Since activating our free trial of Amazon Prime a month ago – mainly so I could buy a Playstation 4, thank you Prime Day – me and my fiancée have been keen to watch as much of the good stuff as possible through the Amazon Instant Video service before the trial ends.
So after rattling through the sole season of the criminally-cancelled Freaks and Geeks, we found a new programme from AMC – home of Mad Men, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad yada yada yada – that hasn’t been given nearly the amount of love it deserves.
Premiering last year, Halt And Catch Fire has just wrapped up its second season of airing on AMC before transitioning straight to streaming. Since even hearing of its existence only a week or so ago, we’ve enjoyed all of the show’s twenty episodes to date.
And personally I’d absolutely love to see another ten. Much like a Randy Orton finisher, Halt And Catch Fire has come from out of nowhere to captivate and entertain me with its brilliant mix of character-driven drama and fascinating contextual background.
Set during the 1980s, the programme begins with the story of its three main characters working on an exciting new project at Cardiff Electric. Joe Macmillan is the suave yet deeply troubled character who charms his way into a top job overseeing the production of one of the very first personal computers. With more than a hint of Spacey-esque smarm about him, Joe leads a team including recovering techaholic Gordon Clark and young hot prospect Cameron Howe into developing what would become the Cardiff Giant. The name refers to the tall tale of legend which acts as a great metaphor for their struggle both in its mythical promotion and actual behind-the-scenes deceptions.
The three characters struggle to build relationships and business acumen in their bid to out-IBM IBM, and the personal and professional heartache caused as a result. There’s a real friction between the three characters and whoever else they interact with, all of which is brilliantly plotted and performed, as we get a soft reset into season two, where supporting characters Donna Clark and John Bosworth are also brought to the fore for even more of the same great writing and acting.
What’s equally great about the programme is its heavy investment in context; the whole computing industry in its infancy is very well captured within the programme, borrowing liberally from real events. It doesn’t necessarily play out in order, nor is all of it necessarily accurate, but the painstaking degrees of realism throughout in costumes, music and design – right down to the last microchip or Talking Heads track – make it a real treat for computer geeks keen to learn about the world that was.
Highlight of the programme for me is Toby Huss who plays Bosworth – I found out only last night that he played the iconic role of Artie, The Strongest Man In The World during the 90s – whose tough-talking, wise-cracking nature belies a deep sense of loyalty to those around him.
If Halt And Catch Fire is available for streaming on your chosen service, I highly recommend you get it streaming on your TV – and cross your fingers for a third helping of 80s tech geekdom.