With the runaway success of Mad Men, AMC must have thought that Halt and Catch Fire, another more recent “period piece” about three pioneers in the computer race, was the perfect show to fill that gap; but despite catchy music and a quantity of free sex, there is not enough nerd passion to save this show. The network should be applauded, however, for attempting to reach a different demographic. Regardless of how uninteresting the show ultimately is, they have tried to appeal to those who might have an interest in how the modern pc was born.
There are a few problems with any show set in the 1980s, it is too recent for a start and does not have the same air about it that the 1960s had. The three main characters, Lee Pace as the “salesman with a vague plan,” Joe MacMillan, Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark, the reluctant engineer and Mackenzie Davis as social-inept Cameron Howe who is a prodigy, according to the show, just do not excite.
This birth of the home computer story, or “David versus Goliath” as the tiny company take take on the giant IBM, may be fascinating for some. However, for those who were there in the 1980s when computers suddenly became a part of the workplace and grown men were purchasing Commodore 64s in an effort to learn computer programming, it does not seem all that exciting. The show itself, apart from its title, has no real fire in it to keep the audience coming back for more.
Halt and Catch Fire does have some great music, it would have to, the 80s had loads of great musical moments to choose from, so the soundtrack cannot be faulted. Joe MacMillan, uses sex almost as a weapon, certainly both times he has gotten “fired up” to have what feels like very physical and almost violent sex with both men and women, he seems to go on the attack rather than engage in a mutually enjoyable pastime.
Prodigy Cameron Howe uses MacMillan as much as he uses her for “relief,” but again there is such a dispassionate almost soulless feel to her and Joe’s interaction that it feels more like a form of mutual masturbation. The only time the audience have seen proof that engineer Gordon and his wife have gotten all lovey dovey was on Sunday’s episode where it looked like the two were going to get passionate in the kitchen. Otherwise the couple’s two children are the only example that they ever had sex.
It appears that the show about the Texas Silicon Prairie is upping the stakes in terms of angst and upcoming problems in order to enthrall the viewer. The preview of next week’s show looks to have Cameron undergoing some sort of panicky meltdown. MacMillan also seems to have a stressful time of things, he certainly did in Sunday’s show, but Joe always seems one step away from turning into a scary business version of a religious zealot.
This “edge” is just part of the problem with the show’s casting. All three of the leads are capable actors, but, Scoot McNairy looks as though he is close to a panic attack. Mackenzie Davis looks sullen when she isn’t looking dazed and as mentioned before Lee Pace appears to be a cross of angry and crazy, a sort of modern day Rasputin.
Halt and Catch Fire has, thus far, failed to ignite a real source of passion for the viewer. Bisexual sex and 1980s music does not a good show make and it will not be enough to save this one. Despite AMC wanting a more modern version of Mad Men it is not happening here. The sex and music in Mad Men worked so well because the 1960s were the years of cool. Frank Sinatra, with his rat pack of middle aged crooners and good time pallys set the tone and everyone else wanted to emulate the “Chairman of the Board.” It was also the time of The Beatles, Elvis Presley and the refinement of rock and roll, just to mention a few of the iconic things that were part of that time period. The computerised 1980s cannot compete, no matter how much violent sex is introduced. Sorry AMC you have missed the mark with this one.
By Michael Smith