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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, April 23, 2024

On Demand: An ode to 'Halt and Catch Fire' and the glory of new beginning


Wishing my life was a TV show has the same energy as romanticizing trips to Costco and pretending The Sink baristas are the archetypal “popular kids.” Although I don’t need it, I just want an excuse to battle through song ("Glee," (2009–15)) and speak in an Irish accent ("Derry Girls," (2018)) and drink coffee for lunch ("Gilmore Girls," (2000–07)). Instead, this column is my chance to ramble, uninterrupted, about TV shows I love and to imagine myself as the Athena to Ryan Murphy’s Zeus (i.e. a screenwriter’s brainchild).

My mother and father are professional computer scientists. I, on the other hand, barely survived COMP11. Even so, my favorite TV show is AMC’s "Halt and Catch Fire" (2014–17), a four-season drama first set in the late 1980s, from the dawn of the personal computer through the development of the World Wide Web. When I say favorite — and this is embarrassing — I mean my phone lock screen is a graphic I drew of the opening credits.

The show follows a quartet of complex characters and their cycles of failures and reboots at pioneering the future of technology. The vibe is gritty, intense and compelling.

Halt starts with Joe MacMillan, played by tall, dark and handsome Lee Pace, the antihero visionary who arrives in Dallas with a scheme to manipulate a small software company into building a rip-off of IBM’s personal computer.Joe ropes in rumpled engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and punk programming prodigy Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), setting off our journey. The show thwarts expectations of copycatting "Mad Men" (2007–15) and hits its stride in the second season, where it shifts focus from the male leads to the partnership between Cameron and hardware expert Donna (Kerry Bishé), Gordon’s wife, in developing an online gaming company; their relationship became the emotional backbone of the show.

As much as the tech stuff made me want to boot up Python and type out “print(‘hello world’)” it mostly served as an engine to explore the nuances of human drive and emotion. Heartbreak came not just in fractured romantic relationships but when the characters failed each other as friends. And, in that way, the intimate business partnerships and passion for innovation were each integral love stories.

Unlike plenty of television which waxes on and on (I’m looking at you season 18 of "Grey’s Anatomy," (2005–)), Halt has one of the best finales I’ve seen, concluding in the overarching theme that it’s not about the product but the people you build it with. Or, as Joe tells Gordon in the pilot, "Computers aren't the thing. They're the thing that gets us to the thing.”

I’ve been a little crazy with gushing about this show to everyone around me, because, not only is it ugh! so good but it has gone largely unappreciated. In the thicket that is streaming services, stumbling upon a hidden gem like Halt invokes the same feeling, I’d imagine, as meeting your significant other on Tinder: you "found 'love' in a hopeless place."