Halt and Catch Fire (Halt! I Say…)

Halt and Catch Fire (Photo: AMC.tv)

Pirates of Silicon Valley finally gets the series treatment it deserved.

Show

Halt and Catch Fire, Sundays at 10/9c on AMC. Pilot episode available on AMC’s tumblr through the end of May.

Premise

Maverick geniuses – at computers, at selling things, at big ideas – in the 1980s work to make computers what they can be, not just what boring, stodgy companies say they can be. Personal lives likely get trampled in the process. Lee Pace (The Hobbit movies, Pushing Daisies) plays a former top salesman for IBM who completely disappears for a year and then turns up in Dallas where he convinces adrift family man Scoot McNairy (Argo) that his forgotten brilliance with computers should be reclaimed. Through contrivances1 they bring in young (also hot) Mackenzie Davis to help push things to the max. Also present as the little guys with big problems go up against big, bad, probably problematic entrenched interests are Kerry Bishé (playing McNairy’s spouse, again),  and Toby freaking Huss.2

Pedigree

Not much here – the creators are  basically first timers. Christopher C. Rogers has no other credits and Christopher Cantwell (no relation) has a few indie productions on the resume, mostly written/directed/produced by himself.

The showrunner, though, is Jonathan Lisco who executive produced the bulk of the awesome Southland (although he was also attached to the shoulda been better K-Ville). AMC is watching their investment and drawing from what they know works by attaching two producers from Breaking Bad3 and the art director from Mad Men. Toss in various industry vets4 and we can be fairly certain the packaging, at least, won’t be lacking.

Who is Halt and Catch Fire For?

Clearly people who like the name ‘Scoot’.5 With the invented companies/projects mixing with real-life situations and things, this show will be about the computer industry the way Mad Men is about the world of advertising. Ultimately, then, this is for people who dig AMC’s brand of character-heavy period pieces.

What Works

Casting, no question. There were a dozen moments, lines, looks in the pilot that were a hairsbreadth away from being either dull (See: TURN) or ridiculous (See: CBS) and it was the actors who threaded the proverbial needles. There’s also a very interesting chess game between the various corporate interests, both between and within companies. It’s a battle in which the main characters must participate, wide-eyed in the knowledge that they’re betting their own futures on decisions and choices made by people who really don’t care about their technical acumen.

What Doesn’t Work

More question marks than negatives. Will the characters remain/become interesting or will this look like a Sorkin movie? Will there be people of color? Will they stop hammering the concept anvil of ‘control’? ‘Halt and catch fire’ refers to a command in early computers – and a running joke of sorts amongst knowledgeable programmers – that put the system into an infinite loop, meaning no other commands would be received until the system was reset. Technically that put the system under the control of that command – but no one, including whoever executed that command, could do anything with the computer while it was in that state, so this wasn’t a particularly effective salvo in a ‘battle for control’ (as the series key art screams). The title seems more like a concept that struck the creators as sounding cool, and not something on which you can necessarily build a series.

Verdict

The pilot was a bit thin, a bit paint-by-numbers, but you can’t deny the strength of the leads, or the potential for very interesting world exploration given the subject matter. Check the Tumblr, or watch the first episode online or on air. I’ll be tuning in – longer than I tuned in for TURN, at least – and will report back.

  1. Legitimate ones, though – the corporate runarounds are accurate from what I can tell.  
  2. I might watch this show all season just to envision Huss growling about business in spandex and thick glasses.  
  3. Including the executive producer, which was doubtless one of AMC’s requirements for picking up the show.  
  4. Including a composer who’s done work on film, TV, and video games, so that could be… electronic-y.  
  5. Also people who like repetitive casting pairings. I think both McNairy and Bishe were great in Argo and strong here; it just struck me as a little weird.  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles

He does things. That’s all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv