Posts Tagged ‘halt and catch fire’

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2016

December 20, 2016

Vinyl: “Wild Safari” by Barrabás
“Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” Richie Finestra bellows at his record-label employees. “Made you want to dance, or fuck, or go out and kick somebody’s ass! That’s what I want!” Vinyl showrunner Terence Winter had similar goals, but virtually none of the musical elements of his period drama clicked. This despite the imprimatur of co-creators Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, who know a thing or two about making magic with music, and supervisors Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, whose previous collaborations with Winter and Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street were all killer, no filler.

There was one grand and glorious exception, and it had nothing to do with Jagger swagger. Rather, it was the result of an unlikely alliance between demoted A&R doofus Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) and his mail-room buddy Jorge (Christian Navarro). When the latter takes Clark to an underground dance club, they enter in slow motion to the ecstatic sounds of the 1972 proto-disco song “Wild Safari” by Barrabás. The killer clothes, the fabulous dancing, the beatific smiles on the faces of beautiful people, the irresistible rhythm, the rapturous “WHOA-OH-OH” of the chorus, the sense that an entire world of incredible music has existed right under his nose — you can feel it all hit Clark right in the serotonin receptors, and damn if it doesn’t hit you, too. Perhaps my favorite two minutes of TV this year, this sequence demonstrates the life-affirming power and pleasure of music.

I wrote about major musical moments in The Americans, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Horace and Pete, Luke Cage, Mr. Robot, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and (yes) Vinyl in my list of 2016′s 10 Best Musical TV Moments for Vulture.

“Westworld,” and When TV Uses Pop Music to Do Its Emotional Heavy Lifting

November 7, 2016

Maeve’s walk through the Westworld theme park’s behind-the-scenes house of horrors is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the instant in which one of Westworld’s unfortunate, unwitting robots receives undeniable, unforgettable confirmation that their life is a lie. It’s a crushing concept all on its own, and the guided-tour-of-hell structure of the scene adds to the pathos. By rights it should stand alone as one of the series’ most powerful moments.

And yet, Westworld’s treatment of it falls flat. Like park technicians fiddling with a host’s intelligence or empathy on their control panels, the show’s filmmakers artificially increase the sequence’s tear-jerking levels by soundtracking it with a chamber-music version of the closing track on one of the most acclaimed albums of all time: “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” the achingly sad conclusion of Radiohead’s electronic-music breakthrough Kid A. It’s not the first time the hyperactively overscored series has relied on the band, having previously gone to the Radiohead well with their suburban-ennui anthem “No Surprises.” Hell, it’s not the first time it did so in this episode, which opens with a similarly heavy-handed accompaniment by a player-piano version of the band’s ode to falseness, “Fake Plastic Trees.” But it is the show’s most egregious example yet of using a song with preexisting cultural clout to do its emotional work — a syndrome we’re seeing, or hearing, with increasing frequency as Peak TV prestige dramas attempt to cut through the clutter and grab viewers, or listeners, by the heartstrings.

Rather than let the power of the scene emerge on its own, Westworld leans on a preexisting work of art to doing the heavy lifting for it. It’s a cheat, a shortcut to resonance. That particular work of art has far more cultural purchase, impact, and history than a first-season TV show. Even if you don’t rate Radiohead, substitute the gut-wrenching classic-album closer of your choice — “Purple Rain” or “Little Earthquakes” or, to cite an artist Westworld’s already employed to dubious effect in that over-the-top orgy scene last week, “Hurt”— and you’ll get the point.

Over at Vulture, I went long on how shows like Westworld, Stranger Things, and even The Americans have used preexisting pop music as a cheat code to score emotional points they haven’t earned. I also talked about shows that have done pop music cues right, from The Sopranos and The Wire to Lost to Halt and Catch Fire and The People v. O.J. Simpson. It’s basically a prose version of what Chris Ott and I talked about on his Shallow Rewards podcast a few weeks ago. I quite liked writing this piece and I hope you enjoy it.

Q&A: ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Showrunners Are Ready to Level Up

October 13, 2016

OBSERVER: How quickly did you find out that the show was gonna be renewed for a final season?

Chris Cantwell: We found out that afternoon, actually. The network called us and said, “Are you available for a conference call in four minutes?” They couldn’t find Chris, so I actually had to call Chris’s wife, which I try to never do for work. We got him on the phone, and they gave us they news, and they told us to call the cast, so we had to quickly call all the cast, and then they put the press release out like 45 minutes after that. They run a tight ship at AMC! They do it quickly.

