TV

The Rundown: The Case For Making ‘Halt And Catch Fire’ Your Next Binge

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Listen to me

Are you looking for a show to watch? Maybe a nice show, with drama and heartwarming stories and real emotions in every direction. A show you can dive all the way into and immerse yourself in? A show that aired its finale just a few years ago and has a terrific ending and aired for a reasonable number of seasons, in the neighborhood of four, total? I bet you are, even if you don’t realize it. And I have good news. There is a show like that. It’s called Halt and Catch Fire and it’s on Netflix.

You’re probably at least aware of Halt and Catch Fire. It was one of those shows that lots of people who are paid to write about television yelled at you to watch. I was one of those people. I still am one of those people, apparently. I will not apologize for this. It’s a very good show. And I don’t mean that like I mean “Zoo is a very good show.” I do mean that, always, and it’s on Netflix too if you’re looking for something completely nuts in which a team of scientists heaves a car into a volcano to save the world. But I mean this for real. Halt and Catch Fire is a beautiful show that not many people watched. You can remedy that. Now. It’s so easy.

The basics of the show go like this: It’s the 1980s. Computers are becoming a thing. The internet is about to become a thing. Our four main characters — Joe (Lee Pace), Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), Gordon (Scoot McNairy), and Donna (Kerry Bishé) — are all involved in the industry. They are entrepreneurs and coders and builders and some of them are dating or married to each other. The first season focuses a lot on Joe and his Mad Men-style Difficult But Brilliant Business Guy escapades. It’s fine. Not great, not terrible, but fine. If you’re an impatient person, you can even just read the basics of the plot on Wikipedia. I wouldn’t, but you can, if it’ll get you to watch the rest. Don’t tell anyone I told you that.

Where the show really gets special is its second season. That’s where it shifts focus a little bit, spending less time with Joe and more time with Cameron and Donna as they get a new video game company off the ground. It’s like the show realized between seasons that Mad Men’s secret wasn’t being a period drama about a jerk as much as it was telling stories about interesting people’s lives. From this point on it tracks successes and failures, both professional and personal, and lets you start to know the characters in a way that few shows do. There are straight-up conversations on this show that are more riveting than full-on action sequences in others. Words pack punches like bullets. It’s great.

It’s even better in its fourth and final season, one of the honest-to-goodness best final seasons I’ve ever seen. You are going to feel things, man. Lots of things, good and bad and warm and a little heartbreaking. Please do not let that dissuade you. It’s not a stressful watch. It won’t bum you out. You might cry a little here and there (I’m a crier; I cried), but only because you’re so invested. You’re on this ride with them. You will become so attached to Scoot McNairy’s character, even as he does a collection of stupid things. This may or may not become an issue. And just when you think things are getting a little intense, just when the emotions are getting too real, blammo, surprise flailsplash.

AMC

I probably should not have shown you that. It’s such a good moment. I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. If it helps, I will not give you any of the context or tell you when it happens. The context makes it so much better. Dumb physical comedy in sitcoms is funny. Dumb physical comedy that smashes through a heavy emotional moment will leave you gasping, just because it came out of nowhere. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed harder. As hard? Sure. But not harder.

And again, it’s sitting right there on Netflix. All of it. You can get started right now, or at least once you finish reading the rest of this column. Just do it. Stop scrolling through shows and movies like a zombie. Click on it. Do the Wikipedia thing if it makes you feel better. Enjoy things. Feel things. Treat yourself. Make up for your past mistakes. Watch Halt and Catch Fire. It is so good.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — What a terrific week for completely insane announcements

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I don’t know what it is, exactly. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe it was coordinated in a way to please me, personally. Maybe it’s because everything is weird right now. Whatever the reason, or lack thereof, this week was packed full of powerfully weird announcements about upcoming television and film projects. The Blacklist is going to be partially animated now. Kevin James is playing a Neo-Nazi who tortures Joel McHale and is apparently thwarted by a flamethrower-wielding teenage girl. And neither of those stories cracked the top three weirdest stories of the week, which I will now rank.

3. Gary Busey is set to star in a judge show titled Pet Justice:

The series stars Judge Gary Busey as he presides over the fates of litigant pet owners. Each half-hour show presents two cases with a veritable menagerie of animals including monkeys, goats, birds, dogs, meerkats, turtles, robot raccoons, and more. Is Gary Busey a real judge? Absolutely not. Does he know anything about pet law? Probably not. Can he look into your soul and suss out your spirit animal while delivering a verdict with a trademark Buseyism? You bet your sweet ass (the donkey kind).

