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New Season Of 'Halt And Catch Fire' Is A Welcomed Upgrade


TV viewers have bid farewell to the '60s gender politics in the offices of "Mad Men." And now the network AMC is fast forwarding to the '80s with the show "Halt And Catch Fire." Elsewhere on the program this morning, we hear from Mackenzie Davis, she's one of the stars. Davis plays a female computer programmer at the dawn of the PC age. The second season begins Sunday, and NPR TV critic, Eric Deggans, says the show has worked out some bugs.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There was a moment in Sunday's episode when it's obvious "Halt And Catch Fire" 2.0 is a serious improvement over last year's model. Cameron Howe is a software developer. Her partner, Donna Clark, is a straight-laced computer engineer. Together they run a gaming network linked by phone lines, but when their out-of-control employees cause a massive power outage, Donna puts her foot down.


KERRY BISHE: (As Donna Clark) You made this a place without a boss, and that sounds really nice, but what that translates into is a bunch of crap falling through the cracks that I end up having to deal with.

MACKENZIE DAVIS: (As Cameron Howe) God, well, if you're so good at dealing with it, then why don't you just keep being the savior we all supposedly need so much?

BISHE: (As Donna Clark) Because I don't want to be the mom here. I came here to do what I love, and I don't love dealing with the power company.

DAVIS: (As Cameron Howe) Donna...

BISHE: (As Donna Clark) And I don't love playing wet nurse to a bunch of coders who act more like kindergarteners than...

DAVIS: (As Cameron Howe) Then don't do those things. Nobody asked you to.

DEGGANS: There's lots of juicy themes here - the tension between creative anarchy and a functioning office, the genesis of technologies we now take for granted, and two women building a business who shatter lots of stereotypes in the process. Like in this scene when they find an unorthodox supplier for new computers, and Donna is skeptical of the merchandise.


BISHE: (As Donna Clark) They're both pretty banged up, I mean, this one doesn't have either of its video cards.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As supplier) This is retail, not wholesale.

BISHE: (As Donna Clark) Oh, well, technically they're stolen.

DAVIS: (As Cameron Howe) Donna, what is wrong with you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As supplier) It's pretty ballsy, the two of you out her alone.

DAVIS: (As Cameron Howe) Yeah.

DEGGANS: This is much better than last season, when "Halt And Catch Fire" focused on the guys, pathologically ambitious salesman Joe MacMillan and Donna's husband, frustrated computer engineer Gordon Clark. In season two, the company they ran, Cardiff Electric has been gobbled up by a larger firm after Cardiff developed a cheap, new computer, but Gordon feels adrift.


SCOOT MCNAIRY: (As Gordon Clark) I'm just glad it's over. I mean, they don't even want the machines; they just want the patent so they could build something better.

LEE PACE: (As Joe MacMillan) Bro, it wasn't that bad.

MCNAIRY: (As Gordon Clark) Not that bad? We should've put that on the box.

DEGGANS: Here, the show lives up to its promise as a look at the wild west of early computing, when the Silicon Prairie in Texas made way for California's Silicon Valley. In fact, the only other TV show that catches tech culture so well is HBO's modern-day comedy, "Silicon Valley." This show is all about the odd bros who make software, including this scene where a guy explains the emails he's sending to a potential date.


T.J. MILLER: (As Erlich Bachman) Why does it say sent form my iPhone at the bottom? You just sent this from your computer.

KUMAIL NANJIANI: (As Dinesh Chugtai) It's so that I seem like I'm an out-and-about kind of person. I write fun stuff like, I'm at the opening of a secret restaurant, or I'm watching "Jaws" at the pool of an old hotel.

MILLER: (As Erlich Bachman) It is a mystery why you think you'll ever see a woman naked.

DEGGANS: That's a much different attitude than we see on this season's "Halt And Catch Fire," where the focus on the female characters point to the future of computing and a brighter future for a good show that needed to get much better. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.