Series premiere review: ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ – ‘I/O’

Some thoughts on the first episode of AMC's “Halt and Catch Fire” coming up just as soon as I blow dry my hair some more…

AMC elected to only send this first episode out to critics for review, a rare thing in an era when we tend to get at least two episodes of any new cable series, and often quite a bit more than that. Sometimes, I need only one episode to figure a show out (AMC sent out three “Mad Men”s initially, as I recall, but I could have easily written a review just off of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”) but others require more (even back in the VHS days, HBO wisely sent out the first four “Wire”s so we could get used to its rhythms). This definitely feels like the latter; even though I found parts of “I/O” compelling, it left me with no strong opinion of the series as a whole, nor a sense of how it will function week to week.

Or maybe I'm waiting for “Halt” to take on its own identity, rather than feeling like a show reverse-engineered from other cable dramas (many of them on this channel) as much as Joe and Gordon's big project starts with them identifying IBM's BIOS chip and working backwards.

So we have Joe, the slick master of the universe with a mysterious past and a tendency to pursue his own agenda against his employers' wishes, much like the handsome man in the suit who was occupying this timeslot last week. And we have Gordon, the quiet genius who can't let go of the memory of past failures, nor of the desire to be something more than a working stiff with a family he loves, giving him more than a little in common with the man who would be Heisenberg. Cameron, the third member of their merry band, is borrowing from multiple sources (including Mary Stuart Masterson's haircut from “Some Kind of Wonderful” later in the '80s), but the idea of the genius having to work alongside an undisciplined wild card also feels fairly familiar for AMC.

Now, because Joe and Gordon are played by Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy, two actors with very distinct energies, they transcend the archetype to a degree. And it may well be that the notion of introducing us to such classic AMC figures early on isn't the whole purpose of “Halt and Catch Fire,” but – like Joe's plans for their PC clone – the thing that gets us to the thing, whatever it turns out to be.

And maybe when I have a better sense of what that other thing is (or if it exists), I'll come back with a more exhaustive review of the show. It wasn't dull, for sure, especially compared to some of AMC's other recent debuts like “Turn” and “Low Winter Sun,” so I'm in for a while.

What did everybody else think?