Will I watch this show? Of course. At least a little. My curious nature will not allow me to skip it completely. I hope goes mad with power and tries to sentence a parrot to death by the electric chair.

2. Tom Cruise and Elon Musk are making a movie in outer space:

Tom Cruise and Elon Musk’s Space X are working on a project with NASA that would be the first narrative feature film – an action adventure – to be shot in outer space. It’s not a Mission: Impossible film and no studio is in the mix at this stage but look for more news as I get it. But this is real, albeit in the early stages of liftoff.

People did not make as big a deal out of this as I expected, partially because Elon Musk made bigger news this week and partially because, I mean, I guess it was always coming to this in a way. It was either going to be “Tom Cruise and Elon Musk make a movie in outer space” or “Tom Cruise and James Cameron make a movie at the bottom of the ocean.” But still, think about this: Deadline posted the story as an “I hear this” scoop and it was confirmed by NASA. And this is still only number two. Because…

1. Cage.

Nicolas Cage is set to star in a scripted series centered on Joe Exotic, the subject of the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King,” Variety has learned exclusively.

The eight-episode series is being produced by Imagine Television Studios and CBS Television Studios. It will be taken to market in the coming days. It is based on the Texas Monthly article “Joe Exotic: A Dark Journey Into the World of a Man Gone Wild,” by Leif Reigstad.

This is one of those things where it’s almost too perfect to be fake, let alone too perfect to be real. Like, if I had called you up and said “Nicolas Cage will play Joe Exotic in a drama based on the article that inspired Tiger King,” you would have told me to get lost. You would have been justified in doing so. And then there’s the thing where the actual real-life story in Tiger King reads like the plot of a straight-to-VOD Nicolas Cage movie. It’s all incredible. We did it. Look at us.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Betty rules

Do you guys know what’s shaping up to be a very fun/chill television show? I’ll tell you. Betty is shaping up to be a very fun/chill television show. This is admittedly more of a co-sign than a breaking development, as Uproxx’s Kimberly Ricci already told you it was good and interviewed some of the stars, who are much cooler than I ever will be. It’s still worth noting here, if only because I’m not allowed to go out and tell people on the street. Let’s note it again: Betty whoops ass.

The show follows a group of female teen skateboarders as they make their way through a sweaty New York summer. It’s funny and relaxed and poignant and entirely its own thing. The premiere aired last week. The only things that happened were, one, someone got their backpack stolen, and two, some people smoked weed in a van. It was still completely captivating. A big reason for that is Kirt, one of the skateboarders, who is kind of like — I am admittedly stealing this from Variety’s Caroline Framke — if The Dude from The Big Lebowski were a teenage girl. She’s the best.

HBO
HBO

My only complaint about Betty is that it’s a little painful watching people be outside together on beautiful summer days right now, eating ice cream cones and slugging iced tea from the jug. Maybe I’ll just live vicariously through them.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Get him, Axl

As I’ve stated a number of times before, this is a politics-free zone. Very rare exceptions will be made very rarely, though. One of those was when Danny Trejo appeared on the official Twitter account for the Governor of California to tell people to stay inside during a pandemic. Another one is Guns N Roses lead singer Axl Rose getting into a Twitter feud with the sitting Treasury Secretary. Which happened. This week. Look.

The interesting thing about this is… well, everything. But especially this thing, via Variety

According to screen shots posted by White House correspondent Philip Crowther and other eagle-eyed Twitter followers, the treasury secretary’s first tweet included an emblem for the flag of Liberia, not the United States. (Although they look similar in miniature, the Liberian flag has one star where the American has, of course, 50.)

… which led to this.

Just an incredible situation all-around. One I can’t improve on in any substantial way. So I won’t even try. Instead, I’ll just leave you with these three notes:

— My favorite part of the video for “November Rain” — my favorite part of any music video, really — comes just before the seven-minute mark, when the rain starts and wedding guests flee for cover and one madman dives over a table and straight through the wedding cake. Please do picture yourself at a real wedding where this happens. Picture how mad everyone is. Because not only did he ruin the fancy cake, but now no one gets cake. A disaster in every way.

Youtube

— This is as good an excuse as any to link to John Jeremiah Sullivan’s fantastic GQ story about Axl Rose, so let’s do that.

