Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

halt and catch fire Archive

Tuesday

6

September 2016

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Halt and Catch Fire and the Art of Adaptation

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Halt and Catch Fire should have been, at least in theory, a Joe McMillan problem. He started off as the show’s unquestionable lead, and now finds himself often competing with John Bosworth for relevance in the main plotline, acting as little more than an occasional thorn in Mutiny’s side. This really shouldn’t work, especially with a talent like Lee Pace, who dominates every scene he’s in whether he’s trying to or not.

But it does.

Halt has mastered the art of the slow burn. It redefines what pacing means to a cable length season, delivering payoffs when they’re ready rather than when the viewer may normally expect them. I’d say it shouldn’t be too surprising that the show struggles to maintain acceptable ratings, except the popularity of Mr. Robot, another show that frequently challenges the viewer to keep up with its narrative, shows that the world might in fact be ready to embrace television that truly pushes the envelope.

Season two’s refocusing on Cameron and Donna could be seen as a way to keep the show fresh. Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé have a natural chemistry, but who would expect the show to commit to it over keeping Pace at the forefront of the narrative? Who would expect the show to keep John Bosworth around as a character after his incarceration in season one? Television is littered with actors who make their marks and move on to other shows.

Halt has the special ability to actually comprehend its own strengths. No one would have been surprised if Toby Huss hadn’t returned. No one would have been surprised if season two hadn’t reunited the Joe, Gordon, and Cameron brain trust. People may have even wanted that. Halt knows that it doesn’t have a weak link in the cast and employs them in a manner that actually serves to benefit the plot.

We saw this immediately into season three, which chose not to put too much focus on its change in location. Instead, it got right down to the plot. I thought about holding off on doing a Halt article until the season ended, as I am with Mr. Robot. The difference between the two is that Mr. Robot’s chaotic approach is integral to the plot. Halt isn’t trying to play mind games with its viewers, but it still manages to redefine the way we think about how television is supposed to work. Most shows outside of CBS’ procedural lineup have three dimensional characters. Halt excels not only in utilizing its entire cast, but also in constantly redefining its characters’ relations to each other.

I don’t know how Zen MacMillian Utility Joe is going to compare to Cardiff Joe or Westgroup Joe. I don’t know how Mutiny is going to function outside of that decrepit frat house. Part of TV’s fundamental appeal is the familiarity it offers. We tune in week after week to see people we know and care about, even though they’re not real. Halt succeeds in its ability to constantly challenge the notion of familiarity. We, the viewer, have no idea what’s going to happen or even who it’s going to happen to. If the past two seasons have taught us anything, it’s that Halt knows how to pull off the payoff. I don’t need to see the rest of the season to say that with confidence.

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Tuesday

5

April 2016

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Halt and Catch Fire Redefines the Second Season Shake-up

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Sophomore slumps are fairly common in television both with good shows and not so good ones. It makes sense if you think about how much more time is fundamentally spent creating a first season than every subsequent one. After all, the first season is the one that determines if a show exists at all. No network would order a show that didn’t at least sound good until season four.

When Halt and Catch Fires second season started off with the main cast splintered off in four different directions, I couldn’t help but feel like this was familiar territory. It’s hardly uncommon for TV shows to separate their casts during finales, only to reunite them a few episodes into the following season. As season two progressed, I realized that bringing back the status quo wasn’t something HaCF particularly cared about. The cast stayed apart and the results were shocking. The show upped the ante and quietly became one of the best on television.

Much like the tech industry itself, HaCF is a show that’s constantly changing as it figures out what it’s supposed to be. Season one was completely powered by the trio of Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, and Mackenzie Davis, with the cast mostly serving as interesting supplementary parts. Three episodes into season two, I found myself wondering why Toby Huss, who portrays former Cardiff executive John Bosworth, was still on the show. It’s not uncommon for characters to linger after they’ve served their purpose, which is how Bosworth usually looked hanging around the Mutiny headquarters. While he wasn’t given much screen time, Huss took every minute he was given and turned his character’s arc into perhaps the most heartfelt story of season two.

HaCF took a big risk in sidelining its lead actor for the majority of the season. Season one was about building the Giant. Season two was about Mutiny and for the most part, Joe McMillan had little to do with it. He didn’t have much to do at all besides clash with his stepfather, played by James Cromwell in a subtle yet powerful performance. As someone who first checked out the show because of Pace’s involvement, I was surprised at how okay I was with his backseat role in the season.

