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Bill Simmons’ first HBO show not yet up to snuff

Bill Simmons and Charles Barkley discuss greatest NBA players on Simmons' new HBO show

Bill Simmons and Charles Barkley discuss where LeBron James fits among the greatest NBA players ever.

Bill Simmons’ much-discussed, highly anticipated, heavily promoted new series, “Any Given Wednesday,” premiered on HBO Wednesday night, and . . . a sports talk radio show broke out.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. America enjoys sports talk radio, especially in the hands of a guy such as Simmons, who is a deft, clever writer and conversationalist who produces popular columns and podcasts.

But that cannot be all there is, not for a show with the advertising budget and aspirations of this one. And not for one that is shown weekly, in some cases long after the modern sports media machine has picked clean the topics du jour.

Simmons opened with a long essay on LeBron James. Understandable, but this was three nights after the Cavaliers had won the NBA championship and even after Cleveland’s sanitation department had swept up from Wednesday’s victory parade.

There were the obligatory HBO curse words — which people cannot resist using, simply because they can — and good, Simmons-esque lines, such as, “He’s still our captain if aliens ever show up and challenge us to a basketball game.”

Then the reliably entertaining Charles Barkley, sitting on a comfy couch, joined Simmons, sitting on a comfy chair, as the first guest and talked about . . . LeBron, of course, and where he ranks among the all-time greats.

That debate already seemed old by noon on Monday, let alone 10:10 p.m. Wednesday.

Simmons followed with another essay, this one making fun of Stephen Curry’s lame TV commercials, that again displayed his solid writing chops.

(By the way, I noticed a couple of actual printed newspapers on the set. Thanks for that, Bill!)

Simmons has said the show will be a mix of sports, pop culture, tech and other subjects, and for his second guest he welcomed actor (and fellow Boston-area sports fan) Ben Affleck.

An agitated Affleck spent most of his segment on an F-bomb-littered rant about DeflateGate — a topic that makes where James ranks among NBA greats seem fresh in comparison.

Two Boston guys complaining for minutes on end about DeflateGate? No, please not that.

In Simmons’ closing segment he took a relatively mild shot at his former employer, ESPN, when he showed a clip of Stephen A. Smith saying something silly. But then he added praise for a “really good documentary that helped Caucasians finally understand the O.J. verdict.”

Was it an unpleasant way to spend a half-hour of one’s limited time on Earth? No, it was not. Barkley always is good company and Simmons certainly can be.

But in its first attempt, “AGW” failed at the biggest challenge facing anyone who tries anything in our oversaturated, repetitive, mind-numbing sports media environment: being different, being fresh, being must-see.

The goal for Simmons at HBO is to emerge from the din of other voices in his realm, a role played effectively by his colleagues Bill Maher and John Oliver, two incendiary, original risk-takers who demand attention.

Simmons’ premiere episode did not achieve that. Maybe next time.

New York Sports