It’s a shame that Halt and Catch Fire diesn’t seem to be on any UK streaming services just at the moment when this Halt and Catch Fire Syllabus has popped up.
This site features a curriculum developed around the television series, Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017), a fictional narrative about people working in tech during the 1980s-1990s.
The intent is for this website to be used by self-forming small groups that want to create a “watching club” (like a book club) and discuss aspects of technology history that are featured in this series.
I’m not sure their chosen format1 would have worked well for me when I was devouring the show back when we were still in the first lockdown, but the nice thing about the internet is that now it’s up there hopefully it’ll still be there, waiting for me2 one day when I do a rewatch.
[Via RT by @hondanhon]
- Book clubs imitating a college study group, with syllabuses and reading lists, really aren’t how I want to spend my leisure time. I’ve no doubt that with the right classmates bringing their perspectives on the story to a discussion this could be terrific, but I don’t think I move in the right circles to make that work. True, I could buy the four seasons of the show and watch them online whenever I like, but that’d … not be a good use of my funds at this time. ↩
- I find it weird that I don’t seem to be able to add the four seasons of the show to my Amazon wishlist. I get that Amazon want me to throw money at them now rather than put off that decision for later, and I suspect that they’d suggest that I add them to my Watchlist in Prime Video, but that’s not quite the same thing. To my mind, my Watchlist is for stuff I have yet to watch, while my Wishlist is for stuff I have yet to buy. I don’t want to clutter up my Watchlist with stuff I’ve seen. That just makes my Watchlist less efficient, or requires me to spend more time than I want to organising/filtering it. Just let me chuck a pointer to something I might want to buy one day on my Wishlist and let me be done thinking about it, Amazon… I could rid myself of this problem by adding the show to my Wishlist in what-used-to-be-called-iTunes instead, but I don’t think Amazon want that. … And now these footnotes have pretty much doubled the length of the post they’re attached to, which is a sign I should do something about that or that I should get an editor. ↩
A full trailer for For All Mankind Season 2 has been published. Looks as if the rest of the world is set to watch the Cold War playing out a quarter of a million miles away.
Given where season 1 left off this was probably always going to be the sort of storyline they gave us in season 2, but I hope that we’ll look back on this in later seasons1 as the difficult transitional season that we had to get through to get to the real story.2
- Yes, this assumes that the show gets several more seasons but let’s be optimistic here. In theory Apple have the money to fund this for as long as the story needs, but how long the producers get for this show on this streaming platform is another question entirely. ↩
- Interesting to see that the IMDB cast information for the episodes – which admittedly, is pretty thin once you get beyond season 2 episode 1 – doesn’t list returning cast members like Joel Kinnaman or Jodi Balfour past that first episode. Nothing against the returning cast members, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see the story transitioning to a different main cast by the end. Against that, some returning actors we see or hear from in the new season’s trailer don’t even appear listed against season 2 episode 1 so it may just be that the IMDB’s list is, to put it mildly, a work in progress. ↩
Contemplating the new year, I was just thinking that it was about time I pruned the list of streaming media services I’m subscribed to.1 I hadn’t watched a show on NowTV regularly since I drifted away from Lovecraft Country halfway through the season, I thought. I meant to quit NowTV once Game of Thrones finished, I thought to myself, but I didn’t. Then I got sucked into the Nolan/Joy reboot of Westworld so I let the NowTV subscription live. More recently, NowTV brought me both Succession and an opportunity to see a show I couldn’t see when it was originally broadcast, The Newsroom2, so again that kept me paying them that monthly fee for a while.
Let me just take a quick look in case there’s anything popped up recently that I’ve missed, I thought. And then I found that since last I looked they’re now showing Fringe, a show that I couldn’t watch at the time but which I’ve always wanted to catch up on, what with it having an excellent reputation as an X Files substitute.
DAMN YOU, EVIL GENIUSES BEHIND NOWTV! YOU KNOW ME TOO WELL…
So, NowTV is safe for however long it takes me to work my way through Fringe, and I have further evidence that I am a weak-willed puppet of a massive media giant.