Season two belongs to MacKenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé. Start-ups are chaotic and long hours often lead to short fuses. In Mutiny’s case, the fuses were short with both the characters and their office space, a cramped frat house filled with twenty-something programmers.

While season one had a fairly linear arc, season two was more of a blend. The characters took the front seat and rolled with it, allowing the chaos to heighten the viewer’s experience. HaCF is the perfect binge show because the lines between episodes become blurred to the point where you really don’t want to stop watching when the credits roll. Ten episode seasons make it easier to have almost no filler, a formula that AMC has also used for Better Call Saul.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, HaCF has a significantly smaller following than Saul. Strong critical support gave the show a third season, which could very well be the last if ratings don’t improve. That would be quite a shame as HaCF is one of the most original and entertaining shows on TV. Season two was a masterpiece and even if future seasons take a step back, they’ll still be better than the vast majority of what’s currently on the air.

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Sunday

31

August 2014

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The 2014 Summer TV Season Wrap Up

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A few weeks ago, I found myself in a state of disappointment over the summer TV season, a mentality that dissipated a bit as summer wore on. New shows such as Extant, Satisfaction, Rush, Tyrant, Halt and Catch Fire, The Last Ship, The Strain, Manhattan, You’re the Worst, and Married certainly weren’t bombs, but it’s hard to call any of them must see television either. They join sophomore offerings Ray Donovan, Under the Dome, Defiance, Maron, Graceland, and Hemlock Grove as shows that have niche audiences that don’t really draw the same wider excitement that older summer shows like Six Feet Under, Rescue Me, Entourage, Nip/Tuck used to have. This could be largest offering of ho hum shows in summer TV history.

Which leaves a few standout shows that for the most part existed either on the front or back end of the TV season. Louie and Orange is the New Black were long awaited gems, but they were also done before June was even halfway over. For all that was on in July, Rectify and Masters of Sex were the only universally praised shows airing new episodes. The fact that they air on Saturday and Sunday doesn’t do much to help the lull of must see summer television. Then there are Royal Pains, Falling Skies, Suits, and Covert Affairs, which have devoted fan bases, but aren’t really turning heads with innovation or ratings. True Blood is the sole veteran show to bid farewell and followed in the footsteps of Burn Notice and Dexter in supplying plenty of reasons for why its departure should be celebrated and not mourned.

The new shows mentioned all share in common that they exist in the middle ground between celebrated and irrelevant. The aggregate for the positive say they’re entertaining while the common complaint from the detractors is that they’re meh. Then there’s The Leftovers, which might have a similar Metacritic rating but doesn’t belong with the aforementioned rookies as it was easily the most polarizing show of the summer season. Damon Lindelof’s first show since Lost deserves most of its criticism, but I can’t say that I regret watching the grim yet sporadically satisfying post Rapture drama.

August began to change my opinion of the season as a whole. Outlander and The Knick are exactly what the summer season needed. Both shows are visually stunning, well acted historical dramas that haven’t proved they belong among TV ‘s best yet, but show far more potential than any of the other freshman shows. Garfunkel and Oates is in a similar position, which isn’t a big deal as we tend to forget that many shows don’t hit their stride in their first season anyway. The potential is there and it’s appreciated. It’s also worth noting that as neither have finished their runs, this could change sooner rather than later.

So what to make of the 2014 summer season? There was plenty to watch and if you tried all the new shows, chances are you liked at least one or two. How memorable they’ll be moving forward is another story.

I can’t think of another summer season that saw so many rookie shows wind up in the no man’s land between good and great. The rise of Netflix makes that territory less appealing as there’s no reason to watch something that you aren’t completely into with so many other choices at your disposal. If even just one or two had separated themselves from the pack, we’d be looking at a very strong summer season. Perhaps we still are. But that will vary from person to person when it could’ve been a consensus.

Opinions of the 2014 summer TV season remain largely subjective. But there’s something to be said for all the failed potential. TV’s in need of a few new headlining must see programs and we didn’t really get that this summer. But if you look at what we did get, you see that it could’ve been one for the ages. History could be kinder to it should any of those shows step up their game, but for now it was a puzzling year marred by odd scheduling and missed opportunities.

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