Movies & Television

On Fire in The Valley: Why Halt and Catch Fire, Is the Strongest of the Nerd Shows

Editor’s note: This post was written by Ohad Mark Stoller of Fueled, the premier agency for iPhone app design and Android app development in New York City.

Taking iPhone-glued Millennials back three decades, ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ is AMC’s response to the recent TV tech craze.  The period drama features three driven characters, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) at Cardiff Electric, a tech startup in the early 80’s racing against IBM to engineer the first portable PC.

With plenty of music to draw from, beautiful cinematography, strong acting, and ample sex, the show gives HBO’s hit-comedy Silicon Valley a run for its money. But, we at Fueled wanted to take a closer look – will  it hold up in terms of social realism and substance?

While Silicon Valley is set in the well-known California tech hub, Halt and Catch Fire takes place in ‘Silicon Prairie,’ the lesser known Texas tech hub surrounding Dallas.  The show focuses on the interrelationships between the characters, and the intense drama that comes from competition. According to Co-Creator Christopher Cantwell, “This is the story you don’t know. People in Texas were basically drafting of off the innovations happening in Silicon Valley and in New York. This is sort of an unexplored avenue of the tech story that we’ve all become very interested in through the lens of the Steve Jobs’s and Bill Gates’ of the world. These are sort of the unsung heroes, that made sure that every computer on the desk wasn’t an IBM PC.” Furthermore, Cantwell’s personal experience in an edgy young tech startup gives the show realism as opposed to Silicon Valley’s more clichéd spiel.

The title itself, taken from an allegorical self-destruct code, has just the sort of jargon that gives the show that geeky edge, and a metaphor that can carry meaning as the series develops. Unlike Silicon Valley, a half-hour satire spawned by Office Space creator, Mike Judge, Halt and Catch Fire ignites the intrigue and fierce drama behind what many believed would be a purely technical and geeky story.

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While Silicon Valley (perhaps unintentionally) reflects our current brogramming age, one devoid of encouragement or incentives for brainy females, Halt and Catch Fire features Mackenzie Davis as a sexy, confident programmer named Cameron who takes risks and knows what she wants. She also can be a little chaotic at times, which makes her an even more interesting and complex character.

Silicon Valley, focuses simply on how a group of nerdy guys (the brogrammers) try and make it big in the industry.  Instead of exploring tech, the show lampoons it, and those who work within the industry.  In fairness this can often be quite funny, but not exploring the industry feels like a missed opportunity.

Having just recently finished its first season, Halt and Catch Fire promises to eclipse the other tech shows through sheer grit and period accuracy, complete with the obligatory Corvette, music by the likes of The Cars, and arcade malls.

The acting on Halt and Catch Fire is top-notch. In one scene, business visionary Joe ignites his technical partner, Gordon who blows up. Joe matches his aggression, exclaiming. “GOOD! Get Angry! Feel something. Because that’s the only way we’ll get what we want.

This is what Halt and Catch Fire gets right as opposed to Silicon Valley.  Halt and Catch Fire is intoxicating in ways that no one thought a show about computer programmers could be.  Despite some of Silicon Valley’s funniest moments (Peter Gregory’s sesame seeds) it feels like the easy path to take.  Halt and Catch Fire came out of seemingly nowhere, but despite this we are glad we watched, and are already itching for next season.

Have you seen both TV shows? Do you agree with our opinions? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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