By Ben Lane
Halt and Catch Fire
Season 1, Episode 1
FULL SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE FOLLOW.
At long last, Halt and Catch Fire has arrived. I have been interested in this show for quite some time, and after watching the premiere last night, I figured I had to sit down and write this review. Set in the early 1980s, this series simply follows two men, played by Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace, as they become involved in the personal computer revolution. That’s all you really need to know, because that’s really all I know. Now I am not going to say I know where this show is going. I have no idea how they are planning to stretch this story out over multiple episodes, let alone multiple seasons. But what I will say is that this was a very, very strong opening episode.
AMC is one of my favorite channels. Not for the shows, though. I tend to hear a lot of people saying that AMC is the best channel for TV series, but I simply disagree with that. HBO (Game of Thrones, True Detective) and Showtime (Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex) have a broader selection of great series. But even if you’re excluding those higher up channels, certain cable channels have a better selection, such as FX (American Horror Story, Fargo). The only reason AMC gets this reputation is because of Breaking Bad and to some extent The Walking Dead. I think Breaking Bad is the single best drama to ever grace our television screens. The Walking Dead… not so much. And lately, what has come on AMC that matches either of those shows? Low Winter Sun? No. I liked Turn, but it just became so bland and boring that I stopped watching. But Halt and Catch Fire changes that. AMC is, for the moment, back.
You could say that this is another Turn moment. What I mean by that is when I wrote my review for the pilot episode of Turn I talked about really liking it and it being a hopeful new show. Obviously, I lost interest in that. But I never said that it would be a great series overall. I called it hopeful. That is what I am doing with Halt and Catch Fire. I can’t say how this season will play out, but judging from this episode, it looks like we’re in for a real treat.
This is a period drama, front and center. Characters dress like modern day hipsters and they stop by their local cinema to see Return of the Jedi. It’s a period drama done well. Everything is tangible. It has a way of making you feel like you’re there. Not only with the surroundings, but with the characters as well. Scoot McNairy (who you may know from Gareth Edwards’ pre-Godzilla indie film Monsters, or the Best Picture winning Argo, or even the Best Picture winning 12 Years a Slave, see a pattern here?) is very good in this episode as Gordon Clarke and I can already feel a connection with him as a character. Lee Pace (Thranduil in the Hobbit films and a villainous role in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy) is also good as the man who kind of storms into McNairy’s life as a potential business partner (sound a little reminiscent of Walter and Jesse?). In the episode very little but clearly having a large role in the rest of the season is Mackenzie Davis, who I haven’t completely latched onto yet, but I hope she gets more well rounded as the show continues. I won’t end this review without mentioning Kerry Bishe, who plays the role of Scoot McNairy’s wife, and gives a pretty solid performance. I felt for her, even if her decision at the end of the episode felt a little too forced. I feel like maybe her disapproval could have lasted a few episodes. Overall, really good acting.
From a technical standpoint, the show looks great, as most of AMC’s shows normally do. The lighting, especially in the scenes in McNairy’s garage, look great. As stated, the period setting looks completely tangible, and the costume design looks great. I can already see Gordon Clarke’s beard and glasses being something of an icon assuming this show hits big with TV fans, and I think it just might. From a writing standpoint also, the show delivers some seriously interesting dialogue, and as opposed to Turn, this show never left me hitting pause just to see how much time was left. I wanted to keep watching.
Halt and Catch Fire gets things off to a thrilling start with “I/O.” Tangible scenery, a fast paced plot, interesting dialogue, and great performances help kick this show into high gear right off the bat. I’m not sure how this story can be stretched over multiple seasons, but after that pilot episode, I’m on board already.