One of the first things you notice when turning on Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons, his new weekly late-night talk show on HBO, is that Simmons doesn’t have an audience.
In a landscape that has a late-night show for nearly everyone, it’s practically unheard of. You can format your show differently, get creative, get weird, go viral, and even break the longstanding tradition of standing for a monologue. But nearly every late-night host has an audience that will laugh at their jokes. But not Simmons, who—according to an in-depth Hollywood Reporter interview—had to convince HBO to let him shoot the show without an audience because he says he’s not a performer. (You can occasionally hear the crew laughing at a joke.)
He’s not. He was a sportswriter first who branched out into podcasting, which continued with the launch of the Ringer, and extended into Any Given Wednesday. But Simmons has millions of loyal followers and listeners who will tune into a TV show to hear his takes on sports and culture as much as they will the guests he has on the show, and his first episode gives us a taste of just what that’ll be like.
Simmons picked a hell of a week to start his show; just days earlier, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the city its first major championship in 52 years thanks largely to LeBron James. He may be one of the greats right now, but is he the greatest ever? That leads into a discussion with former NBA player Charles Barkley, who doesn’t think so. He’s got his own list of top players, which he says will never change.
And while Simmons offers an in-depth discussion on basketball (and even touches on how bad of a spokesperson Steph Curry is when he’s not just allowed to play basketball), people will most likely remember this episode more for Ben Affleck’s bizarre Deflategate rant. Affleck doesn’t have anything to sell to us—although he does talk about why he decided to play Batman—but when it comes to the injustices the NFL has brought on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, he goes into it.
Calling Deflategate “the ultimate bullshit fucking outrage of sports ever” is just the beginning.
Simmons is America’s biggest sportswriter, and Affleck a successful actor and director, but here they’re just a couple of Boston fans shooting the shit—that makes them more relatable and entertaining to watch than a variety game ever could.
Any Given Wednesday showcases aspects of Simmons that many fans will recognize. For everyone else, it’s a glimpse into the kind of golden nuggets that you can snag from just a conversation. Did we need it? We’ll have to watch how that progresses in the weeks to come (and with the kinds of people Simmons brings on his show) but it might just be kind of end-of-day cooldown we need.