One day HBO are going to take the UK market seriously instead of letting NowTV have first refusal on UK streaming rights to most of their dramatic content, and I suspect I’ll be adding another media streaming service to my subscription list.3
- I’m not kidding myself that this was a New Year Resolution, because I know from long experience that, for me, those don’t stick. I was just sitting here contemplating a day off work and how best I could use it. ↩
- I know Aaron Sorkin’s show got a terrible reception and it probably deserved much of it, but it also had enough of the good stuff that it was worth a look, IMHO. Looked back on towards the end of the Trump era, we should all be a bit less certain that a bunch of well-meaning white liberal men can be counted on to fix the world’s problems (indeed, we can be pretty certain that they can’t) but that’s a topic for a different post. This post is about how NowTV keep pulling me back in every time I’m tempted to drop my subscription, so let’s stay on-topic. ↩
- Of course, I recognise that another way of looking at it, one that NowTV’s current owners might endorse, is that NowTV have built a business over the years based on their knowing what UK customers of a certain age and type want and giving it to them. Yeah, I could believe that. Not sure I do. ↩
Catching up with my podcast queue the other day, I was slightly taken aback at the moment in episode 153 of Imaginary Worlds where Doug Jones mentioned that he’s recently turned sixty years old and finds himself having to think a bit harder nowadays about whether a younger performer might be a better fit for a role’s demands. I suppose the fact that he delivers most of his performances from under layers of latex and makeup has hidden hasn’t helped.
His current role as Saru on Star Trek: Discovery, excellent as his performance is, probably isn’t destined to turn him into a superstar1 given what a niche of a niche that show is followed by. I have a horrible feeling that a decade from now he’ll be at least semi-retired and for a certain generation of Trekkies2 he’ll be remembered alongside Mark Lenard and Jeffrey Coombs and as one of the fan-favourites of the franchise.
That’s not a small thing, even if it’s not the level of fame he deserves after a long career bringing other peoples’ dreams – or nightmares – to life on-screen.
- To be fair, within his very particular niche he is something of a superstar. It’s just that his niche is one of those where – almost by design? – thirty years after his death people will be amazed to find out that the same guy was under all that make-up in Pan’s Labyrinth (in two different roles!) and in the Buffy episode Hush and in The Shape of Water and as Abe Sapien in the two good Hellboy films and in oh so many others. ↩
- Not sure whether that’s still a term that they approve. (Probably not.) Pretty certain I’m past caring. It’s not meant as an insult. ↩
Happy to see Battlestar Galactica return to BBC2 tomorrow. Looks as if the plan is for two episodes a week on Saturdays, so that’ll be something to look forward to.
Admittedly All This Has Happened Before and All This Will Happen Again, but perhaps this time knowing in advance how badly they lost their grip on certain aspects 1 of the wider story will bother me less this time round.2
The thing is, somewhat improbably given the source material, the BSG reboot still ended up delivering several seasons of high quality speculative fiction on TV. I’m delighted to have another opportunity to watch the story unfold.
- e.g. what happened to that whole Cylon Plan that supposedly underpinned their actions from the start? ↩
- In a perfect world Ron Moore will end his new baby, For All Mankind, well into the future with a conclusion that sees the alternate history space race sending teams off to establish a colony on Kobol and we’ll look back on that show and recognise all the sneaky connections to his earlier story that the writers slipped in this time round. (I doubt that the storyline of For All Mankind will extend that far into the future, but I can hope, can’t I?) ↩
As promised I’ve finished watching Halt and Catch Fire now, and am happy to report that, as promised, it got better and better as our four main characters moved on from their first season efforts to make an IBM PC clone only better.
As Tom Armitage put it after he rewatched the show earlier this year:
It’s a funny show. It starts out… quite badly, wanting to tell one particular story, and the moment it starts swerving away from that, it becomes more interesting. That point isn’t the beginning of season 2, incidentally: it’s easy to hate on the messy first season, but rewatching it, it confirmed that it course-corrects fast and hard. Once Donna is brought up in the mix around S1E4 it starts showing hints of what it’ll be, and the last few episodes of season 1 – pretty much once Donna says “I’m coming with you,” and the gang drives to COMDEX, are it taking flight. The rewatch definitely confirmed you cannot pull the “Parks And Rec Manouevre” (“just start with S2”) with this show.
For my money, by far the biggest change in the show came a few episodes into season one, when Kerry Bishé’s Donna levelled up from being the supportive spouse of one of our lead characters1 to the tech-savvy heroine who came through and rebuilt Cameron’s backup after Joe had sabotaged it.2 A few episodes later Donna was much more involved in Gordon’s work, and by the time the team went to COMDEX we had a show firing on all cylinders. It was lovely to see how (as I’d hoped) by the end of the show Donna and Cameron were back in partnership.
Writing this up, I now realise that in a lot of ways Donna’s emergence as a main character is a sign of how much this show was at root good, old-fashioned competence porn. These four main characters, and also the people around them like Boz who stepped in to fight fires for them, were basically very capable in their fields and usually able to deliver on what they promised. The fun would come when they had to communicate with one another about the different directions their wider goals were leading them towards.
