TV review: “Halt and Catch Fire” is another lackluster AMC drama

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From the May 29, 2014 edition

It’s been a longtime since AMC has produced a great new series, and “Halt and Catch Fire” is just another in the line of meh. Not since “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” (or the short-lived “Rubicon”) has AMC premiered something to get excited about; “The Walking Dead” started strong, but has since become nothing special. The network should no longer be considered among the elite with FX and HBO.

“Halt and Catch Fire” is a fictional story taking place during the early-’80s PC boom in Texas’ “Silicon Prairie.” IBM had the PC game on lock, but rogue former-IBM employee Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) has a risky plan to reverse-engineer the PC with the help of wunderkind engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy).

The plan is riddled with potential disasters, both personal and professional, for Joe and Gordon because they work for a fictional IBM rival computer company. Reverse-engineering the PC is legally problematic and could cost both their careers, which is especially bad for Gordon as a husband and father of two.

“Halt and Catch Fire” has a issues holding it back: The ’80s computer world isn’t that exciting, and attempting to make it so results in more melodrama than compelling drama.

The characters are the other big problem. While the performances here are all solid, the ho-hum creation and writing drags everything down.

Joe is the cocky gambler, with an apparently dark past — yet another stereotypical TV antihero. Gordon needs more than his beautiful and intelligent wife, Donna (Kerry Bishé), and family; his genius must be recognized by the world. The prodigy/rebel Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) is, simply put, rote.

It’s hard to see “Halt and Catch Fire” as anything more than a jaunt into the ’80s that doesn’t have a lot of substance or interesting narrative — despite some strong camerawork. There is a chance it becomes a solid drama, but I’m not very excited about its potential, especially given the many original and captivating (see “Fargo,” “True Detective” or “The Americans”) young series out there.

Photo courtesy AMC