— Speaking of things Axl Rose has tweeted…

This was a good section. I take very little credit for that, but it’s true. The real heroes here are Axl Rose, Taco Bell, and the maniac who dove through that cake.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — It remains the position of this column that the best interview subjects are aging celebrities who no longer have any interest in sugar-coating things, which brings us to Judi Dench

Universal Pictures

To be clear, I am cherry-picking here. The source this quote comes from is a lovely profile of Dame Judi Dench that appeared in Vogue UK. You should read the whole thing. Judi is charming and profane and seems like a great time at a party. But cherry-picking is fun. And it can get you important paragraphs like this one, in which Dame Judi Dench describes her outfit in Cats using just about the most colorful imagery you can imagine.

“The cloak I was made to wear!” she cries. “Like five foxes f**king on my back.” Filmed in green screen, and with her eyesight impaired, Dench has yet to see the film in full but was far from pleased at how her Old Deuteronomy turned out looking in the pictures she’s seen. She’d hoped she would look rather elegant. Instead: “A battered, mangy old cat,” she says, appalled. “A great big orange bruiser. What’s that about?” I reassure her that irony-loving younger audiences can’t get enough of it, and she nods. “I had a very nice email… no, not an email.” A text? “Yes, a text, from Ben Whishaw [the actor], who just doted on it. So sweet. So lovely.”

Everything about this is great. Please, everyone, gets microphones in front of aging celebrities who no longer give a crap about pulling punches. No more bland, publicist-approved interviews with hot young stars. Fewer of them, at least. And more of these. Let’s shoot for a 1:1 ratio from now on.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Amanda:

You’ve been writing a lot about the … interesting behavior of celebrities in quarantine. This got me wondering — is there any celebrity you would like to see do a video in character as someone they’ve played in the past? I ask because my husband once mentioned how much he would love for Hank Azaria to release videos where he calls old baseball games as Jim Brockmire. Once he mentioned it, I wanted it so badly, I became actively angry that these videos didn’t exist.

The only other similar video I wish for is a PSA in which Danny McBride, in character as Kenny Powers, admonished South Carolina residents to “stay f—in’ in!”

What is your dream in-character video?

Oh man. Oh, this is tough. This is almost unfair. Dammit, Amanda. How dare you ask such a good question.

I think…

I think I have two answers. The first answer is Roger Sterling from Mad Men. I would like to see how he deals with a quarantine, both in the 1960s setting of the show and if we transported him to present-day. I have this image in my head of him chain-smoking on a fancy couch, wearing a crisp suit, and guzzling gin. Somehow, his hair is still perfect. As are his one-liners. I really miss Mad Men.

The second is Coach Steve from Big Mouth. On his diaper barge. Trying to figure out how to use a webcam.

I’m sure I’m missing a few. I almost said Lalo Salamanca from Better Call Saul but I realized he’s not as fun if he’s not interacting with people and being his charming/terrifying self. But this feels like a solid start.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Sacramento!

The Modesto CHP arrested [a man] after he allegedly jumped on a moving tanker truck carrying bulk red wine, climbed under its belly to unscrew a valve, and drank the wine as the truck traveled up Highway 99.

Easily the best sentence I’ve ever read. Probably the best I’ll ever read. Definitely better than anything I have written or will ever write. It’s both thrilling and depressing, in a number of ways. I’m so happy for everyone involved.

I don’t see how this can get any better.

The truck driver pulls over, believing he may have a mechanical problem, only to see [the man] get out with only his underwear on. The camera shows [him] running to the passenger side of the truck and out of view.

Ahhhh. Of course. I apologize. This is my fault. I definitely should have seen “with only his underwear on” coming. I promise to do better going forward.

The truck driver allegedly found [him] in an unusual position. [He] had unscrewed a valve underneath the truck, as it was traveling north on Highway 99.

That sent the tanker’s wine gushing, and [the man] gulping as much as he could.

Listen, we’re all a little fried right now. Sometimes things bubble over. I feel like any lawyer worth his cufflinks could get these charges dropped. I’m not even sure this is a crime, to be honest. A reasonable argument could be made that, just from the athletic spectacle of it all, this a sport. NASCAR started out with bootleggers fleeing cops through dusty Southern roads and now it’s a billion-dollar industry. How is that any different than this? The man is not a criminal. He’s an innovator, a groundbreaking pioneer.

I rest my case.

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