August 7, 2014

Halt and Catch Fire: Season 1 Review

            In the past few months television has given us two separate shows about the people behind computer technology.  While HBO’s Silicon Valley has received rave reviews and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire has received nothing but poor ratings and occasional acclaim from a few critics.  That is quite a shame as Halt and Catch Fire is a flawed but very interesting show that deserves to be seen as the dramatic equal of Silicon Valley. 

            Halt and Catch Fire takes place during the computer revolution of the 1980s as Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) hijacks Cardiff Electric with the help of down-on-his-luck computer engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and computer genius Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) in order to build a computer of their own.  The series is written and run by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers and the directing team is led by Juan Jose Campanella (director of the Academy Award winning The Secret in Their Eyes).

            In terms of plotting, Halt and Catch Fire has its issues.  It’s a dense show that is difficult to get into at first, and a lot of the density is just a bunch of hot air that easily could have been trimmed.  In fact this season would have been a lot better off if it was only eight or so episodes. 

However, as a character study this series is fantastic.  While we are given too few crumbs into the mysterious Joe MacMillan at first, once we really get to know the character Lee Pace’s mesmerizing performance gets the viewer really involved in if this man really has changed from his anti-social past.  Meanwhile Gordon’s descent into madness gets a little too ridiculous at points (the toy store break-in followed by him walking upon the corpse of an electrocution victim was really out of place) but Scoot McNairy really handles the fallout well and it is his performance that really stands out in the two best episodes of the season (the penultimate episode and the finale).  Kerry Bishe also provides a great performance that reveals she is not just playing a typical wife (although it would be nice to see her play something other than the wife of Scoot McNairy) while Mackenzie Davis ends up delivering the most sympathetic performance in the series despite beginning as one of the more unsympathetic characters.

Halt and Catch Fire ends its season in an interesting place that promises great material for Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe, but with such poor ratings it might just be a dream to hope that this flawed series get a chance to hit the potential that we are just now seeing that it has.


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