I was incredibly stoked last year around this time for the series premiere of Halt & Catch Fire: It had a great cast — Lee Pace, Kerry Bishe from Scrubs 2.0 (and the outstanding Turkey Bowl), and the next “It” star in Mackenzie Davis — a great premise (exploring the origins of the PC industry), and acclaimed director Juan J. Campanella directing the pilot.
That pilot was great, too. In fact, after it aired, I thought Halt & Catch Fire had a chance to be the best AMC series since The Walking Dead debuted. Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan was cut from the same cloth as Don Draper, and character actor Toby Huss deliciously chewed the scenery off the wood-paneled walls of every scene he was in…
… and then the second episode arrived, and the third, and the promise of Halt & Catch Fire quickly evaporated. By the end of the first season, I had nothing but resentment and bitterness for the series. It was as though the entire season was hastily put together on the fly, and first time creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers and showrunner Jonathan Lisco seemed way out of their depth: Subplots drifted into oblivion, the tone of the series changed on a dime, the writing was clunky, and the series couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be a serious drama or a campy one. It all culminated in literally the worst television scene of 2014, a scene you can’t watch without cringing in embarrassment for the actors.
I assumed that its cancellation was a given, especially given ratings miserable enough to put it on track for the lowest-rated drama on AMC since Mad Men debuted.
Instead, AMC picked it up for a second season, for the same reason I think NBC tried to salvage their sitcom Up All Night: They had a great cast, a solid premise, and they didn’t want to fritter away the potential of the series.
Halt & Catch Fire debuts its second season on Sunday, and despite all the ill will I had for the first season, I find myself strangely excited about the second season. It’s getting a reboot, and the focus is turning toward the stronger female characters — Kerry Bishe and Mackenzie Davis — and the promos, I admit, have been enticing as hell.
Fortunately, it also appears that the decision to reboot the series was a good one, as early reviews suggest that it may have found its potential. The second season picks up a year after the events of the first, and we see Donna (Bishe) and Cameron (Davis) struggling to grow their own company. Instead of the PC industry, they’re pivoting to gaming, as their start-up, Mutiny, attempts to create something new and original in the field (rather than simply copying the success of PCs through reverse engineering, as Joe and Gordon had attempted to do last season). Meanwhile, Gordon is working the stay-at-home angle and struggling with a coke problem, while Pace’s Joe has been sidelined, initially. Eventually, however, Joe and Gordon are reunited with Huss’s John, and those three also attempt to create something new and exciting.
Reviews suggest a tighter focus, quicker pace, and more structured storylines in the second season. Deadline says that Season 2 “has a lot more bandwidth and ram.” Grantland says “this new Halt is better, exponentially so.” Alan Sepinwall notes that Season 2 “upgrades in a big way,” while Slate suggests it’s a “different, better show.” Thus far, Season 2 of Halt & Catch Fire is getting nothing but high praise.
Maybe it won’t last. Maybe Halt 2.0 will come crashing out of gates and get mired in bad melodrama midway through the second season, but I remain hopeful. It’s a show that I really wanted to succeed last year. The ingredients were there. Hopefully, in this second season, they figure out how to better combine them into a much, much better recipe.