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AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire not to be taken literally

- June 1st, 2014

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Usually you don’t want to hear the term “catch fire” when talking about computers. They actually used to do that with more frequency than they do now.

But in this case the smoke isn’t coming from a frayed wire, but rather from the new series Halt and Catch Fire, which debuts Sunday, June 1 on AMC.

In the modern world where computers seem to be magic, it’s easy for us to forget that they actually are made of physical things that had to be invented and designed and manufactured by human beings. Halt and Catch Fire is a fictional drama set in the early 1980s, approximately one year after IBM has all but cornered the fledgling personal-computer market with the release of the IBM PC. But inadvertently, IBM has left open a technological crack that theoretically might allow other bold entrepreneurs into the increasingly lucrative game.

A young and outwardly slick former IBM executive named Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace, pictured above right) has an ambitious plan to reverse-engineer the IBM PC. He not only wants to create a better product, but also force his current company, the Texas-based Cardiff Electric, into the personal-computer race.

MacMillan enlists the help of Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy, above left), a beaten-down but once-great engineer who still has deeply buried dreams of creating a revolutionary product, and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis, above centre), a smart-ass student prodigy who puts her future in jeopardy to join this rogue PC project.

Of course, they’re all putting their futures in jeopardy, since it’s open to interpretation how legal or moral any of this is.

The first episode of Halt and Catch Fire didn’t really catch fire for me. It’s a David-versus-Goliath tale, but at first blush the three “Davids” aren’t particularly likeable. I was kind of cheering for IBM through some of it, which I can’t imagine is the goal.

By the way, the title Halt and Catch Fire does not refer to actual flame, but rather to a machine code instruction that could cause a computer’s central processing unit to cease functioning.

But hey, either literally or figuratively, we’ve all been burned by computers at one time or another, am I right?

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

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1 comment

  1. Kevin | June 3, 2014 at 10:29 am

    The show would have been better, if the lighting was not so poor. Not being able to see the characters facial expressions, was a distraction.

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