Halt and Catch Fire: The Other Great Tech Start Up Show
Written By Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
First a little backstory on the current state of AMC's viewership, if you just want to get to the show skip down past the second image.
Ever since the trio of excellent dramas AMC gathered together (Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead) there has been a kind of drop off in interest in just about anything that wasn't those shows. To give you an idea here is a chart with the various shows ratings this past year.
Aside from "Into the Badlands" all of AMC's new shows not counting Better Call Saul and Fear The Walking Dead which are just spin offs of two of the big three, having ratings well under those big three in their final seasons. Any show, especially ones with consistent hits on the network, can have inflated first season numbers and even they can't touch the big three. However thanks to their deal with Netflix providing the previous season for streaming usually about a month or so before the next season, it has allowed people not familiar with a show to catch up and join in and works to AMC's advantage. Breaking Bad continually saw higher numbers every year (131% compared to the previous year) as did The Walking Dead until it reached outrageous ratings and has finally plateaued. But as you can see even the cancelled Low Winter Sun had higher ratings than much of the shows that are on now. After their massive hits, this was one of their first out of the gate and 4 shows have had worse ratings and are still around. I believe its a combination of things that have lead to this. There is very little advertising for those shows. They don't have the catchiest names, they have bad time slots (although that matters a lot less now with DVRs) and they just don't have the same word of mouth as the other more popular shows and after Low Winter Sun, which garnered poor reviews they realized as other shows got similar viewers that they just weren't going to get those huge numbers any more.
At the very bottom is Halt and Catch Fire, one of their best shows, something that Breaking Bad was able to overcome over the seasons but not so with this show. Aside from giving hurting shows a lead in with Walking Dead there doesn't seem to be much room for improvement with their shows and Netflix is about their only chance to get people to go in a binge a season in hope they come in and watch when it comes back on the air. Is there a cure for their slumping views? I honestly don't know, but until they start to really push their new shows AMC is going to have to go back to being a movie channel, filling up time slots with classic movies on top of it's fear fest and western weekends.
Halt and Catch Fire is the dramatic equivalent to Silicon Valley that premiered on HBO in the same year and has stayed at a consistent 1.7 million view average across three seasons while Halt has dropped from 0.75 to 0.53 and now 0.33 million. Why? Poor marketing, and a vastly worst time slot. While the show's ratings may have dropped the quality of entertainment has steadily risen across the three seasons, and hopefully the fourth season will be no exception. The quartet of Joe, Gordon, Cameron and Donna has consistently evolved and changed in unexpected and satisfying ways. It showcases the ruthless and fast paced forward thinking nature of business in computer age and how establishing yourself as a company isn't enough anymore. If you don't innovate you become obsolete. It's a fantastic premise for the show that keeps everyone on their toes looking for the next big thing. The drive to be first compared to the drive to get it right and finding the balance between the two is ever present and always intriguing. This show also tests friendships and relationships with the brutality of running a business across many years and rewards viewers with the consequences of that.
The acting is superb, everyone brings their A game, especially Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan. You watch them all learn to grow together into more complete human beings who actually learn and change as the years go on. There aren't really any bad guys in the show, which works to it's advantage. The only real threat is time. It affects everyone and creates that dramatic atmosphere that makes the show run and everyone becomes an adversary in the face of time.
The music and cinematography are excellent, embracing the somewhat hazy green tinged look that is more akin to the 70s than the 90s but still fits while also sporting a title sequence and theme song that so perfectly fits the tone of the show that it sucks you into the world every time.
The direction and writing are just so good for a show like this. You never really know what is going to happen, or how things will change but you can count on the characters to make mistakes by being themselves but then changing their ways when they see its wrong and that is always nice to see. Formula is not in this show's MO, it is one steady stream of innovation and character change that made shows like Breaking Bad so great.
While it is no Breaking Bad in terms of scale and more exaggerated circumstances it is damn good drama that gets better as the show goes along, Season 2 being where the show really starts to fly at full speed. Catch up on Netflix or AMC if you can, I promise you won't be disappointed.