When I heard that AMC decided to make the pilot episode of their upcoming program Halt and Catch Fire free to watch online ahead of broadcast, I was interested. I remember when Showtime did the same thing for Homeland before it debuted and it worked pretty well for them.
Plus the fact that Halt and Catch Fire deals with dawn of the PC era, watching it online makes a sort of thematic sense; computers play a huge role in the current television landscape, it would make sense that the debut of a series detailing the rise of PCs would be watched on computers.
I liked the pilot, but I don’t know if I’ll be investing in Halt and Catch Fire. Let me explain.
I can remember when AMC was fully getting into the original programming game. I have vivid memories of the promos for Mad Men, which prominently featured Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” As a Black male, I was ready to hate the show, but by the end of that first episode I was in love with it.
When Mad Men wrapped it’s first season I extended the goodwill it had earned to Breaking Bad and was rewarded in kind. And I was down to keep paying it forward to Rubicon, except that by the time Rubicon aired, I’d moved to Baltimore and was sans cable.
But I figured no problem, I’d just catch up on the show on dvd. I was already buying getting iTunes season passes to Mad Men and Breaking Bad as well as both shows on DVD. I’d just buy the Rubicon dvd and if I liked it, I’d get the second season from iTunes too.
Only Rubicon was cancelled and the dvd never came.
Next came The Walking Dead. Since it was a comic book show, I wanted to support it. Of course it didn’t really need my support and became AMC’s blockbuster ratings smash.
I never got into Hell on Wheels. I think it had something to do with Common as a star of the show and I’d read comparisons to Deadwood that I felt the show could never possibly live up to. But Hell on Wheels is in my Netflix queue.
Because I was still smarting from not getting a chance to watch Rubicon (which had reached mythic proportions in my head) I bailed on The Killing, before binge-watching the first season via Netflix and getting the season pass for season two. But then AMC cancelled The Killing, then revived it only to cancel it again after the third season.
So at this point, AMC had cancelled Rubicon and never released it on dvd, cancelled The Killing twice and tried to punk both Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner and Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan in behind the scenes shenanigans.* Basically while AMC was producing amazing television in Mad Men and Breaking Bad (and to a lesser extent, The Killing) they were also being really schmucky about things too.
With Low Winter Sun, I decided to trust AMC again. I mean, I was equally investing in Mark Strong, Lennie James and AMC, but AMC was the only one who’d actually done me wrong in the past.
While Low Winter Sun wasn’t great, it was compelling. It had some great performances and really utilized the setting of Detroit well. I enjoyed it and would have liked to see a second season. But AMC pulled the plug.
And that’s why I’m reluctant to invest into Halt and Catch Fire; the pilot was very strong, but I’ve got zero faith that AMC is going really give the show a chance to blossom.
Granted, cable is better than network television; at least with cable you’re guaranteed your 10 to 13 episode order. You get a season to prove yourself. But in this era of binge-watching and catching up via Netflix, you can’t really gauge things immediately. If anything the second season premiere is a better gauge of audience than the first season finale.
Halt and Catch Fire has a very strong pilot. The acting is there, the writing is there. It’s a show that, like Breaking Bad, manages to make something you're unsure if you're going to enjoy into extremely watchable. And it’s possible that it could rival both Mad Men and Breaking Bad in terms of critical praise and awards.
I’m just really worried that AMC won’t give it a chance to grow, which is why I’m reluctant to give it a chance. I’d love to buy a season pass, but then again I’m still waiting to be able to buy Rubicon.
*I did finally manage to watch Rubicon via Amazon Prime. It was bittersweet. It was great to watch it and enjoy the performances and writing, but frustrating that I couldn’t own it. The show clearly laid the groundwork for Homeland (the late Henry Bromell worked on both.) If you get the chance, you should definitely check out Rubicon via Amazon Prime.