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You Should Be Watching: 'Halt and Catch Fire'

Travel back to early 1980s Dallas with “Halt and Catch Fire.” The show offers a fascinating portrait of the intense convergence of computer and business dreams.

Title: Halt and Catch Fire

Year it began: 2014

Where it can be seen: AMC; Netflix; Amazon

Who’s in it: Lee Pace; Scoot McNairy; Mackenzie Davis; Kerry Bishé; Toby Huss; Aleksa Palladino

Typical episode length: 47 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 40

Brief plot description: At Cardiff Electric in 1983 Dallas, visionary Joe MacMillan, engineer Gordon Clark and programmer Cameron Howe try to revolutionize the personal computing industry. Their success takes them from Silicon Prairie to California’s Silicon Valley

Why it’s worth watching: “Halt and Catch Fire” offers a gritty yet cerebral look at corporate culture and the explosion of personal computing.  Boldly setting a fictional company in an otherwise realistically presented 1980s, “Halt and Catch Fire” refuses to limit itself to mere biography, and instead offers alluring studies of tech-industry types. Pace is unsettlingly good in his role as technological visionary Joe McMillan: equal parts charismatic salesman and Machiavellian con-artist, MacMillan is the magnetic force that drives his fellow misfits to keep their risky project going. McNairy is excellent as Gordon Clark, an engineer who allowed his ambitions to become dormant, but who regains his self-confidence and verve as he an MacMillan reverse engineer an IBM computer to design their own. Davis provides the third essential tech-industry type: playing the attractive cyber-punk genius dropout whose coding skills are needed to design a unique BIOS, Davis’s Cameron combines free-spirited cynicism with a believably intense mindset for software innovation. Other standout roles include Bishé’s Donna Clark, who is also a talented engineer but is burdened more with domestic duties as Gordon’s wife, and Huss’s John Bosworth, a whip-smart vice-president of sales who negotiates between the main characters’ innovation bubble and the intensely traditional Texas business culture the show portrays so well. Featuring atmospheric cinematography and a consistently fine soundtrack that amplify the key characters’ personalities, “Halt and Catch Fire” offers a mesmerizing story about the strange marriage of computer science with a fiercely competitive corporate world.

 

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