Monday, June 02, 2014

Forward To Halt

Caught Halt And Catch Fire on AMC.  It's the time slot replacement for Mad Men.  In general, with Mad Men almost over, and Breaking Bad gone, AMC could use another prestige hit.  (It's still got the gigantic Walking Dead, but that's not gonna win any Emmys.)

When you think about it, MM and BB started a while ago, and since then AMC has put on a number of undistinguished fictional series, none catching even a small part of the glory--The Killing, Hell On WheelsRubicon, Low Winter Sun and TURN are no one's idea of a water cooler show. Can Halt And Catch Fire end the curse?

Maybe, but it's too early to tell.  It's another period piece, this time in the early 80s, in Dallas, during the PC revolution.  All our lives have seen a continuing revolution in computer technology, but those days might be the most important, when computers started becoming part of our everyday lives.  (It's interesting the Mad Men's latest plot has the firm entering the computer age. It's almost as if they're handing the torch to this new show.)

The plot has Joe MacMillan, super salesman and former IBM employee with a troubled past (and Don Draper stand-in) joining a small computer firm in Dallas and shaking things up.  Rather than sell the product, which I guess is just too easy, he convinces computer engineer Gordon Clark--married with children and depressed since a personal project fell apart a couple years ago--to reverse engineer the secret chip in IBM's big new PC.

The chip is copyrighted, so you can't do this. (I think you could with patent protection, but it's been a lot of years since I studied IP.)  Yet, MacMillan calls up IBM to let them know.  This sets legal wheels in motion, and though I thought I understood law better than computers, for some reason I don't get, the Dallas firm is forced to start developing its own PC to cover for what MacMillan did.  And that's apparently the plot.

One more thing.  The company has to pretend it's been planning this thing all along, and get an engineer who hasn't worked for them, or IBM, to work on the project.  Once again, I don't get why, but it does allow the young, rebellious hot babe Camera Howe to come aboard, because who wants to watch a show about computer nerds if it doesn't include one hot babe.

The dialogue and action are reasonably snappy, and the show is never boring. It also seems to get the 80s detail right (was it that long ago?).  Of course, we already know what happens in computers, and things have advanced so much, can we be excited about what they develop? (Compare this to advertising, which hasn't changed that much since the era of Mad Men.)

I'm not thrilled with Lee Pace as MacMillan.  He's supposed to be a hotshot salesman, but I find him a bit offputting.  He's supposed to be edgy, but he comes off as a bit pushy. Maybe I'll get used to him (though Don Draper seemed fully formed from the start).  I liked Scott McNairy better as the harried engineer, with wife (Kerry Bishe) and kids to deal with, but also a deferred dream.  MacKenzie Davis as Howe seems a wild card--she mostly gets to show her punk side in the pilot, but will she get more professional now that she's got a job?  There's also Toby Huss as the angry boss, who could easily fall into cliché--the guy who tries to hold back the leads from doing what they want.

Certainly worth further consideration.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if we hang around maybe the show will catch fire?

11:19 AM, June 02, 2014  

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