For those that are unaware of the world of sports media, Bill Simmons is quite the controversial figure. After making a career at ESPN for humorously speaking out against his co-workers and corrupt NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he was shown the door by the worldwide leader in sports.
Over a year after his initial firing, Simmons is back in the limelight with his new HBO talk show Any Given Wednesday. A mixture of sports, pop culture, and high-profile celebrity guests, the half and hour block of television was promised to meet the standard of HBO’s other talk shows.
Even after wearing out some TV hosting rust, Simmons and his wide array of talents still feel constricted by the contrived formula it features. In between these forced segments however is fairly engaging conversations that showcases both authenticity and wit that is not spotlighted enough on talk shows today.
One has to give Simmons’ credit for really pulling out all the stops with his guest list. Just half a season alone, he has interviewed the likes of Ben Affleck, Aaron Rodgers, Caitlyn Jenner, and Jonah Hill to name a few. It’s Simmons’ ability to truly engage with his guests that make the interviews come to life. The show’s highlights are often times the small memories shared by guests, which are refreshing to hear from usually glib celebrities.
Any Given Wednesday also thrives in its panel format. Having several guests from different circles meet and discuss the issues of today often makes for great conversation. These moments are all the more effective when Simmons pairs two seemingly opposite people together. A conversation between the brash Mark Cuban and soft-spoken Malcolm Gladwell has easily been one of the show’s highlights, with their verbal sparring drawing several interesting discussion points.
Gluing this show together is Bill Simmons himself. Whether you love him or hate him, Simmons has grown exponentially on television, being incredibly comfortable on the platform and with his guests. The show in general has a laid back attitude that is fitting of its host’s persona.
However, Any Given Wednesday has still failed to live up to its full potential. A major problem is the show’s more hackneyed planned segments. Whether that be a typically stilted voice over by Simmons addressing the weekly news or creative, yet unfunny sketch bits, these segments fail to add much of note to the show. Instead, they feel ham-fisted in, awkwardly meshing with the rest of the half-hour.
While Simmons still has much to improve on, Any Given Wednesday is fresh and genuine enough to consistently make for an engaging watch. Hopefully, the show will continue to improve as it finds its footing.