Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Halt and catch your breath

I’m grateful for shows that keep me engaged. For series that don’t overstay their welcome. For programs that leave me wanting more and allow me to fill in the rest of the story with my own imagination, even if it’s limited to vague musings.

Image derived from promotional content.
©Halt and Catch Fire ©2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC.
"Halt and Catch Fire" intrigued me from the get-go. When I started watching it, I thought it was just going to be a fictionalized version of the story of Compaq. As the series progressed, it seemed to encapsulate several different events from tech history from battling online services like AOL and CompuServe to fledgling ISPs and nascent search engines.

Something that I especially liked about the structure of the show was that the journeys taken by Joe, Gordon, Donna, Cameron and Bos weren’t depicted in some parallel television universe where Cardiff Electric was merely a stand-in for a company in the real world—an obvious knock-off of an actual company stopping just short of infringing on trademarks—think “International Parcel Service” from “King of Queens” or “TGS” from “30 Rock”, “brand-alikes” that intentionally bring to mind their real-world counterparts, UPS and SNL. Instead, the ventures, brands and companies mentioned throughout the series—“Symphonic,” “Giant,” “Mutiny,” “Calnect,” “Comet,” “Rover”—are depicted as also-ran endeavors with as much potential to alter the tech-industry landscape as the real companies that actually did, usually mentioned in passing. It would have been disconcerting to the audience to pretend that all the real-world brands that have defined tech over the years didn’t exist. By acknowledging them, the audience is reminded—even informed—that many successful ideas are not necessarily unique. Parallel thinking exists in all fields and industries and credit for the origin of any idea might not necessarily go to the one that thought of it first but to the person who was first able to market it; this doesn’t even guarantee that the most well known execution of an idea is better than another implementation that lacked the resources, scalability, connections or foresight to be released to the public.

Ultimately, what I loved about “Halt and Catch Fire,” wasn’t the way it retold the history of tech in the 80s and 90s, it came down to the same thing that makes anyone love any story that’s being told: characters that the audience comes to genuinely care about.