News Column

Computer drama has histrionic bits amid the bytes

June 1, 2014

By David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer



June 01--With its new series, Halt and Catch Fire (Sunday at 10 p.m.), AMC takes on one of the conundrums of the modern era: How do you make a drama about the computer industry interesting?

The essential ingredients aren't promising: Socially maladroit people, working in isolation on keyboards. Now give me a closeup of that monitor as keystrokes appear on the screen. The thrill of typing!

How do you transcend such a notoriously dry subject? As you may have guessed from the lurid title, Halt and Catch Fire takes the histrionic route, overloading every scene, encounter, and speech with dubious intensity.

You say you want more? How about some hot geek love? Before the first commercial break in the pilot, the two most presentable protagonists are having knee-trembling sex in a storage closet. No malware jokes, please.

The show is set in 1983, and an IBM refugee in Texas (Lee Pace of The Hobbit) is ambitiously trying to grab a piece of the nascent PC market. He corrals an engineer (Argo's Scoot McNairy) and a nonconformist coder (Mackenzie Davis) onto his team to build a knock-off machine of their own.

There's really only been one successful and satisfying drama made about computer folk -- The Social Network. And that worked primarily because of Aaron Sorkin's brilliant script.

The portentously written Halt and Catch Fire doesn't have that advantage. When Pace declaims, "Computers aren't the thing. They're the thing that gets us to the thing," the other characters must look at him with awe, as if he has just expressed something profound.

The series is also tiresomely overacted, particularly by Pace, who apparently prepared for this role by watching Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross over and over.

Halt and Catch Fire has all the self-importance of AMC's other modern period piece, Mad Men. But it lacks the substance to make that swagger look anything but foolish.

TV REVIEW

Halt and Catch Fire

10 p.m. Sunday on AMC

dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4552 @daveondemand_tv

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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)