, thanks for remembering to remind us about that. I mean, it sounds like a really different kind of sports show.

DEGGANS: Yeah, I mean, in a way it was this jumble of conflicting stuff. You know, like Simmons looks down-to-earth and relatable, but he's palling around with an ex-NBA star and Charles Barkley and Ben Affleck in his first episode. It's supposed to be a sports talk show. But some of the best moments came when Barkley talked about how big-spending relatives are athlete's biggest financial worry. And Affleck talked about how hard he worked to salvage his career after he had a bunch of failures. So at times, it's hard to tell. I mean, is this a program for sports junkies, or is it for people who only have a vague interest in sports? And in a weird way maybe it's a good thing.

GREENE: To not necessarily have one targeted audience but be...

DEGGANS: Exactly.

GREENE: ...Accessible to everyone. All right, that is our TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.