What's AMC's 'Halt And Catch Fire' About? You know, Besides Computers

Thank to the impending departure of Mad Men, a lot hinges on AMC's new show Halt And Catch Fire , and not just the careers of its leading trio of computer engineers — the reputation of the show's network is also at stake. Just a few short years ago, AMC seemed poised to become one of the reigning champions of quality television programming. It rivaled HBO in terms of acclaimed content, with critical darling Mad Men, growing favorite Breaking Bad, and smash hit The Walking Dead all in its lineup. But then several things happened at once: Bad closed up shop, Matthew Weiner announced an end date for Mad, and AMC had nothing to follow them up with. Soggy crime drama The Killing was cancelled (although Netflix will air a fourth and final season this August). Low Winter Sun didn't live to see a second year. Revolutionary War drama Turn received mixed-to-positive reviews and mediocre ratings but failed to fill the massive void left by Breaking Bad.

In desperation, AMC decided to prolong Mad Men by airing its final season across two years, which only served to frustrate loyal viewers. Eager to cash in on their own success, they green-lit not one but two spinoffs: Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad prequel, and an as-yet-untitled offshoot of The Walking Dead. More and more, it's looking as though Halt And Catch Fire, premiering Sunday night, is AMC's last chance to prove that their Mad/Bad/Dead success wasn't just a quirk, and that they're still capable of producing compelling original content.

Good thing the show looks so promising, then.

What exactly is Halt And Catch Fire about? Judging solely by its wordy title, you might assume it was a series centering around a group of mutants who can never stop running lest they spontaneously combust. Sort of like Speed-meets-an-episode-of- Fringe . Thanks to AMC's prolific advertising campaign, we at least know the bare bones: Halt is about computers. Here's the official synopsis from the show's website:

Halt and Catch Fire is set roughly one year after IBM all but corners the market with the release of its first major product – the IBM PC. In this fictional drama, a former IBM executive, Joe MacMillan plans to reverse engineer the flagship product of his former employer and forces his current company, Cardiff Electric, into the personal computer race. MacMillan enlists the help of Gordon Clark, a great engineer whose unrealized dreams of creating a revolutionary product have created tension in his marriage to Donna, and Cameron Howe, a volatile prodigy who puts her future in jeopardy to join MacMillan's rogue PC project. Halt and Catch Fire thrives on the spirit of innovation and explores what it's like to stand at the forefront of something world-changing and work towards it, no matter the risk.

Great. But what about that mouthful of a title? We'll let the show's intro speak for itself:

Basically, it's a self-destruct command. In fact, HCF (as it's abbreviated) is sometimes also referred to as SDI (for "Self Destruct Immediate"). According to apocrypha, this command has occasionally resulted in the wires of a computer actually catching fire. So you can expect self-destruction to be a pretty prevalent theme of Halt — which puts it right in line with the rest of AMC's programming. Walter White self-destructed over the course of five seasons on Breaking Bad. Don Draper self-destructed more times than we can count over the course of Mad Men's seven seasons. And now Joe MacMillan seems to be the latest self-destructive protagonist in AMC's antihero stable.

So Halt is about computers and self-destruction. But it's also about family — Gordon's relationship with his wife Donna, a brilliant musician and mathematician, is a central focal point of the pilot. It's also about gender politics — anarchistic college dropout Cameron is the most intriguing character by far, and it will be fascinating watching her navigate the male-dominated world of the tech industry. It's about ambition — Joe is an enigmatic figure whose quest to reverse engineer a PC is all-consuming and whose motivations are murky at best. And, yes, it's also about shoulder pads — the show does take place in the 80's, after all.

Tune in to the series premiere Sunday night, or — better yet — watch it now: the first episode of Halt is available to stream on Tumblr, the first time in history a show has premiered on that social networking site.

Series Trailer MP on YouTube

Images: AMC (4)