It isn’t often that C-SPAN trumps HBO in terms of new and original programming, but on Wednesday night that’s exactly what happened.
Late Wednesday morning, Rep. John Lewis and a group of fellow Democrats took over the House floor to demand a vote on gun control legislation. Chanting “No bill, no break,” Democrats staged a sit-in that forced the body into recess. When the cameras were cut, the group began streaming their protest via Periscope, which C-SPAN picked up, offering Americans a real-life, real-time look at democracy in action.
More than 10 hours into the proceedings, Speaker Paul D. Ryan attempted to bring the House back into order, slamming his gavel while Democratic representatives shouted him down.
And virtually at that moment, over on HBO, Bill Simmons debuted his much-touted new sports ’n’ pop culture talk show, “Any Given Wednesday.”
It wasn’t even close.
For weeks now, the former ESPN writer, podcaster, Grantland-editor and general bad-boy superstar has been promoting his move to HBO with the same brio that made him famous and eventually got him fired. Television, Simmons has apparently decided, is the real Next Big Thing.
There’s just one tiny problem. As even his biggest, truest fans would agree, Simmons isn’t very good on television, something he proved once again on Wednesday night because HBO is a network, not a magical transformation machine.
Even without the distraction of House Democrats pelting Paul Ryan with cries of “Shame, shame” before bursting into their rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” the debut of “Any Given Wednesday” was an odd and painful thing to watch.
From his bro-dad uniform (gray T-shirt, plaid button-down) to his man-cave set (what was with the antique luggage?) Simmons was carefully groomed to seem frat-boy casual. Alas, from the moment he began his opening monologue, casual was the opposite of what he seemed.
With the worst case of first-night jitters since the flop-sweat scene in “Broadcast News,” Simmons stared deeply into the teleprompter from which he read a bizarrely cadenced and at times inaudible, monologue about LeBron James and his team’s amazing seventh-game win of the NBA championship.
It was, in its own way, remarkable; it may have seemed physically impossible to make a description of that game boring, and yet somehow Simmons managed.
The appearance of Charles Barkley, with his insistence that James is not one of the top five players of all time, lifted the energy level and put Simmons a bit at ease. Though one could see a glimmer of possibility, in which sports — from numerical minutiae to historical significance — is debated by people who know their stuff, their “it’s not like the old days” banter still seemed far more podcast than television, never mind HBO television.
But it was the height of sophistication compared to the bon mots of Simmons’ next guest. Ben Affleck appeared fully immersed in the whole “guys’ night out” vibe as he launched into an F-bomb-laden rant about the horrors of … Deflategate.
Seriously, man, no one cares anymore. Move on. And are you getting paid by the F-word or what?
There was also a clunky humor piece in which Simmons gave Stephen Curry advice on how to make a better commercial and a closing list of crazy things that have happened this year, including the fact that “little Billy Simmons” now has a show on HBO.
That last is a sentiment no doubt shared by many. With any luck, Simmons will calm down a bit, figure out how to hit his jokes better, and the show will improve.
If not, well, as the House Democrats would say, “We shall overcome.”