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With Only One Episode to Go On, Critics Hold Fire on “Halt”

With Only One Episode to Go On, Critics Hold Fire on "Halt"

Considering that “Halt and Catch Fire” is moving into the time slot recently vacated by “Mad Men,” there are rather fewer reviews of AMC’s period drama about the dawn of the personal computer age than you might think. Reading the reviews that have appeared, it’s clear why. For some reason, the network opted to send critics only a single episode, one that, by the time it reached their inboxes, had already appeared on Tumblr. That, as many critics point out, is a worrying sign. Pilot episodes are blueprints; they point in the direction a show might go without taking more than a few uneasy steps. Imagine your favorite long-running TV show: Now go back and watch the first episode, and see how little of what you’ve grown to love about it is present. By and large, critics like “Halt’s” pilot, which AMC thought enough of to screen at SXSW in March. But without more to go on, the best most critics feel confident to say is, “This could turn out to be good,” and it seems many have opted to wait until later to weigh in.

“Halt and Catch Fire” premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC.

Reviews of “Halt and Catch Fire”

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter

The good news is that “Halt and Catch Fire” is a triumphant pilot with excellent writing, impressive acting and a noteworthy cinematic visual style. The bad news is that AMC has given this important piece of content a lackluster launch. With only one episode to judge — an episode put online before critics got a look at it — and not the three or four episodes that FX, HBO and Showtime frequently offer up, nothing can be done but take a wait-and-see approach.

Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe

Here’s the problem, and it’s the problem almost every time a network sends out only one episode for preview. It’s really hard to tell whether “Halt and Catch Fire” will go on to tell its story with any narrative confidence. Will the writing pan out over time, or is the pilot a fluke? It was created by the somewhat unknown team of Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, so there’s no track record to rely on. Just hope, both for viewers and for a network in need.

Verne Gay, Newsday

Is there a compelling TV series built on any of this? Beats me, but like Joe, the pilot does a heck of job selling the promise of one.

Robert Bianco, USA Today

On the quality scale, “Halt and Catch Fire” falls closer to “Mad Men” than “Turn” — stars Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy ensure that almost on their own. And compared with “Low Winter Sun,” it’s an entertainment powerhouse. Yet you still may come away feeling the show and the network are just trying too hard to impress, when they should be trying harder to engage.

Brian Lowry, Variety

There are certainly enough moving parts here (pardon the expression) to merit further attention, but there’s also a feeling that the whole thing is running in mud (or at least sand). And while the mix of nostalgia and big business — including Joe’s take-no-prisoners, sort-out-the-damage-later approach — plays like a logical companion to “Mad Men,” there’s a coolness and sense of remove that has blunted that show’s commercial appeal, and could do the same here.

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

Some of it gets a bit repetitive and dry in the premiere but it’s mostly just set-up for three characters who I know I want to stay in touch with during the coming months.

Mark Dawidziak, Plain Dealer

The performances are exceptional. The dialogue is ham-fisted and stilted. The dark, grim tone is intriguing. The pace is choppy.

Andy Greenwald, Grantland

The most original thing about it might be its point of view: In 2014, it’s refreshing just to have a new drama devoted to the hard work of collaboration and creation, not the easier thrills of violence and decay.

Ben Travers, Indiewire

What makes “Halt and Catch Fire” compelling — at least for the first hour (that’s right, we’ve seen as much as you) — are these characters and their tendencies to turn expectations on end. 

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