AMC struck gold with their series Mad Men, which dealt with “ad” men whose actions take place throughout one of the most tumultuous time periods of history and the network is trying to catch lightning in a bottle once more with Halt and Catch Fire, another U.S. pop culture time period revisited. Will the new pretender to the throne be a winner or will it sink quietly in the computerized chaos that the show reflects.
AMC seems determined to prove that they are more than a one-trick “Walking Dead” pony. The network has run that popular zombie show for four seasons, with number five coming up in the autumn. In retrospect, The Walking Dead could be seen as “shooting fish in a barrel TV.” The series already had a pretty devout fan base from the comic books and any degree of faithfulness to its origins was going to almost guarantee success.
Mad Men, however, deviated wildly from the AMC winning formula. There are no zombies, or parallel universes here. Set against the backdrop of the of the 1960’s, with season one starting in March 1960 and the final seventh season concluding in 1969 the show almost catalogues the world’s changes.
For those who were alive during the 1960’s and either old enough, or not too young, to remember the neon flash of the decade with its peripheral blood and guts TV coverage of the Vietnam war, the show feels very factual. Some things obviously cannot be completely re-created, but the brightly colored furniture, the backswept hairdos and the fashions come awfully close to the reality. Therein lies a lot of its magic and success.
It seems that one of the charms of the Mad Men series has to do with the almost mystical feeling of this time period in the U.S. where the country ultimately lost its innocence and discovered the wonder of space travel. Halt and Catch Fire, looks like it may try to recapture pop culture in the 1980’s. Back when IBM had a chokehold on computers.
Watching the premiere of Halt and Catch Fire it seems that AMC are attempting to ride on the coattails of several different cinematic images to make watching the show seem almost familiar to a generation used to laptops, tablets, and iPhones.
The three main characters are all computer literate “pioneers” who want to take computing to the next level. Back in the 1980’s computers that could really do incredible things like counting and controlling hundreds of thousands of records were the size of a room, or two, and needed keypunch cards to retrieve information.
In the blink of an eye, personal computers, and terminals to a bigger system, were available for not only businesses but homes as well. Certainly the world of computing went through changes faster than the operating systems themselves could be taught.
In the premiere of Halt and Catch Fire the female college student states frankly that everything being taught is ten years behind what she knows already. That kernel of truth says a lot for the story writers behind the show. It says that, if nothing else, they will be telling it like it was.
However, the 1980’s may not have quite the same pull as the ’60s world shown in Mad Men. Certainly there is a large group of people who love all things from the 80’s. The brilliant films, great music, big hair… But will this be enough to make the show a hit?
As astutely pointed out by one reviewer, the premiere has already set up a Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak mix in the two male protagonists. Well spotted. The young female protagonist, the computer engineer who likes short hair, punk rock and computer games owes a lot to both the Keira Knightley portrayal of Domino Harvey in the 2005 film Domino and just a little to Sara Paxton in the 2011 Ti West film The InnKeepers.
Both female characters could have served as a blueprint for the anti social individual who has specialised skills. In the case of Paxton’s character, it is a large amount of intelligence mixed with a vivid curiosity. So perhaps the only real connection is in the look of the girl in the show. If that is the case then Mackenzie Davis owes a lot to both Knightley and Paxton in terms of hairstyle and fashion sense alone.
AMC seem to believe that the whole backstory behind modern day computing is a sexy and interesting one. Considering that Halt and Catch Fire features a pretty hectic sex scene between Lee Pace and Davis around six minutes into the premiere, it certainly seems to be the point that the network wants to make.
The premiere of Halt and Catch Fire was entertaining enough, setting up further episodes of the show. The story, is not too dissimilar to the one of Hollywood’s attempt to get out from under the Edison stranglehold on movie cameras. Man Men does not feature any similarities, it just offers a slice of U.S. pop culture revisited by the surroundings of its characters. This new AMC offering looks to be an attempt to capture an audience based on the same idea.
By Michael Smith