I know nothing about the history of the machine I’m using to write this review. Though old enough to recall our savage existence before there was a PC in every home, I totally take it for granted. It’s pretty amazing how fast we incorporated computers into our daily lives without never really knowing (or caring) how they actually work, or those who first made it possible for us to fly into a rage whenever the damn things don’t obey our commands. Halt and Catch Fire attempts to explain the latter.
It’s 1983...microwave ovens are still hundreds of dollars, we compose resumes with electric typewriters and having an Atari 2600 is a luxury. But in the Silicon Prairie of Texas, corporations such as IBM and Cardiff Electric (a fictional company and the main setting for this series) see the potential for computers to become essential tools in everyday life. Leading the charge is an ambitious huckster, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a former IBM employee who insinuates himself among Cardiff’s executives with charm and persuasion, hoping to beat IBM at their own game by creating an efficient, compact and affordable computer that’ll appeal to the masses.
Joe has the ambition, but not all the know-how, so he lures Cardiff programmer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a disgraced genius whose previous cutting-edge ideas have left him struggling to support his family. Joe also recruits a rebellious prodigy, Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), who’s contemptuous of everyone’s inability to see the true potential of personal computers. Much of the show's focus is on these three characters as they deal with technological roadblocks, industrial espionage and conflicts, both professional & personal.
Even though Halt and Catch Fire is a fictionalized version of the birth of the PC, we get the impression this is a pretty accurate account of what went down back then, mostly due to the writing. From a technical standpoint, the show seems knowledgeable of the workings of both computers and corporations. Similarly, these characters are dynamic and interesting (especially Pace, who manages to be sympathetic even when he’s acting like a total douchebag).
At the very least, we gotta give-it-up to creators of Halt and Catch Fire, who manage to sprinkle enough drama and intrigue (even a little sex and suspense) throughout these 10 episodes to keep things interesting. While not as consistently compelling as AMC’s best shows, there’s enough here to keep one amused, especially on disc, free from commercials and week-long waits between episodes.
Featurettes: “Re-Making the 80s”; “Rise of the Digital Cowboys”; "Setting the Fire: Research and Technology”
Purr...like a good scratch behind the ears