‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Premiere Review: Something Something Something Computers

Photo by James Minchin III/AMC
Photo by James Minchin III/AMC

Look at AMC tryin’ to appeal to the kids and be fancy with the Interwebs. Ahead of the summer series’ June 1 TV premiere, AMC made the first episode of Halt and Catch Fire available via the cable channel’s official Tumblr and website. Starring Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Pushing Daisies), Scoot McNairy (Argo, Non-Stop), and Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment), Halt and Catch Fire is a fictionalized depiction of the “personal computer revolution.” Since the series takes place in the 1980s and I was born in 1991, I have no idea what this means. I’m half-joking, of course, but for other perplexed pesky whipper-snappers, the personal computer revolution is pre-Internet and post-IBM market cornering release of the IBM PC. Remember IBM? Ha, neither do I. Get ready to learn about IBM and more — Texas’ Silicon Prairie, Speak n’ Spell, and the animal magnetism of Lee Pace’s face.

Pace is glorious as the slick Joe MacMillan. It’s hard for me to be objective in a critique of his performance because he’s already one of my favorite actors. Yes, his character fits in well with the many other charming assholes that grace the small screen (especially on AMC), but I’m not too bothered by this. It’s Lee Pace’s turn. He deserves a turn.

McNairy is fine as the troubled yet well-intentioned Gordon. Too many other actors who look like him have been cast as serial killers on Law & Order et al. As a result, I’m already anticipating Gordon’s violent psychotic break. But that’s just me. I’m sure Gordon won’t have a violent psychotic break. At least, I hope not — I like the show’s depiction of his wife and kids.

The Clarks may look like a stereotypical TV nuclear family with a worrying wife “stifling her husband’s creativity for the stability of the family,” but it’s far from it. Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé who also played McNairy’s wife in Argo) is also an engineer. She’s smart and accomplished, perhaps just as smart as her apparent genius husband. Rather than drink her life away after a crushing failed project, she is focused on balancing work and raising her two daughters. (For my money, that makes her smarter, but I guess that’s the point.)

 NOT SERIAL KILLERS |  *Not serial killers* *Not serial killers* This is no Hannibal, Dexter, or even The Walking Dead. How refreshing would it be to enjoy a drama sans murderers, cops, doctors, or lawyers.
NOT SERIAL KILLERS | I have to keep telling myself they’re not serial killers…on any other “edgy cable drama” show they would be.

Davis fully embraces her too-cool-for-school (literally) computer prodigy character without fully impersonating Angelina Jolie in Hackers. And yet, the possibility of Cameron joining the ranks of the manic pixie dream hacker girl stereotype remains. Nonetheless, I did like that the pilot addressed Joe and Cameron’s chemistry head on. Screw the will-they-or-won’t-they, Joe and Cameron just screw.

TOO SOON TO SHIP?  | As long as both Joe and Cameron are fully fleshed out unique characters, then no. It's certainly not too soon to ship.
TOO SOON TO SHIP? | As long as both Joe and Cameron are fully fleshed out unique characters, then no. It’s certainly not too soon to ship.

The episode centers on Joe’s start at Cardiff Electric, a mid-market electronics company, wholly uninterested in competing with the big boys of IBM and Apple. He’s a bigshot who left IBM, at least he looks like a bigshot, and he immediately gets himself into trouble. Trouble was Joe’s plan all along — persuade Cardiff to hire him, seduce Gordon into reverse-engineering the IBM chip, and recruit Cameron to work for Joe and Gordon in their stead. To avoid a company-liquidating lawsuit with IBM, Cardiff is forced to enter the PC game, spearheaded by Joe, Gordon, and Cameron.

This general conceit is well established and keeps my interest for the second episode. But everything else — Joe’s shady past involving baseball/daddy issues, Gordon’s shady past involving computer/daddy-in-law issues, and Cameron’s unknown past most likely involving daddy issues — is less defined and thus less interesting.

LEE PACE SMASH | No one cares about your destructive baseball ways. Not yet anyway. And especially not in a montage.

It remains to be seen whether Halt and Catch Fire is another Breaking Bad or a Low Winter Sun. Hopefully, there’s many a Halt and Catch FireSilicon Valley double feature in our future.

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