This may be a stupid question, but how did that feel?

Chris Rogers: I mean, we were elated to get to do another season of the show. Somehow there’s gonna be 40 of these! You catch us on a nostalgic morning when we’re looking back on when we wrote this, and when it got picked up — when we thought it would never get picked up…To say there’s gonna be 40 episodes would’ve been beyond a dream at that time. You immediately register that, and the elation of getting to go back to Atlanta with this family we’ve built: the cast, the crew, the editors. We know their kids’ names, you know? So that is a thrill.

On another level, it’s bittersweet to see the end in sight. But it’s also kind of a creative gift, just to know that that’s what you’re writing to. We try to end each season like it could be the end of the series, but this year is gonna be different. Maybe it gives us the ammunition to top this third season, which frankly we kinda put everything we could into. So, a lot of emotions. We’re feeling all the feelings tonight.

I interviewed Halt and Catch Fire co-creators and showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers about the end of Season 3 and the “gift” of Season 4 for the New York Observer.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episodes Nine and Ten: “Nim” and “NeXT”

October 12, 2016

“I’m so sick of hearing about the future,” says Cameron Howe-Rendon. “What isthat? The future is just another crappy version of the present. It’s some…it’s some bribe people offer you to make you do what they want instead of what you want.”

“This future can be different,” Joe MacMillan.

For Halt and Catch Fire, the future is now. Leaping forward into the ‘90s for the final two episodes of its masterful third season, “NIM” and “NeXT,” Halt pulled the time jump from the prestige-TV toolkit and utilized it as well as any show since Battlestar Galactica and Lost, the two series that pioneered the practice, and Mad Men, its direct precursor and the show to which it has more than earned direct comparison this season. Mad Men incorporated time jumps directly into its architecture, with the time frame of each new season and the status-quo shifts that took place between every finale and premiere becoming one of its main attractions and driving concerns. Halt took a different, more unpredictable tact: It fast-forwarded into the era of the World Wide Web in the middle of its most tumultuous, dramatically engaging, and all-around excellent episodes to date. The move makes sense for audience engagement, sure: “www,” “http,” and “html” are far more recognizable tech terms than anything on which the show had been focused so far. But it could easily have backfired in every other conceivable way — cutting off the mounting tension between the characters at the knees, setting them adrift and forcing us to find them again at a moment when they’d never been quite so individualized, so recognizable, so real. That the time jump not only worked, but worked spectacularly, is a testament to what showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers and their cast and crew have accomplished together this season. We may have skipped forward into a new decade, a new age, a new period in the lives of our heroes, a new alignment of the relationships between them. But they remain the people we’ve come to know, and their story remains the one we’ve come to eagerly anticipate each week as among the very best being told on television today.

I reviewed the bold, beautiful two-part season finale of Halt and Catch Fire, at this point one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, for the New York Observer.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “You Are Not Safe”

October 6, 2016

It took a while, longer perhaps than for any other character, but Halt and Catch Firef ound a voice for Joe MacMillan. That voice is soft, sincere, thoughtful, emotionally direct. Actor Lee Pace gives that voice a tone that could be used to read bedtime stories to children, or to communicate deeply held beliefs or long-hidden secrets to a loved one who can be trusted with them. It’s a voice that sounds like Joe himself now looks: eyes made owlish by round Lennonesque glasses, face softened by a brown beard, hair lush and loose, clothes selected for autumnal comfort rather than boardroom barbarity. One of the many tragedies of “You Are Not Safe,” this week’s quietly shocking episode, is that this voice does him no good. He can’t use it to help his friend Gordon move forward with their grand plans. He can’t use it to save his friend Ryan’s life. He’s finally the man he truly is deep down, and it doesn’t matter. Everything turns to shit around him anyway.

I reviewed this week’s very sad Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “The Threshold”

September 29, 2016

A confession: I use Halt and Catch Fire reviews as a chance to show off. Because I like the show so much, because I feel it excels at, basically, everything a drama can and should excel at — casting, acting, cinematography, set design, soundtrack, screenwriting, you name it — I kind of see it as a chance to stunt, you know what I mean? The episode sets an emotional tone, and I try to maintain that tone in my writing. The phrase I come back to is “wax rhapsodic.” Or as I put it to my therapist last week, “If the show sings, then goddammit, the review’s gotta sing too.”

