Jun 5, 2014


The trending topics on TV this year are undoubtedly pirates and the tech guys. AMC has decided to unite the two by producing a show about the techies who steal somebody else's intellectual property in the darkness of a family man's garage.

The first episode of the new period drama Halt and Catch Fire has been released to the Internet some time in May and the official premiere date was set to the first of June. The show is created by Christopher Cantwell, the writer and producer of Vicariously, and Christopher C. Rogers; the showrunner is Jonathan Lisco. The series takes us back to the '80s, the beginning of personal computers revolution. It follows the story of a former IBM employee Joe MacMillan, who gathers a team of talented engineers - a depressed drunk named Gordon Clark, who once attempted to build a PC with his wife, and a smart but not-giving-a-damn student Cameron Howe. Together they attempt to build a machine, despite the challenge that other corporations that already conquered the market have to offer.

To explain the title, the show opens with the following definition: “HALT AND CATCH FIRE (HCF): An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained.”

So what can I say about this series. First of all, not only this is a period drama: this is so distinctly the AMC period drama. The resemblance with Mad Men is all over the place: ruthless corporate sharks in nice suits, excessive smoking, secretaries with impressive exterior - all of this is here. Halt and Catch Fire even has its own version of Don Draper, plaid by a young Nicolas Cage double, Lee Pace. And then the feel of the eighties is definitely recreated with attention to details.

Sadly, the feel and style is all that this show has to offer, as not only the developments of the story lack excitement, but it's also very hard to understand the point of everything the characters dream of. “Computers are not the thing — they are the thing that gets us to the thing,” says the main character - and yet, instead of using computers to actually get to the thing, whatever it is, he just decides to build one of his own. Yes, according to another character, Cameron, everybody's ripping off everybody in the industry - but why follow the pattern then? And finally, even in the unlikely event of success, how could stealing and possibly improving somebody else's product could affect the industry so that we would care about the outcome of whatever the characters are doing?

The series offers every possible cliche that any other computers' related movie has ever introduced, except for middle-aged virgins, maybe, on top of that it displays all the features of popular series we have already seen: complicated and highly unsympathetic male characters, rebellious youngsters, nagging wives, struggling middle class families, cruel corporations and so on. 

All in all, it is not completely unwatchable; those who feel nostalgic about the 1980's might find it amusing, and probably, so would geeks. However, if you don't get excited from watching green numbers running down the screen or seeing somebody play video arcade games while listening to the period music, this is hardly something worth waiting every week for. It's a "meh" sort of thing.

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