Especially from the second season, when the writers had learned to tone down the focus on Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan and his mysterious backstory, this left us focussing on the partnership between our two female leads: the problems they faced when dealing with vulture capitalists who saw two young female founders and refused to take them seriously; the fact that they were so dependent upon suppliers for bandwidth and computing power and lacked the financial muscle to get what they needed when they needed it; their different perspectives on how to get there and how to run a company where nominally they wanted to be open and democratic and yet Cameron wanted to stick to her vision of the company and hold on tight to every damned thing being done the way she thought it should be.
Over the four seasons they bounced off one another and went off in different directions, only to be brought together towards the end: partly by the way the IT business had changed, partly by changes in how the characters reacted to those changes and settled into their new roles, and partly by the death of one of our central foursome whose departure provided the impetus for a really solid wrap-up of the show’s story. At the end, I loved the way the show gave us Donna and Cameron recognising how well they worked together and moving forward from there.3
Given that in the USA this was the show that inherited the timeslot of Mad Men I suppose it always had big shoes to fill. The subject matter (especially in season 1, following a story about Joe hijacking an old-fashioned company to move it into a new field) didn’t offer audiences the sort of hit that Mad Men had of easy nostalgia, and for whatever reason it probably never had a chance even if the critics did eventually come to recognise Halt and Catch Fire as part of the age of Quality TV. For my money, it was a journey well worth taking. If the writers want to bring us a series about the adventures of Cameron and Donna in their next venture, or even of the Return of Joe MacMillan from academia then I’d definitely be up for that.
- Early on we learned that she was working for Texas Instruments as middle management and had been working with Gordon on his earlier, failed attempt to design and build a machine of his own. This was the point where we came to understand just how focussed and level-headed and just plain hyper-competent she really was when it came to technology. Prior to this we saw very little of Donna in her workplace, and her role was mostly writing reports to keep her boss up to speed on how their part of TI was keeping up. After this, Donna was increasingly sucked in to the world of Cardiff, then the work at Mutant, then finally making her way in venture capitalism and we got to see how capable she was. ↩
- First season Joe’s urge to trick his colleagues into falling in with his plans earned him a huge amount of distrust for the next three seasons, and at times it looked as if Evil Joe had burnt those bridges. Again, by the end of season 4 everyone had moved past that. ↩
- I’d spent the last few episodes dreading that they were going to end the show with Cameron deciding to have children, so full marks for their avoidance of that pat ending to the story. ↩
To my mind, the most interesting point in this account of the producers of The Blacklist are finishing off their mostly-in-the-can-already season of TV with a little help from animators) comes towards the end:
Did you want to channel the comic-book aesthetic specifically?
EISENDRATH: […] In live action, you would have been able to read more of the emotional wheel turning in her head. We didn’t necessarily think that animation would be able to access her inner thinking, so we added a chyron.
BOKENKAMP: We realized, “Oh, wait! That’s within the rule book.” Comics can do thought bubbles. That was sort of a light bulb moment for us. We realized that as we went along that we should take advantage of every comic book trope that we could think of, to help the viewer.
EISENDRATH: Maybe we should keep the thought bubbles when we go back to live action! [Laughs]
"We should take advantage of every comic book trope that we could think of, to help the viewer." Sounds so innocuous: chyrons signalling what the characters are thinking. What could possibly go wrong?1
Hopefully actors and screenwriters will join forces and reject the damn-fool idea out of hand.
- I get that the producer is kidding. That’s the sort of joke that risks getting into the wrong hands and turning into an unstoppable blight on our TV. Kill it with fire, now! ↩
I’ve been filling some gaps in my TV viewing with Halt and Catch Fire, a show where I’ve enjoyed season one but I kept reading commentary that suggested that the show really got good once we got to season two. As I type this 1 I’m four episodes into season two and having to fight the temptation to binge watch the remainder of the season rather than work from home today like I’m supposed to.
They weren’t kidding: the characters I enjoyed so much are so much more fun in their new situation: watching Cameron start down the path towards learning how not to rely on her being the visionary/genius programmer who will save the day but rather a proper manager promises to be great fun. I have very deliberately not looked ahead to find out how the plot develops in the remaining seasons – I’ll get there soon enough, and I’m enjoying the ride enough not to want to be derailed by spoilers if I can help it – but I can’t help but wonder whether by the close of season four Cameron will realise that she also had a hell of a lot to learn from her partner in Mutiny, Donna. 2
Everything I love about this show is encapsulated by the sequence in which Cameron and Donna talk tech at a dive bar and confront the bad guy while Gordon glams up and takes the kids for ice cream. Every TV – and computer industry – cliche subverted in one swoop, and without the showboating any other property on TV today would go for.