What to do, then, with “The Threshold”? What to do with an episode so good, so intelligently written, so beautifully filmed, so thoughtfully scored, so movingly acted, so cathartically plotted, that it stops me dead in my tracks? What to do with an episode that pays off fully three years of relationships, storylines, individual growth in a series of apocalyptic emotional confrontations? What to do with an episode that feels like a Mad Men Season Five–level culmination of form and function?

Man, your guess is as good as mine.

All I can really do is report to you how I felt while I watched this thing. I felt breathless, like someone was socking me in the gut. I felt like I was watching one relationship I’d invested in after another topple and crumble, like a perverse game of interpersonal dominos.

This week’s Halt and Catch Fire was a Mad Men Season 5–level masterpiece; I just can’t get over how good it was. I reviewed it for the New York Observer.

Shallow Rewards – The Song Remains the Shame: Mr. Robot and Stranger Things

September 26, 2016

I was delighted to become (I think) the first ever recurring guest on Shallow Rewards, the enormously insightful podcast from music criticism’s adulte terrible Chris Ott, to discuss the use of standout pop songs on the soundtracks of prestige television shows. We focus on Mr. Robot and Stranger Things (so watch out for spoilers) but touch on Halt and Catch Fire, The Sopranos, and The Wonder Years, with plenty of digressions into film soundtracks and film in general (Cameron Crowe, Martin Scorsese, SLC Punk, Under the Skin) as well. Chris is one of my favorite critics of any kind and it’s a pleasure talking to him. I hope you enjoy the results!

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “And She Was”

September 22, 2016

And think of how these people look! The physical energy between Gordon and Cameron is thick and inviting enough to eat like a pastry. Both of them wear comfortable white shirts — Gordon’s a tee, Cam’s a tank — that make you want to reach out and feel the firmness of their shoulders. Joe and Ryan make a point of getting the finest suits they can to impress their prospective business partners; they are just radiantly confident and handsome in them. John and Diane’s now-easy chemistry is displayed while they’re framed against the brick wall of the gay bar they escape to for drinks; you can all but feel the cool air the bricks retain even as things heat up for the people sitting near them. (This makes the evening’s eventual souring, when John fucks things up by passing on going back to her place after they’ve fooled around in his car, feel like an almost physical affront to how things ought to be.) Donna, finally, is so taken by the opulence of her new surroundings that she literally takes off all her clothes to wear it all like an expensive sweater, or slip into it like a bath. And she was drifting through the backyard, and she was taking off her dress. Our princess, in another castle.

Halt and Catch Fire has hit its imperial phase. Everything is working. Goddamn, this show is good.

I reviewed this week’s gorgeous Halt and Catch Fire, playing off its Talking Heads and Super Mario Bros. references along the way, for the New York Observer.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “Yerba Buena”

September 14, 2016

Gordon and Donna Clark experience a similar discrepancy of desire, where Gordon, like Boz, learns he never had the relationship he though he had at all. Giving up on an overly taxing camping trip, the Clarks opt for a staycation; with the kids out of the house, this mainly means the chance to stay in and fuck all day. (“We haven’t had sex twice in one day since the Ford administration!”) Their chemistry is warm and sweet and sexy and wholly convincing…until the camping trip comes up again as pillow talk. To his unvoiced but readily apparent horror, Gordon learns from a laughing Donna that she found their annual outdoor excursions tolerable at best, “insanity” at worst. When she wakes the next morning, Gordon’s passive-aggressively cleaning the mess they made in the kitchen and unilaterally canceling the plans they’d made to continue the romantic weekend by going out for breakfast together. “Everything alright?” Donna asks, sensing that the answer may well be no. “Yeah,” Gordon lies. “Everything’s fantastic.” Suddenly their relationship seems doomed in a way that not even Gordon’s affair and hidden illness, Donna’s secret pregnancy and abortion, or their countless workplace clashes made plain.

