Posts Tagged ‘halt and catch fire’

“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!

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “The Way In”

June 14, 2015

You know that old saying about how you can’t judge a book by its cover? Halt and Catch Fire seems hellbent on puncturing the proverb; it’s a show that’s always taken pride in how it communicates about its characters through their appearances. Tonight’s episode — “The Way In” — is a case in point: Success story Gordon Clark suits up and shaves to show he’s enjoying his current victory-lap life. Former silicon-prairie gunslinger Joe MacMillan dresses casual in a plain white tee to signify his simple new outlook. And, more subtly and perhaps most importantly, punk coder extraordinaire Cameron Howe is letting her chopped-off, bleached-blonde hair grow long and dark. The founder of Mutiny is, literally and figuratively, putting down roots.

This latest rock-solid installment is striking for doubling down on the stability of its leading ladies. That may be an odd thing to say when Cameron threatens to fire her partner/resident voice of reason Donna after a company-wide meltdown — and then has a panic attack that only the abrasive Tom Rendon can rescue her from. But think about it: The dynamic duo of Clark and Howe are building an pre-Internet powerhouse from the ground up, and all their arguments stem from how seriously they’re taking it. It’s the men who find themselves locked out of where they want to go, forced to devise workarounds to get back in.

Halt and Catch Fire was terrific tonight, you guys! I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” Thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “New Coke”

June 8, 2015

But the funniest thing about this episode: It was genuinely funny. Halt 2.0 appears to have included a serious humor upgrade, a welcome development given the clenched-jaw tension of Season One. There are great little visual gags, like Gordon using SEXYBEARD as his Mutiny username. There are lol-worthy throwaway one-liners, as when a Mutiny’s code monkey crams all the free pizza he can eat into his face while saying “I don’t even want this anymore!” Even the music gets in on the act: When Joe shows up for his first day at work, the one-time wunderkind’s stylish synthpop soundtrack cuts out the second he sets foot in his dingy new digs. It’s a perfect sonic spit-take, and a sign that the show’s sophomore evolution away from self-seriousness may be the best way to get people to take it seriously.

I reviewed tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire, which has become a fun show, for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Two, Episode One: “SETI”

June 1, 2015

Across the board, Halt’s great leap forward makes for a breezier, better show. Though the painstaking process of chronicling the group’s personal-computer empire-building last season gave the show a sturdy core, it was also exhausting for the audience as well as the characters. Jumping ahead means skipping past the back-and-forths that bogged the series down just as surely as calling a ceasefire on the constant hostility does.

And it clears some space in the hard drive for much cooler stuff. There’s some just-this-side-of-showy stylistics, like the opening sequence in which a hand-held camera follows Donna around the chaotic Mutiny office for minutes on end. There’s a nifty metaphor for Cameron’s “where you see a wall, I see a door” thinking in her customer-service call, where she coaches a gamer trapped in a room full of holograms to escape by simply walking right through them. There’s a more playful sense of humor, from the goofy mid-Eighties commercial for the “Giant” to the sight of a coked-up Gordon reading William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer and muttering “What the hell??” with a bloody tissue up his nose. There may even be a new structure, since for all we know each season will focus on a brand-new aspect of the tech biz — like how The Wire handled Baltimore, but with joysticks.

I reviewed tonight’s season premiere of Halt and Catch Fire v2.0, a superior model in every respect, for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “1984”

August 4, 2014

The final Halt and Catch Fire of Season One begins with the show’s single most likeable sequence: Things are tense in the Clark household, where Gordon and Donna have evidently not recovered from the COMDEX debacle. Dishes are washed, beers are drunk, TV is watched, all joylessly, silently. Finally, Gordon attempts to settle in on the couch where he’s been sleeping – but Donna has had enough. “Get in there!” she demands, directing Gordon to the bedroom she insists she’ll be sharing with him tonight. “I’m still very mad at you,” he replies, pointing at her, and surrendering. She giggles. They walk off to bed, Gordon stomping and swinging in faux-fury. The two of them have decided that their fight about Donna’s borderline infidelity and Gordon’s job-related neglect was about real issues – ones that pale in comparison to the even realer love and respect they share. As Donna puts it in code later in the episode, when Gordon presents her with the engagement-slash-decoder ring he promised her nine years back, “I darf you very gerp.”

The Gordon-Donna scenes in this late-blooming show’s season finale — ‘1984” — aren’t just the show’s most human moments to date. They echo the legendary Apple Super Bowl ad that gives the episode its title, and like the Cameron lookalike who smashes the oppressive IBM machine in that commercial, they represent the triumph of imagination, emotion, and empathy over cold hard calculation. Gone is the Halt that forced its characters into empty confrontations week in and week out to drum up drama on the cheap – the equivalent of the Cardiff Giant’s faster-cheaper computing model. In its place? A handsome, clean-shaven, confident, self-actualized Gordon, now head of the company where he was once just another face in the crowd. But more importantly, he’s a Gordon we actually give a shit about.