It’s a real shame that this show wasn’t a much bigger deal than it ended up being, but them’s the breaks when your show’s visibility is so dependent upon which distribution outlet handles your show. 3 When Halt and Catch Fire was new I missed it because a) I don’t think it made it to terrestrial TV or any of the digital services I had access to at the time, and b) in any case the portion of my brain that liked fictional TV shows about technology had already been captured by Silicon Valley, so who knows whether my mind could have coped with two such different pictures of how the tech business worked at the same time? Imagine if the time streams had merged and inserted Donna or Cameron in the room where a team brainstorming session by the guys from Pied Piper led to the calculation of the the Mean Jerk Time and the D2F Ratio AND the formulation of the Middle-Out method of data compression that formed the basis of several seasons of triumph and disaster for everyone in that room. Obviously Cameron would have been tempted to use her baseball bat on everyone in the room, but who knows, perhaps the two shows would have ended with a crossover where – after wacky adventures as Richard ended up having to help Cameron to bury Erlich Bachman’s body 4 – Cameron and Richard ended up as a couple and omigod now I really wish someone had made this happen!
Anyway, time for me to catch some sleep. Short message: Halt and Catch Fire started well and then got better. If you’re anything like me, you might like it. (Ignore this if this is old news to you.)
I wonder where Cameron stands on Tabs-versus-Spaces?
[Via MetaFilter Fanfare]
- In the early hours of Thursday morning, because I took a long nap through much of late Wednesday evening after watching Halt and Catch Fire season 2 episode 4 and don’t feel sleepy again yet. ↩
- Even in season one it seemed to me that Kerry Bishé was the MVP of the show’s core cast and so far season two is piling on further evidence of that exalted status with every passing episode. Look at Cameron screwing up when she didn’t realise that a disparaging offhand remark she’d made about Donna on their nascent social network had gone to all users, cueing up the scene when Donna came into the office and everyone but her was waiting for the catfight that didn’t come because Donna is an adult. She dealt with it without use of a baseball bat or a loud tantrum in front of their coworkers, because she’s the adult in the room. Five minutes later the two of them were working together in the new team photo, having let off steam and reduced the tension. ↩
- A lesson I suspect we’ll all get to learn again in the forthcoming era of every-damn-studio-insisting-on-viewers-paying-a-monthly-subscription-to-their-streaming-service. Twenty years from now when someone finally declares themselves the winners of that battle and starts in on trying to get the rights to all sorts of shows that were scattered among the assets of how many different bundles of intellectual property rights, how many masterpieces will be waiting to be rediscovered by (or, very possibly, remade for) the mass audience they missed out on when they were new? ↩
- No way can they both survive in the same timestream, so I’m afraid he has to go. ↩
Vulture asked various screenwriters/show runners to write part of a Coronavirus Episode for their characters.
Michael Schur knows exactly who should be in charge right now…
First of all, Leslie would’ve known the CDC protocols for social distancing already, and they would’ve been instituted within 24 hours of the first reports of the coronavirus in America. […]
Ron would be thrilled because now there’s a reason for him to be alone with no one bothering him. But he’d worry about Leslie.
A few thoughts on some of the others:
- Of course Boyd Crowder would be working on a plan to take advantage of the lockdown to pull off a crime. And of course Raylan Givens would know to swing by to remind Boyd of the risk he’d be running if he tried such a thing.
- I was a bit distracted by the sight of that computer Frasier Crane was depicted as using. Note to readers under the age of 25: that’s what we used to call a laptop back before Jony Ive got control of Apple’s laptop designs. I was torn between admiration for how much less space a modern computer takes up (and how much more capacity it has compared to that thing) and envy for all those ports and sockets that just won’t be found on an equivalent modern laptop, let alone an iPad.
- I fear Coach Taylor’s brand of sincere, highly persuasive oratory only works when you have the scriptwriter on your side, but we can dream. ↩
In the end, The Good Place ended on a very satisfying final note. (Lovely moment towards the end when now-human Michael ended up getting guitar lessons from his real-life wife Mary Steenburgen. Even better moment when wannabe architect Tahani Al-Jamil earned praise for her construction skills from Nick Offerman.)
They stuck the landing. Applause (between the tears as we said goodbye to everyone one last time) is due to all involved.