Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history

11-Jul-14 10:56 AM by
Filed under Reviews, Television; 2 comments.

In the fifteen years since I cancelled my cable service, the television landscape has changed: "reality TV" was invented, medical and legal procedural dramas boomed, and HDTV became the norm. So it was interesting to watch and review the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire for Computerworld. Not being an AMC subscriber, I bought a season pass for the first four episodes on Amazon Instant Video and paid for the fifth episode individually.

It's hard to judge any show by its early episodes — I doubt any of the various Star Trek series would've lasted long by that metric. So I tried to keep my critical eye at bay for the first few episodes, which was not easy. The three main characters — Joe MacMillian (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) — are trying to develop one of the first IBM clones of 1983, but their subterfuge and machinations, with both corporations and each other. I roll my eyes at such drama for the same reason that I stopped watching soap operas. MacMillian, who physically reminds me of a cross between John Cusack and Andy Garcia, is a vile businessman who oozes deceit and smarm. He's a character you love to hate.

Halt and Catch Fire

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillian. What a jerk.

But there are some really nice moments of character development, too. Clark, the show's Steve Wozniak-like character, struggles to realize his dream of creating the ultimate computer and will hitch his wagon to whoever can help him get there. At the same time, he's trying to be a good husband and father, though his family clearly isn't his priority.

Overall, I've enjoyed watching the first five episodes and will likely continue watching the series as time permits. For more details, read my full review on Computerworld.com, "Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history".

2 Responses to “Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history”

  1. Peter adds:

    It sounds and looks like an interesting show! Sadly I'm betting it won't make it to Australia, and I'm unlikely to pay to watch it, so I'll have to wait for further "reviews" to hear more about how the show progresses.

    The "About" text on the AMC web page for the show does irritate me with one comment, placing the era of the show as just after "IBM all but corners the market with the release of its first major product – the IBM PC". IBM at the time was the largest computer company in the world, and I hardly think that was because of the PC! In fact the PC was considered a relatively minor product by IBM at the time.

    I love the title of the show! As someone who started working in the industry at the time when such joke "computer instructions" were common, I have a good chuckle remembering them. A personal favourite was the very real (and very useful) IBM mainframe instruction "BALR" (Branch And Link Register). Back then I couldn't stop myself thinking of it as "Branch And Lose Register" – particularly since that was an actual side effect of the instruction! For fictional instructions, the one we all wanted then – and now – was the RPM instruction (Read Programmer's Mind)!

    Speaking of the AMC page for the show, did you see the link to AMC’s online version of Colossal Cave? I played it for a few minutes, and it’s scary after 35+ years how far I could get past various puzzles. If only I could remember important things as well as gaming trivia from my younger days!

  2. Ken Gagne adds:

    Peter, I too explored the website before watching the show. I was later pleasantly surprised to discover the inclusion of Colossal Cave wasn't just a tip of the hat to the era in which the show is set — it actually plays a small but important role in one of the episodes!