Halt and Catch Fire
The Best Show You've Never Seen
Streaming on Netflix | 2014-17 | TV-14 | 4 seasons
Genre: Radical, retro tech drama that'll transport you to the 1980s Why We Watched: My partner and I needed a new show to watch, so we started "pilot season." We picked shows neither of us had seen before, watched all the pilot episodes, and scored each in categories like pacing and visual interest. Halt and Catch Fire won for us both by a landslide. And let me tell you—it only gets better from the first episode. You Might Also Like: IMHO I don't think anything I've seen stacks up to this show. If you're looking for more Lee Pace content, though, I'd give Pushing Daisies a watch. It's just as bright and punchy as Halt and Catch Fire is grungy and moody. Or, if you're looking for something with a similar visual style—albeit with slightly less female empowerment—Mad Men is for you.
The opening and closing line of the Halt and Catch Fire TV series is the same: "Let me start by asking a question." The show is about many things—including technological developments in the 1980s and 1990s—but the throughline is a palpable hunger for inspiration, for innovation, and for ideation. It starts with entrepreneur Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), who joins Cardiff Electric as a sales executive. MacMillan is a narcissistic, power hungry antihero, something like a combination of Don Draper and Steve Jobs. And he wants Cardiff employee Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) to help reverse engineer IBM's personal computer. They soon recruit college student Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and embark on their project to develop a computer twice the speed and half the cost of anything else on the market. Later joined by Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé), Gordon's wife and an engineer at Texas Instruments, Halt and Catch Fire follows the quartet as they start business venture after business venture—and they fail every time. As The New York Times noted in a review after the series finale, the show "chronicle[s] a chain of doomed ventures, beginning with one that was not only unsuccessful but, we eventually saw, had the wrong goal all along." The goal was to make money quickly but, as Joe, Cameron, Donna, and Gordon slowly realized, what mattered was using technology to connect with others. And one of Halt's biggest strengths is appropriately the connections between its characters. Each develops a distinct relationship with the others as they (without spoilers!) form romantic relationships, business partnerships, and friendships. Most notably, Cameron and Donna's friendship "powers the show’s final three seasons," writes TV critic Emily VanDerWerff. "Each season is better than the last for the ways they all examine this professional and personal partnership as it grows, frays, then rebuilds itself." Halt doesn't gloss over the messy, difficult parts of partnership, but also celebrates the characters' wins. It's a refreshingly honest reflection of everyday life, and the show is even better for it. If none of this has sold you, my final plug is simple. This show has a banging soundtrack. Think Talking Heads meets A Tribe Called Quest meets Pixies. That, my friends, is hard to pass up. Halt and Catch Fire is so much better than I could have imagined—it makes me wish I could watch it again for the first time. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did! Happy streaming, Tess