I reviewed last night’s Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer. This show consistently surprises in the way real life surprises.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Rules of Honorable Play”

September 6, 2016

And when people go under, they sink like stones. Brought to an everybody-who’s-anybody party for Silicon Valley movers and shakers by Diane, Boz appears to be in his element — cracking jokes, telling tales, and generally cranking up the Texas charm. Indeed, from calling an audible during the Swapmeet buyout and driving down its price by a small fortune to bantering with Donna and the boys in the office, it’s this ability to command a room that attracted Diane to him in the first place. But in an ugly exchange that perfectly reproduces the brittle civility of enemies pretending to make nice, Joe MacMillan takes Boz’s number, calling his affable-backslapper routine a “performance.” Just last week Joe referred to himself as the product he’s concerned with selling; apparently he recognizes some of this in the old Dallas salesman, too.

By the time Boz makes his way back to Diane, Joe’s words have clearly dug in deep, reinforcing doubts he’d already had about his role at Mutiny and his place in their world at large. Unfortunately for Diane, she unwittingly echoes Joe’s veiled insults in a failed attempt to praise her date. She compliments him for the way he naturally steals the show at the party, but what he hears is further evidence that he’s some kind of dancing monkey, trotted out there for everyone’s amusement. As Diane flirts, it at first seems like Boz is oblivious, but before long it’s clear he knows exactly what she’s up to and is simply rejecting it. “Somewhere along the line I lost my taste for tobacco,” he says when she offers him a smoke, then adds “And champagne. Parties.” His tone grows more pointed with every word, his bonhomie curdles visibly on his face, and the overall effect is like biting on tinfoil. Thus a potential romance storyline that seemed like such a delightful sure thing when it was first hinted at just last week is swept off the board, because, well, that’s how things happen sometimes. Cold as this is, there’s still something warm about watching the baffling rhythms of legit emotional reality play out on a TV show.

I reviewed tonight’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer. The command this show and these actors have over human behavior is gobsmacking at times.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Flipping the Switch”

August 31, 2016

5. Joe MacMillan, inscrutable guru. Of all the masks Joe has put on — yuppie hard-charger, friend in need, devoted husband, employee of the month — this is by far the funniest, most fascinating, and most convincing, because it’s essentially a performative version of what he already is: a cipher, a riddle even he doesn’t know the answer to. Why not make other people do the work of figuring it out for him? Bearded and aloof, he can be all things to all people: a coke-orgy hedonist, a bottom-line businessman, a Time magazine cover icon, a power-to-the-people tech ecumenicist, a rip-it-up-and-start-again maverick, a gnomic mentor for an up-and-coming genius. In fact, it seems like he hired Ryan to help him figure out his next step as much as the next step. “I am the product,” he tells the kid, arguably his most honest admission. Earlier, as Ryan slinks home the morning after Joe’s big soiree, his roommate asks “Was that fun?” “I don’t know what the hell it was,” Ryan replies, courtesy of a beautifully baffled line reading by actor Manish Dayal. You and Joe both, Ryan. You and Joe both.

My review of this week’s marvelous Halt and Catch Fire for the New York Observer came in the form of a list of the wonderful things about this week’s marvelous Halt and Catch Fire.

How “Halt and Catch Fire” Became the Underdog Success of the Peak TV Era

August 23, 2016

Indeed, Halt seems to reboot itself with each new season. It began as a familiarly anti-heroic drama about Joe’s hostile takeover of a tiny Texas electronics company in a quixotic quest to design a next-generation personal computer, but by Season Two the focus was on Cameron and Donna’s joint venture Mutiny, a video game company turned early Internet service provider and proto-social network. From the new setting to the new showrunners (Jonathan Lisco, who was at the helm for the series’ first two seasons, departed for TNT’s Animal Kingdom), the leap from Season Two to Season Three is equally dramatic. “We almost err on the side of so much reinvention that it’s frustrating,” Cantwell says. “But the technology industry is like that. Having to keep up with that constant change allows us to reinvent characters, to do some really cool stuff.”

It’s also helped the show itself catch fire—critically, if not commercially. After early growing pains driven by antihero fatigue (not helped by AMC’s decision to plop Joe and company right into the time slot recently vacated by the network’s previous period piece Mad Men), the show slowly evolved into a story about its passionate core quartet of tech whizzes struggling to work together, rather than to tear each other apart. By the time the women took center stage in the second season, critics were fully on board, making Halt one of 2015’s most acclaimed shows. Audiences, however, had yet to follow suit, and the series’ low ratings made its renewal an iffy proposition for months before the network finally gave the go-ahead.

