Posted by: markfender | August 11, 2015

Halt and Catch Fire

No one is watching this show. Which is kind of sad.

halt-and-catch-fire-season-1Halt and Catch Fire may have the worst name for a television show. About the rise of personal computing in the ’80s, it covers four characters and their various trials and tribulations in the beige-walled world of early computing. The cast is pretty great, with some great ’80s stereotypes. Lee Pace plays Joe Macmillian as a rogue entrepreneur with a Patrick Bateman air. Likewise, Cameron (played by Mackenzie Davis), punk programmer, pulls off a major Pris vibe for most of the first season.

Like Mad Men before it, HaCF is AMC’s patented historical drama formula, with the principles building the Cardiff Giant, a portable laptop for inclusion into the burgeoning personal computing scene (Of course, this being the ’80s, the Cardiff Giant is a 14-lb portable computer). Sadly, of course, I have first hand knowledge of the decade and so there might be a bit of nostalgia-goggles going on here (I even owned one of the “How to Program your Commodore 64” books that Gordon has in his garage in the second season. He probably got more out of it than I did), but it’s still an entertaining show. Perhaps because hindsight allows the writers to have their characters make bold pronouncements about the future of computing that will, of course, ring true. With the recent death of Radio Shack, we’re seeing the end of an era for hobbyist computing and this show illustrates the ups and downs of that particular era.

The first season covered Joe’s invasion of Cardiff Electric and the trials and tribulations of building a personal computer. Season two covers the rise of Cameron’s company, Mayhem, and their online game BBS. Despite the fact that two of the characters spent much of the second season flailing around for purpose, I’d say the second season is probably a bit stronger. Making Donna more integral to the proceedings probably helped (She was a strong character in the first season, so I’m glad to see her get more time in the second).

And apparently no one’s really watching. Which is crazy. Don’t you want to watch Scoot McNairy going on a crazed vigilante quest to find the only remaining Cabbage Patch Doll in town? Don’t you want to watch Lee Pace marvel at the the very first Macintosh? Don’t you need more wood paneling in your life?

It’s probably not going to get a third season, which is a real shame as the gang ends the second season taking off to California and the wider world of Silicon Valley.

Apropos of nothing, HaCF also has the best credits on television. It’s like the perfect blend of ’80s aesthetic with a modern sensibility. It’s a rare show that I don’t fast forward through the credits, but I never did for this show. That’s perhaps a silly reason to watch the whole thing, but the credits are really a thing of genius. Everything from the music to graphics “feel” exactly right for the time period, but with just enough of a current edge to keep them from feeling dated.


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