Much to my surprise, Halt and Catch Fire wound up being a pleasurable, emotionally sticky show — and it’s the rare prestige drama in which the women are happier and more fulfilled than the men. I reviewed its season finale for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Up Helly Aa”

July 28, 2014

In a rare move for, well, pretty much any drama on television, Halt gave its characters a complex personal, professional, and perhaps even moral choice to make in which neither outcome was the clear-cut “right thing to do.” When Gordon guts Cameron’s forward-thinking, interactive OS to cut costs and increase speed, what should Joe do? Siding with Cameron would honor her genuine vision, preserve the one thing that made the Giant unique, keep the hope of an eventual reward for their cutting-edge tech alive, and maintain the romantic relationship that clearly matters a lot to both of them. But it would cost them the only competitive edges – speed and cost – that matter in the face of the Slingshot knockoff’s debut earlier that day, which in turn would cost them the entirety of Cardiff Electric. Fiction in general (and prestige TV dramas in particular) conditions us to root for the maverick, the underdog, and the visionary, so our initial inclination is to pull for Cameron. But Joe’s face as the elevator doors close on her speaks volumes. He knows that her computer would be better. But her better computer likely will never get the chance to exist unless they act now. And the sacrifice their love requires is too steep.

When we see the results of Joe’s decision play out on the convention floor, the issues remain just as complex. His speech about the reprogrammed Giant joylessly champions all-business values, at times echoing Alec Baldwin’s legendary Glengarry Glenn Ross monologue (“Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids”) in its cynicism and intensity. Finding Cameron’s ketchup stain on his notes would normally be a sign he’s about to have a change of heart; watching him power past his qualms, then quietly close the notes away in his briefcase undermines all the expectations a moment like that naturally raises.

Yet there’s genuine fervor in the speech – a chance for Joe’s skill as a salesman to shine, which is his art as much as coding is Cameron’s or engineering is Gordon’s and Donna’s. The presentation is a hit, scoring the Giant a big order with a major retailer. There are even personal victories to echo the loss of Cameron – a loss which, importantly, Joe and Gordon honor during their presentation. Joe’s decision may have cost him Cameron, but it made possible the rapprochement between Gordon and Donna, who at last is credited with her role in the computer’s creation. It also drove a stake through the heart of Hunt and Brian’s sleazy Slingshot project – which is a bit rich, given the similarly unscrupulous way Joe and the gang have gone about everything, but is no less satisfying for it.

In the end, Halt still sends signals that Joe made the wrong choice, if for the right reasons. He and the Clarks share the world’s saddest champagne toast, with the camera lingering on the popped bottle long after such shots normally cut away, transforming its celebratory effervescence into just a spill to be cleaned up. Gordon and Donna are back together, but the events of the day make their demeanor seem miles away from their sweetly sexed-up chemistry of the night before.

Tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire told a morally and emotionally sophisticated story with actual sophistication. I was really impressed. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “The 214s”

July 21, 2014

It turns out that “recovery from a mild psychotic break” is a good look for Gordon Clark. For the first time all season, his hair’s groomed and his beard’s neat; he looks comfortable in his clothes instead of like a living mannequin for Short-Sleeved Dress Shirts Warehouse. Actor Scoot McNairy is a handsome guy, after all; now we can see that beneath the beard and the big glasses and the flop sweat, Gordon had something to offer Donna back in the day besides their shared love of electrical engineering.

What’s more, this is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. Now Gordon is able to turn on the charm, bantering effortlessly with  JoeCameron, and Bosworth as they plan for the big COMDEX computer convention before the bank-hacking bust that drives the episode. Even the camera seems captivated: As he reminisces about the party scene the last time he and Donna attended the big show, grinning ear to ear, the camera doesn’t cut away for a second.

Yes, he freaks when he finds out Joe is not taking him, but lots of people would. Plus, he quickly recovers – Gordon has the presence of mind to steal key components of the computer they’ve officially christened “The Giant” when the feds swoop in. He’s also got the vision to keep the project going anyway, the balls to break into the office and steal the rest of the computer, and the charisma to convince both Cameron and Joe to come along for the ride. Pay attention to the way he reassembles the team. It doesn’t just mean good things for Cardiff Electric — it means good things for tonight’s episode, “The 214s,” and for the series itself.

I thought tonight’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire was the best so far, by far. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone. Special shout-out to actor Toby Huss, who’s doing phenomenal work in this show as John Bosworth.