“What I was told was that the journalists were the one who championed this thing,” McNairy confides during a break in shooting. “Like, ‘Please come back, please come back, please come back.’ I think the network was like, ‘Well, they definitely liked the show.'”

So does the network itself. “The guys from New York talk about it like fans,” Cantwell says. “Yes, they factor in all of the analytics and data in determining our future, but so far a big portion of [their decision-making process] has been, ‘Do we like this show? Yes, we like it a lot. Just go do your thing.’” Like the saga of the Internet upstarts it chronicles, Halt itself is, as cast and crew frequently call it, an underdog story—albeit one with an unusual amount of leeway to do things its own way.

Hence the series’ latest reinvention, and its third chance to snag an audience commensurate with the show’s quality: Halt and Catch Fire Season Three, which begins tonight. That fact alone makes Halt something of a success story—or what passes for one in the era of Peak TV, in which hundreds of scripted shows struggle for a share of the public’s attention, an uphill battle for any series without dragons or zombies in its arsenal. Getting that third season is a rare case of a show being rewarded simply for being well made rather than pulling in ratings or tapping the Twitter-trend zeitgeist. It’s a struggle that’d feel familiar to the characters themselves.

“There’s an intrinsic metaphor to what we’re doing here,” Kerry Bishé tells me before shooting that afternoon. “We’re making a TV show and the characters are making their technology, but the big goal is making a beautiful, perfect product that can go to market and succeed. It’d be nice if more people watched our show, but I’m doing work I love and value. We define ourselves so much by success in our jobs that I think it’s worth investigating what success is. What counts. What matters.”

I visited the set of Halt and Catch Fire and interviewed actors Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, Kerry Bishé, Toby Huss, and Matthew Lillard, as well as co-creators and co-showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris C. Rogers, for Esquire. Here’s my report on the long road to Halt Season Three. The show starts again tonight at 9pm on AMC, and it’s one of the best on TV. Don’t miss it!

Halt and Catch Fire’s Kerry Bishé on Donna’s Huge Season and Why the Show Isn’t a Hit

August 3, 2015

That camaraderie came through on the screen. You can understand why these characters are drawn to working together, even when they’re not getting along. They seem to respect each other.
That’s really great. One of the big differences between season one and season two is that the working relationships in season one were incredibly contentious. The characters would manipulate and lie, and they were really out for themselves. In season two, the working relationship really changed. While it remained contentious, there was a sense that these two women [Donna and Cameron] in particular very deeply respect and value each other, and they’re really trying hard to make it work.

And in many of their disputes, both of the positions on where to take the company are equally reasonable. It’s much more exciting to watch a drama when you genuinely can’t decide what “should” happen.
I love that. That’s what good writing does, to me. All the characters have good reasons to do what they do, so you can understand CameronandDonna, even though they’re making opposite decisions or have opposite priorities. You still feel like they’re both completely justified in the choices they’re making. I concur, I think that’s a really great part of this show.

That carries over to the characters’ personal lives too. The show didn’t pump-fake in the direction of Donna’s abortion — she actually went through with it, and her reasons were presented as sound and strong and nothing to be ashamed of.
That was a fascinating story line, and it was interesting how it all played out. The writers were really intent on making it a confident decision that Donna made. They didn’t want her to be wishy-washy, they didn’t want it to be a thing that [dramatic voicedestroyed her, you know? They did a great job of giving her that backbone. But at the same time, in a bigger-picture way, I didn’t want it to feel like, you know, working women who have a career have to sacrifice, or that given the opportunity women will choose their career over their family. It felt like threading a needle to me. It ended up being a pretty good balance between what the writers needed it to be and what I needed it to do to feel okay about what we were putting out in the world.

Over at Vulture I interviewed actor Kerry Bishé, who plays Donna on Halt and Catch Fire, about its fabulous second season, and she was very, very insightful.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “Heaven Is a Place”

August 3, 2015

They made up their mind to make a new start, they’re going to California with an achin’ in their hearts. Halt and Catch Fire ended tonight’s season finale by packing up and heading west, abandoning the Lone Star state for the Golden one. But from Joe and Sara MacMillan’s scuttled plans for relocation to Gordon Clark’s disastrous dalliance with a west-coast lady, the characters have walked through the shadow of the Valley of Silicon all season long. The results were not promising, which signals that the hard reboot Donna Clark, Cameron Howe and company are hoping for most likely won’t work.

