Halt and Catch Fire – TV Series (Season 1)
Running Time: 60 minutes per episode
Creators: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Starring: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishe, Toby Huss
Halt and Catch Fire – a show set in the early 1980s (around ’83 to be precise) follows a visionary/salesman, Joe MacMillan (Pace), a computer engineer, Gordon Clark (McNairy) and Cameron Howe (Davis), a prodigy. Their goal is to create a computer that is portable, user-friendly, and more accessible to the public. Along the way, the characters will be challenged by their competitors during this booming period in the world of computers, as well as by their own greed, ego, and ideas of what they each believe will create something revolutionary.
I have to admit, I was aware of this show a year ago, when it was about to debut on AMC, yet I have hold onto watching it up until recently. And boy, I’m kind of glad I did. I can’t imagine trying to watch this week by week, waiting for the individual episode to be released. There was something about the show that’s utterly addictive, not in the Breaking Bad way, but enough to leave you wanting more by the end of each episode. So, needless to say it took me only two days to binge watch the entire series. I was hooked, just like the first time I watched Season 1 of Mad Men. It comes as no surprise why people had been suggesting the possibility of Halt and Catch Fire to be the possible replacement of Mad Men as the series comes to an end in a few weeks’ time. Both of shows are set in the past, in a certain period of our history – Mad Men in the 60s and Halt in the 80s. Both comprise of complex characters and a certain subject to help set and drive the storyline – Mad Men with advertising and Halt with computers. Last but not least, both are AMC’s shows, and there’s already a pattern with AMC lately releasing some of TV’s finest shows in the recent years, reinstalling audiences’ faith back in television shows . So, with all of this knowledge accumulated over the past year, when I started watching Halt, I did have some kind of an expectation from the show, and this has been both a good and bad thing which I would elaborate further.
Let’s start with what worked for the show. Overall, the storyline was fresh and filled with dramatic moments that kept the audiences guessing throughout as to what would happen next. This is mainly due to the characters. The writers have created three major characters that couldn’t be more similar and different from one another which audiences are introduced to episode by episode as the layers are peeled off. By the end of Episode 1 itself, you would have thought that you have the main characters more or less figured out, what their main intentions are, and even their pattern of behaviour. The characters seem predictable, but as the story progresses, each one of them surprises me time and time again, and this is all thanks to the brilliance of the writers for creating such intelligent and intricate characters. There’s no hero on this show, just a group of anti-heroes really. All of them unpredictable, and shady to a certain extent, but there’s something that the writers and actors have bring to the table which not only humanizes the characters but makes the audiences empathize and somewhat relate with them.
Then came the era itself, the story is fresh to me largely because it is set in a time where computers are still something that puzzles people and mainly used in big corporations. Just like Mad Men in its first season, a large part of the storyline is driven by the industry itself, in Halt its largely driven by the protagonists’ need to create this great computer. Thankfully the writers did not lose sight of this. However, I have a feeling this may change in Season 2, just like Mad Men over the years where the story has shifted its focus to the characters rather than the industry itself which is understandable with Mad Men. But would this work with Halt?
The next thing that worked so well with this show is the cast itself. I would love to say that the show is led by Lee Pace with his portrayal of the enigmatic and mysterious Joe MacMillan, however as the story progresses, my view began to shift and I would say the show worked because of the cast as an ensemble. Every one of the actors/characters contributes to the overall storyline, without one or the other, the show wouldn’t have worked. Usually I would be able to pick a favorite out of a cast rather easily; this show is one of those few times where I couldn’t, due to the consistency of the performances given by the actors. From Pace to Davis to McNairy to Bishe and lastly Huss, all of whom proved to be heavy-hitters on the show. Admittedly, I wish Huss and Bishe were given more screen time, in other words, I wish the writers would have spent more time developing/explaining some of these characters’ storylines. With the way things ended in Season 1, I really hope these two characters would have more involvement with the story in Season 2. Moreover the leading female characters on the show are not your typical underwhelming characters; instead the writers have made them into a force to be reckoned with, they’ve written women that we meet on a daily basis, and women who are intelligent.
In some ways this Katharine Hepburn quote feels like it perfectly sums up the main characters:
“Well, it’s not enough to be talented. There’s a lot of talent out
there, but it’s owned by lazy, stupid, or essentially boring
people. You can’t just be talented: You have to be terribly
smart and energetic and ruthless. You also have to become
necessary to people, by working hard and well and bringing
more than your bones and your skin to the project. Don’t just
show up. Transform the work, yourself, and everybody
around you. Be needed. Be interesting. Be something no one
else can be–and consistently.”
Just like the other AMC shows we’ve come to love, the set design, props department, costume department, music, and so on all did an impeccable job in trying to keep true to the period in which the show is set in. I genuinely fell in love with the cinematography of this show; it’s nothing extra special like the way American Horror Story: Asylum had an impact on me, but something about the way the scenes were framed and shot that really brought out the intensity and emotions of the situations. Not to forget, a shout out to the editing department with their creative ways of cutting the scenes right before the start of the theme song for each episode. I hope they’ll stick with it in Season 2.
Now onto the things which sort of bugged me about the show. I’ve already mentioned a few things here and there previously, but the entire time I was watching the show, I couldn’t help but wonder why the show didn’t gain more attention. It didn’t exactly explode in TV Land the way Breaking Bad or Mad Men or even The Walking Dead did. So, that brings me to question what was lacking from the show. To me, there were moments where I was left wondering, and at times a little confused as to what happened to certain characters or certain moments. It felt almost jumpy and a little rushed to get the story to where it is on the last episode, and at times I would like to say it’s understandable since it created the ‘shock value’ when things are finally explained or revealed. But was this a good move?
To me the show’s first episode was great, it was a solid episode to get the ball rolling, followed by a great second episode, and it continued. But if you were to ask me which episodes are my favorites, I would have to say the first (I/O), FUD, The 214s and Up Helly Aa. I did kind of question the last episode, 1984, because by the end of the 9th episode, it felt like it was a good place to end the season, leaving audiences to question and ask for more. In some ways the last episode almost felt like the writers’ way of coming up with a neat ending, tying up the loose ends, just in case the show wouldn’t be renewed for another season. Simultaneously, one could argue that it’s a way of teasing audiences the possibilities of where the story could go, and where the characters stand after all the drama they endured in the last nine episodes. It even helps the writers to avoid having to continue with where they left off; instead they have the freedom to reintroduce the characters a year down the road, or a month, etc. The possibilities are endless.
To wrap this up, I would say what really got me excited about the show is watching the three main characters making their way up the ladder to success, fame, and fortune, perhaps even leaving behind a legacy of their own in the computer world. This was part of what I thought was fresh about the show, we’re used to reading and seeing how the greats came to be, either on a book or in the news or in movies, but on a TV show format, it’s quite a rare premise. More so when the line dividing what is black and white becomes so blurred that most of the time the characters work from the grey area instead, which is closer to what reality is like. It makes you question how far is one willing to go to achieve greatness, and is it acceptable to cross certain lines and make the certain sacrifices.
In summary, Halt and Catch Fire is a great show with a fresh premise and intriguing characters which creates a good drama series. I am very curious to see what the writers have installed for Season 2 since things have ended in such a way that it almost feels like there’s nothing much left to explore with the main characters.
Rating: 8 out of 10