It seems that AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” has barely begun and it’s already getting more analysis than “Mad Men” did in its entire first season. Some of the analysis involves the stereotypes of women that “Mad Men” emphasized due to the time period. In “Halt and Catch Fire”, the criticisms are deeper since the stereotypes seem more deliberate this time around, despite the rarity of women in tech then (and, unfortunately, now). Then there’s the story of technology itself and whether audiences will really connect to the early days when the computer revolution was a major ambition for the geek set fresh out of college.
While the advertising industry in the 1960s held more of a mystique in “Mad Men”, it’s possible a show about the early development of computer may not hold the same interest with the public. There may be a clue to that in a recent video that showed our youngest generation attempting to work on an early Apple computer and acting dumbfounded at how primitive it was. Even adults today who lived through that era would probably think the computers from the early 1980s were the equivalent of scrap metal if forced to work on one today.
This isn’t to say that AMC tried some subtle nods to connect the mystique of the 1960s to the early tech revolution of the early 1980s. During the first half of the final season of “Mad Men”, they dealt with the installation of the earliest IBM computers in offices, circa 1969. It almost seems beyond coincidence that it wasn’t a sly lead-in by Matthew Weiner to “Halt and Catch Fire”, which is only 15 years ahead of where “Mad Men” currently is.
If perhaps just coincidence, it’s still a real gamble to assume that audiences will find intrigue in connecting where we are technologically to what was happening in 1983. With “Mad Men” deftly connecting what happened in the late 1960s to what’s happening now, the world of technology between 1983 to today is far off the charts to have much connection other than ironic mentions of what’s ahead.
In that regard, you have to wonder if a show about technology would have been better off being a sci-fi show rather than a look at its past.
What Would a Futuristic Show on Computer Technology Look Like?
The interesting thing about “Halt and Catch Fire” is the show has a bit of a futuristic look to it at times, almost in a post-apocalyptic way. Especially in the opening shot of the pilot where tech hotshot Joe MacMillan runs over an armadillo on a deserted Texan road, it looks like something straight out of a post-apocalypse movie, which may have been somewhat the point. And while the rest of the show has the look and styles of the early 1980s down perfectly, do we really care about the politics behind the development of the personal computer outside the real story of Apple and Microsoft?
You have to envision someone thinking of a similar tech show set 20 or 30 years from where we are now. Such a show would probably find a perfect home on Syfy where hard science shows are still going strong. Using a timeline like that would provide plenty more intrigue, despite being risky on whether the future world of computer tech would be accurate. Then again, with futurists already giving clear details on how tech is going to look in another couple of decades, the chances of accuracy are much greater.
Transplanting the same situations in “Halt and Catch Fire” into the future may have been the biggest “what if” show in years. Also, by giving stronger roles for women in that imagined show, it could have brought in a “Star Trek” sensibility where we know things are better sociologically, if worse in everything else.
Now we’ll have to wait and see if “Halt and Catch Fire” as it is manages to find a spark in the public through some other element other than early 1980s tech. Should they manage a decade run, they’d at least be able to end with the characters being some of the first to hear the iconic “You’ve Got Mail” voice when signing up for AOL.