I review the first season of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, a 1980s period drama starring Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, Toby Huss and Kerry Bishe.
Halt and Catch Fire is one of the most exciting new dramas of the year. Set in the 1980s, it’s a period drama from AMC (the network that brought you the likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad), and it’s something that is very good indeed, due to its great use of focusing on a topic that doesn’t receive much attention in a compelling way centring around a group of three strong leads in the form of Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis and Scoot McNairy.
The premise is focused about the boom of the computing industry. Lee Pace’s character, Joe MacMillan, enlists Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and rebel Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) as part of his three strong unorthodox team to build a dazzling new personal computer that will make them famous, but of course, it’s not going to be easy. Along the way, the three have to undergo through trials that will push each of them to their limits.
The characters are consistently strong throughout the show, with the cast being very good. Whilst Joe MacMillan’s character doesn’t really grow throughout the ten-episode season (but, thanks to the quality of Pace as an actor, he still does his best with the material), Gordon and Cameron’s go from strength to strength. Whilst none of the three are entirely sympathetic or likable, it’s the unconventional and anti-authoritan Cameron Howe who is probably the breakout of the show, with Mackenzie Davis pulling off her role very well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cameron featured on the list of best new 2014 characters come the year’s end, because she’s been one of the strongest parts of Halt and Catch Fire as a compelling lead.
The other regulars, Kerry Bishe’s Donna Clark, Gordon’s Wife, and Toby Huss’ Bosworth, are also strong in their roles. It doesn’t help that Donna’s storyline includes an all-too predictable affair that prevents her character from going, and whilst Bosworth gets pushed aside in the later stages of the season, he’s always fun to watch and I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing more of Bosworth in season 2.
Like most shows, Halt and Catch Fire is serialised. There’s no episodes you can miss as it tells a compelling, overarching storyline as the group attempt to build their computer, the “Giant”, as it’s called, whilst dealing with competition from lawyers, the larger companies such as IBM, and their clashing personalities. Whilst the conclusion for the series isn’t as strong as the few episodes that preceded it, the first season of Halt and Catch Fire is pretty awesome, maintaining a consistently high quality.
With the past being not too distant, Halt and Catch Fire manages to portray it convincingly. As well as the good period backdrop, the show utilises its music in a strong manner as well (and as a bonus, has character-themed playlists on Spotify, with one for each of the main characters and even the Giant itself), with some of the best moments in the series coming from scenes where music is played over the top – for example, the scene in the penultimate episode where Cameron is advertising the Giant makes use of Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes to great effect.
The show itself manages to be entertaining for the most part and consistently rewarding. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Showcase’s Penny Dreadful or HBO’s True Detective, Halt and Catch Fire is confident and awesome to watch. I can certainly see it being in my Top 5 shows of the year come its end, and I’m really looking forward to Season 2.
Whilst it may not be without its problems, Halt and Catch Fire comes highly recommended. If you’re a fan of period dramas or just want some good television that doesn’t require much catching up (the ten episodes are an hour long each, and can be watched over a week with little difficulty), then this show should be right up your street. It’s smart, original and fun.