Halt and Catch Fire was not the sort of project I expected to find Lee Pace in. But at the same time, I was really excited to see what he would do with the role and the generally strange setting. I seemed to be playing its cards very close to real life, but keeping enough distance to remain distinctly fictional.
I was not prepared for how much I was going to enjoy this show. Beyond my love for Lee Pace, it's really the story that clinches the deal here and keeps you on the edge of your seat every single time. And how the drama comes alive thanks to the ensemble that they brought together really brings things home for you.
Plus the show is set in the 80's! What a glorious time!
Synopsis: Halt and Catch Fire is a period drama series created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers for AMC. The first season ran for 10 episodes and and is set in 1983 Silicon Prairie in Texas.
Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) was a player in the rise of the IBM Personal Computer but has now moved on. He's managed to get hired at Cardiff Electric since John Bossworth (Toby Huss), SVP Sales, understands that they are not direct competitors of the larger computer company. But in truth, Joe had come to Cardiff in order to find engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), was sort of infamous for his own development project that fell through.
What Joe proposes is for Gordon to reverse engineer an IBM PC in order to create a clone computer that came somehow compete. While reluctant to get involved, Gordon eventually agrees and manages to crack the assembly language code running the machine. At the same time, IBM sues Cardiff Electric after Joe tipped them off to the fact that they were trying to recreate the IBM PC. To complete the equation, Joe recruits a feisty student by the name of Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) to act as programmer for the operating system given her lack of connections to both IBM and Cardiff Electric.
The show starts with a bold premise - industrial espionage of the most blatant degree. We take for granted the fact that these days there are so many PC clones and they can all run practically any operating system that they want to. In the early days, the innovation of personal computing was limited to select companies and thus they managed to corner the market.
It's interesting how the show managed to present the complexities of dodging patents and intellectual property laws in a manner that made it feel like they were going to rob the national treasury or something. But hey, a good drama is all in how the story is told and how the scenes are shot. And they certainly did their best to make things work here.
Lee Pace's character is a dick now matter how you look at things, but he represents the sort of determined, ambitious sales person that defined the 80's. And while his portrayal of this role at times seems understated and low key, it all sort of works.
This is especially true when it comes to Cameron as played by MacKenzie Davis and even Scoot McNairy when you think about it. Both actors portray some pretty emotional character with complex histories and diverse motivations. And the show is not just about Lee Pace but how the three end up working together as a unit. And thus the relationships between these three characters really defines the show.
But we also have to take a moment to talk about Kerry Bishé, who plays Gordon's wife Donna. At first I thought she was just going to be a supporting character in the background - your classic effort to flesh out a character like Gordon by giving him a family. But she became much more than that early one, first as you are reminded that Gordon and her had to work together to create their Symphonic computer. She has quite the keen mind and is a strong character in her own right and I really like how her character grows throughout this first season.
The way that the show captures the period, the language of the time and even the quirks of the culture as seen in the references and the games and such. Don't get me wrong - this isn't a scavenger hunt where every scene is full of 80's references. The time-place set is certainly a part of the story and it is pretty much the fabric, but it doesn't define the series nor does it severely influence each character action. It's part of the flavor, but it's more of a garnish.
Halt and Catch Fire is quite the compelling show and one who's rich narrative is one that I enjoyed a lot. Sure there were quirky bits of acting that feel a bit much but on the whole the series is put together quite well. Thus the show gets 4.5 touches of the time period out of a possible 5.