Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Spy Game: ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ is the best drama you may never have heard of

“In the future, computers may weigh no more than 1.5 tonnes.”

— Popular mechanics, 1949

“Two years from now, spam will be solved.”

— Bill Gates, 2004 

“The problem of viruses is temporary and will be solved in two years.”

— John McAfee, 1988 

“Computer viruses are an urban legend.”

— Peter Norton, 1988

The good, the bad and Sydney’s COVID outbreak

It’s all a far cry from the satellite-gathered and cellphone-shared intelligence of “Homeland” but still very much the same. The fate of the world is at stake, but also the souls of the spies themselves. Joe needs to atone, and one of his team may be a mole.

Created by Toby Whithouse (“Being Human”), “The Game” is nothing we haven’t seen before a hundred times, but it takes its corners neatly, offers moments of surprising intimacy (the scenes between Bobby and Wendy, and Sarah and Alan are particularly poignant) and moves quickly enough to avoid too many troubling questions.

The Game’: TV Review

Even before the success of FX’s excellent drama The Americans, it was a mystery why television didn’t delve more thoroughly into the uniquely compelling world of spies, historically, as the film world has done so well. But with the acclaim — and audience — of The Americans growing, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see a rapid increase in spy vs. spy series popping up everywhere (never mind that FX already has a great animated spy series in Archer).

I all  the years I’ve been working as a TV critic, no show I’ve recommended has had more people end up digging it than Halt and Catch Fire, the ’80s- and ’90s-set tech world drama that aired on AMC from 2014-2017 that now can be watched in its entirety on Netflix. Invariably, the people I recommend the show to at least like it, and most of them come away loving it. It’s a foolproof people-pleaser with a little bit of something for everyone.

It's the early 1980s, and the spirit of innovation in personal computing is about to catch fire. Hot on the trail is a renegade trio -- a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy -- who risk everything to realize their vision of building a computer that can change the future. Not long after IBM corners 
the market with its flagship PC, a flaw is discovered in its operation, opening the door for competition. In steps Joe MacMillan, a former IBM executive who now works for Cardiff Electric. MacMillan plans to reverse-engineer IBM's technology, putting Cardiff in the thick of the personal computer race. He enlists the help of engineer Gordon Clark, who dreams of creating a revolutionary computer, and Cameron Howe, a volatile prodigy who puts her future on the line to join MacMillan's rogue project.

The short answer is, sometimes being a great series just isn’t enough. Both an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the first great boom in American personal computing and a sweeping drama about all the ways people struggle to live their lives under capitalism’s uncaring gaze, Halt and Catch Fire is the last great character-driven series of America’s golden age of prestige drama.

It began in the footsteps of series like Mad MenBreaking Bad and The Sopranos then moved past the “difficult man” genre to focus on its female characters. Critically acclaimed, a regular fixture in years-end “best of” lists and with the final season scoring a 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the kind of series you’d expect people to still be raving about. And yet unless you happened to be looking in just the right place, it sank almost entirely without trace.