Why You Need to Watch: Halt and Catch Fire


by Irma Arkus

Recent addition to my viewing schedule is AMCs Halt and Catch Fire which according to EW today is getting a very welcomed second season renewal.

The show, created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, set in 1980s, depicts the riveting ups and downs of personal computing industry. The surprise? It’s neither too technical, nor makes for bad drama. In fact, it’s brisk, captivating, likeable and somewhat enigmatic. But let’s get to the gritty…

Set in Texas, very much mired in history of “Silicon Prairie” and Austin’s boom during the same era, the show depicts an ambitious yet tyrannical and manipulative visionary, embodied in no other than a sales agent and product manager, Joe MacMillan. Played by the wonderful Lee Pace, MacMillan shows up out of nowhere, joining a relatively sleepy corporation with a mediocre product. Sleek, polished and persuasive, MacMillan is quickly uncovered to have more lofty goals than your average East Coast sales agent, as he maneuvers his new employer, Cardiff Electric, into an impossible and legally-trick competition against the giant IBM.

Before you know it, not only is the company transformed, but has a new product in the works that may (or not) transform the booming industry of personal computing.

Caught in his web of ambition are two major talents. The first is a family man, Gordon Clark, whose entire life is defined by his previously failed independent product developments. This development vision, it seems, is also a passion which he shares with his surprisingly talented wife, played by Kerry Bishé, who despite her contributions to variety of hardware and software developments, seems to continuously earn but the short end of the stick.

Clark, played by Scoot McNairy, is a wonderfully complex character, who often consumed by a creative challenge, finds himself battling personal inadequacies, faces the crimp of family obligations, and is generally plagued by personal demons.

The second, and most lovely, is Cameron, played by a Vancouverite, Mackenzie Davis. Not only is Davis preposterously and captivatingly beautiful, but she very aptly depicts the new generation of programmers who view the world of computing with very different norms and expectations, seeing technology as a gender and class-neutral device for individual and meritorious empowerment.

Lately, we’ve been watching a lot of shows about business, mostly adventures set in isles of antique department stores, but Halt and Catch Fire is not really about the riveting life of retail. Difficult to peg, the show can be described as Mad Men meets Silicon Valley.

On the one hand, there is the nostalgic element of the 1980s, with its bold, fresh, cutting edge designs and interiors. On the other, there are the dangers of developing anything (back then or these days), and the potential for failure for many of these entrepreneurial projects all makes for a riveting drama.