AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire' is More 'Mad Men' Than 'Breaking Bad'

It hasn't even officially premiered yet and already AMC’s new drama Halt and Catch Fire is succumbing to the weight of its predecessors. Adding on even more pressure is the network’s recent mediocre offerings which have failed to capture critics or fans. Can Halt & Catch Fire live up to the standard created by Breaking Bad? But the series may not have what it takes to survive on its own.

Breaking Bad and Mad Men premiered on AMC before anyone even knew that AMC did anything besides play old movies. Both series premiered with low expectations and blossomed slowly before turning into powerhouses. Halt and Catch Fire doesn't have that luxury. All eyes are on AMC to see if they can duplicate prior success or if its few stand-outs were just pure luck. And that expectation may make it tough may keep the series from ever becoming great.

The show, which takes its name from code that can render a computer's central processing unit useless, is led by Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan and understated genius Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy). If you look for comparisons to Breaking Bad, you get the idea early on that Pace’s character is the egotistical Heisenberg and Gordon is Walt, the understated genius with the potential for greatness, who is crumbling under the tremendous weight of unrealized potential. This burden breeds a general apathy towards everything and everyone around him, until Joe awakens something in him — for the sake of obviousness let’s call it hope. Then there’s the put-upon wife Donna (Kerry Bishe), who tolerates Gordon seemingly both out of respect for his pain following their failed project and genuine love. She would of course be Skylar.

The show, like Breaking Bad, also follows a scheme for riches albeit by more legal means. However, the comparisons stop there. The series actually lines up far better with the other AMC titan, Mad Men.

Lee Pace as Jon in Halt and Catch Fire:

Jon Hamm as Don in Mad Men:

The series actually lines up better with Mad Men to the point where its taking over of Don Draper’s time slot during that show’s break almost seems symbolic. While Draper and company show us the changes in the advertising industry during the '60s, Halt and Catch Fire follows the evolution of the computer in the '80s.

Joe doesn't have Don’s charisma, but he is smart and calculating, with just a hint of trouble while computer genius Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) is broken and sassy. Still, every character suffers from the same problem: They don’t seem to exist outside of those adjectives. There don’t appear to be any additional dimensions.

That may appear to be an unfair assessment with only the pilot episode to feed on. But the characters are so typical, so indifferent that the entire episode feels familiar — like something we've seen many times before. We all have a general idea of how the whole computer thing turned out, but an alternate history of the personal computer isn't enough to pull in people on its own — not even us nerds. The characters have to be incredible.

Unlike Breaking Bad and Mad Men, Halt And Catch Fire appears to take itself seriously. Very seriously. Gordon is (finally) achieving great things, but there’s no jubilation. The only one who even appears to think themself a rockstar is MacMillian. Cameron wants to be one, but she’s so busy being clever and broken that she never gets around to it. We are constantly reminded that there is a family that needs to be provided for. And that Joe is a man who went missing for a year before returning with an insane plan that could backfire and cost everyone around him dearly. Where’s the fun? Who’s going to walk around in their tidy whities or get caught in hilarious predicaments, so that we can actually enjoy watching the drama unfold?

The big awards have eluded Mad Men in recent years, but the show certainly isn't a lowly goal. Don may make success on AMC look easy, but Halt And Catch Fire proves it isn't. This series isn't Breaking Bad, and it isn't Mad Men. That’s not a bad thing if it can improve in the next few episodes. But because of them, the show may not get a chance to prove it’s worth the time. Catch the premiere this Sunday at 10 PM.

Images: AMC (3); Giphy