“Halt and Catch Fire” Thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Giant”

July 13, 2014

We don’t wanna jinx it, but…has Halt and Catch Fire started to become an interesting show?

“Interesting show” is about as far as it goes, mind you. If each episode weren’t still stuffed with predictable plotting, semi-cringeworthy dialogue, endless hostility, and scenes as joylessly functional as the boring beige box containing Cardiff’s portable PC, “good show” might roll more easily off the tongue. But there’s enough in tonight’s wildly emotional episode — “Giant” — to indicate that last week’s stormy spectacle wasn’t a one-off fluke. The performances are improving. The relationships are deepening. And the likelihood that Halt will show us something we haven’t seen before is growing.

Halt and Catch Fire is still full of time-wasting drama-by-numbers shit, but it’s at least getting emotionally sticky. I reviewed tonight’s episode for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Landfall”

July 6, 2014

Perhaps it’s perverse, then, to claim the show itself got real in the very episode where it laid on the artifice the thickest. After all, one of its standout sequences was a dream, and the other was an unexpected visual-effects hurricane freakout that would look at home in Game of Thrones‘ Westeros. But both Gordon’s nightmare about a flower growing in his precious circuitry and his real-world run-in with the storm gave heft and flair to his same-old struggles with work, family, and white-collar frustration.

They were surprising and funny, for starters. The sight of a man in glasses staring at the tiny flower amid all the electronics recalled similar moments of tiny untameable elements driving the obsessive Walter White entertainingly batshit in Breaking Bad; meanwhile, the escalating fury of the weather and the soundtrack alike hilariously highlighted the absurdity Gordon’s standoff with the Cabbage Patch Kid display window. The latter was almost Sopranos-esque in how it turned the stuff of suburban life into the stuff of quixotic vision quests.

And they were simply beautiful to look at, too. Who needs Gordon’s umpteenth harried conversation with Donna when we can watch him grasping for a flower growing just out of reach? Who needs another shot of Joe in his underwear silhouetted against his window when you can watch for several seemingly endless seconds as Gordon steps into the middle of the street to see the full electric-gray majesty of nature at its most malevolent? Even as good as Joe’s revelation wound up being, doesn’t the wordless sight of a father, dolls clutched in his arm, coming face to face with an electrocuted corpse communicate just as much about the frailty of family? Don’t forget how Gordon’s dream ended: His finger touched the machine’s innards, and he electrocuted himself awake.

Over at Rolling Stone I explain why I liked tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire, which was visually inventive and featured a stronger than usual performance from the heretofore disappointing Lee Pace.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Adventure”

June 30, 2014

Moments of cooperation and admiration are vital in workplace dramas, no matter how contentious things get. Breaking Bad‘s spectacular middle seasons would have failed if Walt, Jesse, Gus, and Mike had always been at each other’s throats without ever establishing the well-oiled machine that made their empire hum. Mad Men wouldn’t work if Peggy and Pete didn’t genuinely respect Don’s talent, or if Don didn’t overcome his selfishness to support his protégés. People make animated GIF sets out of the moments Don and Peggy have held hands for a reason, you know?

I reviewed tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Close to the Metal”

June 23, 2014

The human resources file on this episode is gonna be a doozy, folks.

The good men and women of Cardiff Electronics are working overtime to create the fastest, most portable PC on the market. What does this entail? Project manager Joe MacMillan steals whiz-kid programmer Cameron Chase‘s back-up files, fries her computer, gives her a panic attack, and convinces her and everyone else that all the work is lost. Engineer Gordon Clark physically assaults Cameron in response. Joe, his boss John Bosworth, and a reporter from the Wall Street Quarterly repeatedly threaten each other (off the record) over the contents of the reporter’s eventual article. Cameron responds to being insulted by Gordon and his data-retrieval expert wife Donna by teaching their kids how to make a homemade flamethrower, breaking into their home, and preparing to trash the place. She’s interrupted only by her former coworker, Brian who’s also broken into the house and is wielding a shotgun. Finally, Bosworth has Joe pulled over, beaten, and arrested by friendly cops to teach him a lesson.

When that Wall Street Quarterly reporter writes his eventual tell-all book Cardiff: The Little Computer Company That Could and the Sociopaths Responsible, this single day will require a whole chapter, and no one will believe it anyway.

And frankly, neither should we. The pointless and instantaneous hostility between the characters has been one of Halt and Catch Fire‘s biggest flaws since the pilot. In “Close to the Metal,” the show uses the company’s dire straits and high-stakes visit by the press as an excuse to ratchet that hostility up even higher. The question they don’t ask: Who cares?

I reviewed last night’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone. I feel like this show is what the people who complain about Game of Thrones being a relentless downer think Game of Thrones is, only, you know, no one gets stabbed in the mouth.