“Halt and Catch Fire” has a lot going for it.
The series has a teasingly intriguing premise (the early days of the computer revolution in the ’80s) and it’s set in a place most in the viewing audience might not expect (Texas). It also features some smart performances and a sense that the story could go in surprising places.
Yet, judging from the pilot (which is all AMC made available for review), it’s also afflicted with a bad case of heavy hands. The first time we see former IBM exec Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a swaggering Don Draper-meets-Steve Jobs New Yorker who believes computers are the key to unlocking the future, he’s speeding around a shockingly traffic-free Austin in a Porsche, callously running over a slow-moving armadillo in the process.
Later, while playing with a baseball bat, viewers see that it’s inscribed with the words “swing for the fences, son.”
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Thankfully, there are other elements that feel less contrived. MacMillan has left IBM under mysterious circumstances and turns up in Dallas, selling himself to a small software firm as the man who can take the company to the next level. To the tough Texan in charge (an excellent Toby Huss), it sounds like money and hires him on the spot, reference checks be damned.
Gordon Clark (the always reliable Scoot McNairy) is a mild-mannered engineer at the company who, before flaming out, had once been a pioneer, designing a computer that was ahead of its time. MacMillan schemes with Clark for a secret project that he hopes will outfox what his old corporate friends at Big Blue — who’ve just released the first personal computer — are doing. Along with a rebellious student (Mackenzie Davis) MacMillan hires, it’s just them against the world — or at least IBM.
Where things go from here — when their private lives, like Clark’s tense domesticity with his wife, will no doubt complicate things — should make for a watchable journey. If only those armadillos could get out of the way.