My wife got me temporarily hooked on Mad Men. I say "temporarily" because I'm giving up on Don Draper. His wife gave up on him years ago, and I was never as attracted to him as his wife was. Anyway, while watching Mad Men, I caught ads for the new show Halt and Catch Fire, a fictional drama about a computer startup in the early 1980s in Dallas. I didn't get deeply involved with computers until 1985, but I remember those times pretty well. So I was intrigued.
I'm no longer intrigued. The first episode is your typical American television Hollywood crap. Frankly, the show made me angry.
One thing that makes me angry is the absurd Hollywood characterization of the Texas tycoons. I'm pretty sure they have a database that they pull these clichés from, since it's clear no human being with talent got anywhere near this writing. I'm talking about the guy who walks into the eighty-second floor penthouse in his cowboy boots, scratches his crotch, spits on the Persian rug, then yells "Shit, son, if you fuck this up, they ain't never gonna find your body!" And it's not just the characterization of the Texans. The show is one big derivative cliché.
And what's really disappointing is, it doesn't represent the drama and excitement of the computer world at that time well at all. To do this would require a lot more restraint than anybody in Hollywood has ever had. You'd need a writer who's male (because this is a masculine story, in good part) and really smart, and ideally, one who's also a serious fan of Jane Austen. Why the need for restraint? Because the drama here is so cerebral. Halt and Catch Fire gives us the superficial pseudo-drama of people yelling and cursing and throwing the furniture and having room-wrecking sex with perfect strangers: the high-fructose corn syrup sweeteners used in American television's junk-food dramas. But the real drama of that time was largely intellectual. You want to read a good story, really well told, about that era, read Tracy Kidder's classic, The Soul of a New Machine.
I agree with the review of Halt and Catch Fire on Rolling Stone's site today.
'Halt and Catch Fire' Recap: Abort, Retry, Fail?
Except I think the Rolling Stone reviewer is too kind.
William Porter is Rucksack's owner and principal. He's been writing on a range of tech subjects for three decades. Yikes!