Even with a rising tech-nerd population, it’s still rare to find a drama catered to them that’s realistic, highly relevant, and well-written. Enter Halt and Catch Fire.
In A Nutshell
Set during the mid-‘80s technological boom in Dallas, Texas, the “Silicon Prairie,” Halt and Catch Fire follows sales engineer Gordon Clark, programmer Cameron Howe, and Joe Macmillan, the smooth-talking salesman that lassoes them both into competing in the fast-evolving PC evolution via their software company employer Cardiff Electric.
Meet the Characters
Surfacing as senior product manager at Cardiff Electric after disappearing from former employer IBM’s radar for a year, Macmillan immediately flips the unassuming software company upside down when he reverse-engineers an IBM PC with sales clerk Gordon Clark and implicates Cardiff into forming a personal computer division. After recruiting tomboy programmer Cameron Howe into the company’s ranks, Macmillan sets off in building a machine that will rival the dominating IBM computers on store shelves…no matter the cost.
A family man settling for the assurance of a steady paycheck at Cardiff rather than the risk of a once-failed dream as a pioneering systems builder, Clark is reluctant, but revived when Cardiff newcomer Joe Macmillan proposes he reverse-engineer an IBM PC with him. When the project lands them both in legal hot water, forcing them to design, program, and build a Cardiff computer, Clark becomes responsible for keeping the Cardiff Giant an achievable and realistic endeavor despite Macmillan’s interferences and power plays while simultaneously trying to keep his marriage and family in tact.
After a failed attempt at recruitment and a back-room liaison cut short with Joe Macmillan, tomboy college student Howe is hired to Cardiff by the salesman as a programmer for the software company’s first PC. But in her quest to build an operating system that’ll rival the leading IBM machines’, she begins discovering who Macmillan really is, and what she truly wants.
A Texas Instruments employee and educated computer engineer, Gordon Clark’s wife and mother of their two children prioritizes the safety and security of her family before the pursuit of her and Gordon’s seemingly defunct dreams. But she is soon inadvertently roped into the chaos, opening her eyes to new chances, surfacing feelings and paths untaken.
After Joe Macmillan shackles Cardiff into competing in the PC market, senior VP Bosworth does everything he can to put out the fires Macmillan sets with investors and employees alike in pursuit of a worthy IBM-rivaling machine that’ll put the software company on the map…even at the sacrifice of family and loved ones.
A Brief History of Halt and Catch Fire: The When, Where and How
Created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, the AMC period drama was given a ten-episode order in July 2013 after a pilot order in November 2012. Its first season received positive reviews from critics, as well as Critics’ Choice and Satellite Award nominations for Most Exciting New Series, and Best Drama Series & Best Actor in a Drama Series (for Lee Pace), respectively. The show was also the first series to premiere via streaming on Tumblr on May 19, 2014.
Under the guidance of showrunner and writer Jonathan Lisco (Southland), the show will premiere its second season on May 31, 2015.
Why It’s Awesome
With today’s television fare frequently tackling social issues, it’s easy for a show’s efforts to check all of the right boxes to fall into story-irrelevant symbolism. Halt and Catch Fire, however, leaps past this hurdle, keeping its story priority while boasting powerful, complex and diverse characters. With a bisexual male lead and two strong-minded female characters not only matching skill and wits with their male counterparts, but ascending into positions of great control because of their skill, the drama, while historically based, is very socially relevant today, but treats its characters’ attributes like any other device, using them only when they complement or aid the story and its characters’ development.
The initial draw is lead Joe Macmillan, whose manipulative nature is simultaneously seductive and frightening — the character is not only fully aware of the power his words hold, but isn’t fearful of using them to get his way. As more layers are peeled back by the very people he tries to control, the seeming sociopath emerges as someone dealing with a crisis of identity and familial uncertainty. Cameron, Gordon and Donna are just as deeply complex, with Cameron using Joe as a filter for her work and future trajectory & prospects, and Gordon and Donna pushing and pulling each other to dig up buried emotions regarding past failures and current opportunities to find happiness not only as a family, but as individuals.
While the tech-centric theme could and probably has limited the audience appeal of the show, the excellently written and -played characters and their relationships with each other are the primary focus of the show, and make it well worth a watch, no matter your computer acumen.