1. Was the first season of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire worth watching?
God no! It was terrible. It was worse than a trainwreck, it was like watching that little kid on Dexter fall off the treadmill over and over and over, only it wasn’t funny.
2. Was there anything redeeming about it?
Oh sure. The pilot was good. Somehow, they’d talked Juan José Campanella into directing the first couple of episodes, and he was able to hide some of the bad writing, but bad writing always comes out in the end, doesn’t’ it? Campanella returned to direct the finale, but by then, there was just too much to hide.
3. What about Lee Pace? We love him. How was he?
Terrible. Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet? Because Pace’s character in Halt and Catch Fire was just as over-the-top as his character in Guardians. The only difference is, that was a comic book movie. This is a drama grounded in reality. Pace’s character made huge, grand pronouncements that were completely empty, and he spent much of the series throwing himself sexually at women and men, and none of his sexual relationships really added anything to the show. That sweet, charming and affable guy we know and love from Pushing Daisies was completely absent here. Pace’s character was like Lloyd Dobler trying to act like Don Draper. It was not only a poorly written character, it was a badly miscast one.
4. What about the rest of the cast? How were they?
It’s really hard to say how good they are as actors because they had such terrible material with which to work. I thought Kerry Bishe (Scrubs 2.0, Turkey Bowl) was good, though she was aged up a little beyond believability. In theory, I like Scoot McNairy, but he was essentially one-dimensional. He had one characteristic, and that was “whiny.” I wanted to like Mackenzie Davis, but she was really kind of terrible, and not entirely because of the bad writing.
5. Toby Huss, though, right? At least give us that.
Yes, Toby Huss was legitimately good! He was the only guy who could really transcend the terrible writing. Unfortunately, he kind of disappeared for the last two episodes, which was really strange. He was such a central figure for the first eight episodes that his absence in the final two almost felt like he was written out not for story reasons, but maybe because Huss was like, “This is a sinking ship, and I’m getting the hell out of here.”
6. Can you pinpoint exactly what went wrong?
Everything, really. I don’t mean that in a hyperbolic way. It’s not just that the writing was bad on an individual episode level, it’s that there was no real cohesive arc. It almost felt as though the writers of the individual episodes didn’t share information with each other. Thematically, it was inconsistent. The relationships between the characters didn’t really support the story, and vice versa. I’m sure Christopher Cantwell is a really nice guy, but I think he was in over his head. I don’t think he had enough experience to be running a show.
Plus, go back and look at this scene. I called it the worst TV scene of 2014. I’m sticking with that.
7. James Poniewozik over on Time argues that Halt and Catch Fire mattered. Do you have an opinion?
Yes. James Poniewozik is wrong.
8. Oh, OK.
I like his overall point, that we should appreciate a show that’s about creation instead of destruction. I just didn’t find this to be a very good show about creation. And it began with a difficult premise to pull off: These guys from a nothing company were trying to compete with IBM and Apple in the PC market, but the company was fictional, and if it had succeeded, it would have had to rewrite history, in a way, and it would’ve felt weird accepting that.
9. So, what happened? Did they build a competitive computer?
No, and that made the entire series all the more frustrating, because I thought maybe in the end, they’d pull something out of their hat and at least give us a satisfying send-off. But in the finale, they created an IBM-clone that all the characters were ultimately disappointed in. In fact, Joe — the character played by Lee Pace — was so disappointed that he torched a shipment of the computers and skipped town. They sold their souls not for a brave, go-for-broke product, but a shitty knock-off.
In fact, the finale — besides being ultimately disappointing — spent too much time trying to set up a new set of problems to explore next season. Joe left. Cameron started a new company that Donna decided to join, and Gordon was basically left holding the bag of utter disappointment. It felt like the writers didn’t really want to deal with the problems of the first season, so they just moved on to the next season.
10. Will there be a next season?
I very seriously doubt it. The ratings were terrible, and the finale ended lower than Low Winter Sun. Unless he’s contractually obligated to do so, I also wouldn’t expect that Lee Pace would even want to come back. The 500,000 people who did see the finale probably did so for the same reason as I did: Because we stuck with it that long, so we may as well finish. I doubt more than 20 percent of us would stick around for another season. I mean, even Lee Pace stalkers are like, “I may be insane, but I’m not that insane.”