The dog days of summer are a great time to catch up on TV shows you once thought you might like to watch, then completely forgot about. Halt and Catch Fire is that kind of show, with positive critical and viewer support, sluggish air ratings, but strong delayed-viewing numbers. It’s returning for season 3 on August 23 and seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix now.
This beloved sleeper series about the personal computing revolution is making a big move in season 3, relocating its team of scrappy start-up programmers from Dallas to California. AMC’s press release says the show will pick up in March 1986 as, “Mutiny leaves Texas for the big leagues of Silicon Valley. Founders Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé) search for the idea that will launch Mutiny as a player, but new collaborators test their partnership. Gordon (Scoot McNairy) struggles to find a place within his wife’s company as Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) builds upon his empire, reinventing himself with a bold play that shocks the Valley and sends him back into the lives of his old partners. In addition to Pace, McNairy, Bishé, Davis and Toby Huss as John Bosworth, the third season features Annabeth Gish as Diane Gould, a seasoned Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray, a talented and ambitious programmer, in recurring roles.”
Halt and Catch Fire – the name is a tongue in cheek reference to a computer operating system shutdown command, “HCF”, on the show – nearly got caught in the crossfire of AMC’s success. It premiered in 2014 just as Breaking Bad ended, The Walking Dead was on the rise, and Mad Men was drawing to a close. The series debuted with a soft thud and a shrug of the shoulders, it was ok. Nothing more.
Rather than cancel it AMC gave the creators a chance to retool for season 2 which it launched like a rocket. Critics took notice of the smart scripting, twisty gender dynamics portraying an era when girls had never been told they couldn’t work, and spot-on 80s nostalgia. Here was a show that hearkened back to a time most of us remember well, but have little knowledge of this particular part of the development of the industry that now so consumes us. If only we could have seen then what we know now. Just watch this clip from season 2 talking about gaming on cartridges and analog phone lines.
There are tropes here; stereotypes of programmers, especially famous ones, that we’ve seen in every celebratory tech biopic or drama. But the writers have also created something new. Simply starting the series in Texas, land of dreams built in wide open spaces and on hard work, made it fresh. But they also step back and let the characters bring their own driven energy to the story. These are the brilliant everyman (everymen?) who came and went in droves through the rise of the tech era, scrapping at the same pile of money.
Season 3 is going to go after that money. Showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rodgers said, ““If season 1 was a tale of the corporate boardroom and season 2 chronicled a start-up, season 3 is about the perils of a promising young company striving to join the ranks of the winners whose names still define the competitive landscape of Silicon Valley. Whereas Mutiny was once a rag-tag group of young coders full of limitless potential, the company now finds itself squarely in its adolescence, striving for corporate adulthood in a strange land where its future is far from guaranteed.”
Season 3 will premiere on August 24 with back-to-back episodes.