The irony is that this parable about the illusory nature of second chances was told by a show that proved it was the exception to that rule. Written by series creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers and directed by Sopranos, Mad Men, and Daredevil veteran Phil Abraham, “Heaven Is a Place” caps one of the most remarkable rebirths for a series in recent memory. Its freshman-year jitters are now as obsolete as the Cardiff Giant — Halt came out of its sophomore season as smart, savvy top-shelf TV, full stop.

I reviewed the excellent season finale of Halt and Catch Fire’s excellent second season for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “Kali”

July 27, 2015

In the Big Eighties New Wave soundtrack wars, Joy Division is a weapon best used sparingly. Like a proto-Cobain, the heavily mythologized tragedy of lead singer Ian Curtis’s suicide hangs heavy over every note, threatening to overwhelm the song’s value as signifiers of either the time period or a character’s psychological state. So when a Raveonettes/Trentemøller cover of the band’s “She’s Lost Control” shuddered its way through the air as Cameron Howe crashed the system of the company that stole her life’s work, it’s time to sit up — or in her case, lie down — and take notice.

But has she lost control, really? Was “Kali,” tonight’s penultimate episode of Halt and Catch Fire Season Two, a portrait of a woman falling apart? If you’ll pardon the Clintonian doublespeak, it depends upon what the meaning of the word “control” is.

If it means using her intelligence and talent to shape her own future, Cameron has got that in spades. In the space of a few days, she devised a brand new business plan, successfully sold their most innovative game, designed the interface for Mutiny 2.0, and hacked Jacob Wheeler’s new network — all under the worst professional circumstances she’s ever faced. You can read it in her eyes, actor Mackenzie Davis’ most expressive asset, when she lies on the grass as her dirty deed goes down: She is in full command.

I reviewed the latest episode of Halt and Catch Fire, which has been an absolute delight all season long, for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Limbo”

July 20, 2015

The discovery leaves Joe in the unenviable position of transitioning from chemically induced bliss to pure panic. Instead of fucking his bonnie bride amid his beloved mainframes while rolling on MDMA after a lengthy, lushly shot nightclub sequence, he’s not only forced to sober up; the man has to reenter the enemy territory. Dressed head-to-toe in white like Don Johnson after an all-night Miami Vice cast party, MacMillan staggers into Mutiny HQ and desperately attempt to convince everyone that he had nothing to do with destroying their life’s work. The result is the rare moment where no one’s buying what our resident mover-and-shaker is selling.

It’s hard to believe, given the swaggering alpha-male asshole we remember from Season One, but it’s a crushingly sad moment. Here’s a guy who really has become a better man…and it doesn’t matter. Jacob’s swindle is as convincing a copy of Joe’s old tactics as his bogus new network is of Mutiny’s proprietary code, so none of his former coworkers believe MacMillan is innocent for a second. That’s a tremendous demonstration of how hard it can be to break the mold you’ve made for yourself. It’s always there to shape how others see you.

You know what’s an actual good show? Halt and Catch Fire! I reviewed this week’s episode for Rolling Stone.)

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “Working for the Clampdown”

July 12, 2015

The dramas of TV’s New Golden Age excel at presenting their characters with a choice of evils. Should Walter White attempt to take down a more powerful druglord, or turn his family’s life upside down by fleeing? Should Daenerys Targaryen let the slaves she freed take vengeance against their former masters, or punish their payback attempts with still more violenceShould Don Draper sell out, or give up? For many shows, the central conflict involves a question with seemingly no right answers.

But what if there are no wrong answers? What if the choice is hard to make because the benefits of either option are too difficult to turn down? In the right hands, that’s an even deeper dilemma — and “Working for the Clampdown,” tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire, proves this is a series with the tools and the talent to navigate this demanding kind of drama.

Halt and Catch Fire is so goddamn good, everyone! Please watch it, and please read my review for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode 6: “10BROAD36”

July 5, 2015

There’s no surer sign that a show is doing something very right than when even its most plot-heavy episodes leave you thinking not about what happened, but how it happened. Sure, you can recount where Mad Men‘s final episode left all its leading players — but the real magic lies in the way Don Draper’s climactic breakdown and breakthrough is presented. (You’re craving a Coke right…about…now.) Game of Thrones‘ Season Five finale similarly stranded nearly all its major characters in the direst of straits, but weeks later it’s the sound of the crowd surrounding Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame that sticks in your mind.

