The rant is a staple of sports fandom. At Thanksgiving, at the office, in bars, via text, on Twitter — wherever sports fans go, rants go, too.
It makes sense, then, that the biggest headline out of Wednesday's premiere of Bill Simmons' new HBO talk show Any Given Wednesday was a sports rant. And it wasn't from the first guest, Charles Barkley. It was from the second guest, Ben Affleck.
Affleck's particular brand of celebrity has always been a weird dance of endurance of public mockery, undeniable talent, plenty of flops, and surprisingly durable bro-style charm. But he came out flat on Wednesday. It didn't help that Simmons opened with a tortured comparison between the Patriots trying to go for a 19-0 season and Affleck taking on the role of Batman. Look: Many people thought many things about Affleck playing Batman; nobody thought it was his attempt to put a final topper on an unblemished run. Not even close. That is a bad first question, and it didn't get Affleck off to a good start at all.
The interview stayed flat and dull, with Affleck seeming off his game in general (he's normally pretty charming on talk shows; he was not here), until Simmons asked about "Deflategate," the story of Tom Brady's suspension. Affleck unleashed a profanity-filled — and often pretty convincing — tirade about his objections to the suspension. (It makes some sense that a celebrity who's been as paparazzi-chased as Affleck would take particular offense at the NFL expecting Brady to turn over his cell phone while they were investigating.) It got a little dicey when Affleck announced the whole thing was a "conspiracy" among people Brady had beaten, but: okay. (You can watch Affleck talk about it — be aware that, as previously mentioned, there is a lot of swearing.)
Simmons, naturally, managed a shot or two at ESPN, which didn't renew his contract after a bunch of NFL-related unpleasantness you can read more about at The Hollywood Reporter. In the end, there's a real difference between what it feels like when a smart and funny person rants about sports and what it feels like when a sullen and unhappy person rants about sports, and if the show is going to make ranting a central feature, it'll be interesting to see how the tone of the rest of the interview affects the way it comes off.
As for Barkley's segment, it was exactly what you'd expect from a show like this: two dudes doing a High-Fidelity-style argument over LeBron James' place in the list of greatest players of all time. It lost a little steam when Barkley admitted that he would never put James or any other contemporary player in his top five no matter what they did because of changes in rules and play, which means arguing about the meaning of James' accomplishments was secretly pointless all along.
The show on the whole was fine, and it gives people who love Simmons' voice a place to hear him. But it certainly didn't feel like anything you can't get in lots of other places (podcasts have perhaps made talk shows like this feel less essential, as Simmons is well-positioned to know).
It was particularly disappointing, though, to see Simmons, who has spoken about wanting the NFL to handle domestic violence differently, take time out from a segment on wanting the Warriors' Steph Curry to make better commercials so he could add to a list of Curry's woes, "He even lost control of his wife on Twitter."
"Lost control of his wife." Man, shut up.
HBO gave Bill Simmons a half-hour so that he could give the people who like him exactly what they like about him: periodically funny, periodically bombastic sports chatter. That's what the episode delivered, but it nevertheless felt a little underprepared.