Mad Men was such a success for AMC, why not do another period piece, work-centered drama? Halt and Catch Fire takes us back to the early 80s and explores the world of technology and personal computing.
At the heart of the first season is a small computer software company called Cardiff Electric. Owner Nathan Cardiff and his senior vice-president, John Bosworth, have a good ol’ boys approach to the business that’s perfectly suited to early 1980s Texas. Before long, a former IBM employee, Joe MacMillian (Lee Pace), works his way into their reasonably quiet company, and creates a legal situation forcing the company to attempt to build an IBM clone. He brings Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), a bright, young, and slightly unstable computer technology student, to help write the BIOS for the new computer, and to slip his… um, hard drive into every so often.
Joe is and overly complex and dark character, whose motives may be influenced by his tumultuous relationship with his father, or maybe not. It’s hard to say, and buy the end of the first season, I didn’t really care. Lee Pace’s performance is a bit wooden, and whatever mystery is trying to be injected into his backstory doesn’t ever pay off. The better story is the relationship between Gordon and Donna Clark (played by Scoot McNairy and Kerry Bishe). Gordon is a failed genius, who is tortured by his former near brush with success. His wife Donna, also a computer engineer works for Texas Instruments. Her husband’s work on the portable computer is difficult for Donna, as it manages to bring out the excitement in technology that makes the two of them so compatible, while simultaneously becoming an obsession that leaves her raising their to daughters on her own. Bishe plays her role perfectly, and the episodes that focus more on her character are among my favorites.
A viewer’s interest level the early days of home computing and 80s culture will greatly determine how much they like this show. As a fan of both of those things, I find the show overall enjoyable, with a few strange and outlandish story points popping up that detract from the flow of the show, but fortunately never derailing it. The era setting is done quite well, and proves that it’s a show set in the 80s and not about the 80s. (That’s what The Goldberg’s is for) I love the bits of nostalgia sprinkled in, such as the Clark girls’ Speak and Spell, or Joe pulling on his black Member’s Only jacket when the occasion calls for just a bit dressier than casual wear.
No complaints here. Looks like what you’d expect from a year old cable TV show on blu-ray. Colors are clean and compression artifacts are kept to a tolerable level. Not specitacular, but definitely typical.
Presented in Dolby TrueHD If you close your eyes, you would swear that you’re in an office building with people typing all around you, with occasional obscenities being shouted from the girl programmer in the back room.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Comes in a slip cover, which in my house, gets thrown out with the shrink wrap. Each episode has a behind the scenes featurette, which is a nice touch, but there’s not enough content to make them very interesting. Also includes some short featurettes about the production of the show, which AMC probably airs when their presentation of Jaws doesn’t nicely fill a block of time. Points for including the material, but I’d loved some original content for the blu-ray release.