This is the enviable position in which Halt and Catch Fire finds itself with the latest installment in its season-long hot streak: “10BROAD36.” It’s an episode that bursting with big story beats: the Mutiny crew found out about Cameron and Tom’s romance; Donna hid both her pregnancy and abortion from her husband Gordon, who was busy cheating on her half a continent away; and Joe MacMillan used his “simple” plan to provide server space to Cam’s company as an entry point for taking it over entirely. (Bad Joe is back!) But it’s how these characters interacted, and how everything was shot and staged, that made for a fantastic hour of television.

Might I suggest that if you’re disappointed by this season of True Detective, you make the switch to Halt and Catch Fire, which rules? I reviewed tonight’s episode for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “Infiltrator”

June 29, 2015

Halt’s got many strengths besides its characters, of course; its period pop-culture reference game has rarely if ever been as on point as it was tonight. Cameron and Tom’s rental of The Terminator, for example, takes on any number of roles within the narrative. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice gives them funny accents to flirt in. Renting the video provides Tom with a convenient excuse for one of his many sudden “I gotta go”s, which seems to suggest a secret at home. The film’s totally-Eighties nightclub-massacre scene is beautifully recreated in Gordon’s own visit to the local hotspot, with a zonked-out computer engineer substituting for the gun-toting cyborg. The Mutiny crew watches the scene featuring the famous line “And it will not stop, ever, until you are dead,” which echoes Clark’s understanding of his disease. And the first-person shooter the company wants to develop will, in all likelihood, owe a lot to the visceral violence and implacable antagonists of James Cameron’s classic.

Ditto the just-imported Nintendo Entertainment System that Gordon’s kids can’t wait to play. Like the Macintosh that appeared at the end of last season like one of 2001‘s monoliths, the NES will create a massive cultural explosion that Cameron and company will have to deal with. The children’s prophetically passionate response shows how important the characters’ family lives can be to their professional ones, if only they pay attention. The bemused way Donna’s mother describes the game they’re playing (“A bunch of little men fighting turtles”) illustrates how easy it is to ignore a Super Mario Bros–sized forest for the trees. It also indicates the weird alchemy required to create a world that gamers will want to immerse themselves in again and again, which is Cameron’s current quest for her theoretical online multiplayer game. Maybe it’s a coincidence that so many shots in this episode showed characters as small figures against big backgrounds, Mario-style — but if so it’s a coincidence that counts.

Halt and Catch Fire is super good, everyone. Here’s my review of tonight’s episode for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “Play with Friends”

June 21, 2015

Directed by Boys Don’t Cry’s Kimberly Peirce, this week’s Halt made extensive and ostentatious use of canted frames, handheld cameras, and most memorably a GoPro-filmed dart-gun battle. These immersive techniques made for a constructive contrast with the clean-machine opening titles. The credits and their accompanying theme music portray technology’s advance as orderly, antiseptic, and unstoppable; meanwhile, the camera work conveys just how haphazard, shaky, and human things really are beneath the surface.

Speaking of being human — hoo boy, do Cameron Howe and Tom Rendon have sexual chemistry to burn. Mark O’Brien has been dynamite in the role from the start, equally convincing as an arrogant hacker and an overworked, underpaid kid trying to make ends meet. He brings that same easy naturalism to his scenes with Mackenzie Davis, making their characters’ physical and romantic connection so convincing you feel like you’re watching a perfect-for-each-other couple make out at a party for the very first time.

The hour-long buildup to their first kiss is killer, too. First Cameron reprimands him for showing up late and half-asleep. Next, she goes out of her way not to make him feel embarrassed when she discovers him working a supermarket night shift to pay the bills. Then they share a platonic  moment in a closet during the dart-gun war, and brainstorm the idea for multiplayer online gaming as a sort of sublimated seven-minutes-in-heaven. Finally, in the middle of cleaning up Mutiny’s beercan-strewn backyard, they stop for a giggly hookup that’s clumsy with passion and excitement. It’s super sexy stuff, and not an item of clothing is shed.

I reviewed tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone. It was good. This is a really fun show – you should watch it!