AMC’s new computer drama “Halt and Catch Fire” does just that

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/amc-new-computer-drama-halt-catch-fire-does-just-that/

The history of computers on the big or small screen bears little resemblance to the reality of computers. A few films like The Social NetworkUnderground and The Pirates of Silicon Valley aside, too many directors go for the cheap way out and try to dramatize computing beyond all concepts of reality. The worst offenders, like The Net and Hackers, are so laughably wrong about the way the subculture works that they’ve become more valuable for irony’s sake than anything else.

Maybe the best thing about the series pilot for AMC’s new drama Halt and Catch Fire, is that there is no movie bullshit in it at all.

We are not invited into a world where the circuit board is a model city, where we are an electrical current riding the rails to the file being called up. There are no graphics being projected onto anyone’s face to heighten the idea of “hacking”. No one drops a logic bomb to gain root access through the Gibson’s GUI backdoor loophole protocol.

The series takes place in the 80s, a time when IBM was firmly in place as the industry leader in computing, when Jobs and Wozniak were still at Mac who had their niche market, and Gates and Allen had yet to send the computer into mandatory status with Windows 95. Big Blue play the villains of the piece, which plays out an elaborate rouse by a slick hustler named Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) leads an trod upon engineer, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), to do the unthinkable: clone a PC.

In the pilot’s biggest set piece, Joe and Gordon sit in a garage and transcribe 65,000 lines of hexadecimal code that the IBM BIOS is written in. IBM catches wind of the dastardly intellectual property violation and threaten to sue the company they work for, Cardiff Electronics, a mid-tier Silicon Prairie computer company led by Toby Huss (aka ARTIE. The strongest man… in the world).

In a strange legal gambit, they may actually be able to get away with it as long Gordon and Joe can prove they haven’t shown the hex code to anyone, which is where Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), a punky, bored comp-sci major who is smarter than the curriculum comes in to save their asses.

If all that sounds boring, it’s only because it’s impossible to convey the silky smooth style and tension that the showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers build up to. Cracking the IBM motherboard is exciting as it plays out. The schlubby Gordon is an engineering whiz who is had been defeated by the failure to launch a system he and his wife, Donna (Kerry Bishé), designed, and as he picks apart the circuit board with his oscilloscope you can see the blood come back into his face. The excitement becomes contagious as they get closer and closer.

If the show has anything earmarked for a potential breakout element though, it’s Cameron, who doesn’t get nearly enough screentime in the pilot. Davis plays her tough and sarcastic, much the same way Katee Sackhoff played Starbuck in the early Battlestar Galactica episodes, and her half new wave/half punk style only adds to that edge. She is fiercely independent, maybe because she’s surrounded by idiots. Even though she signs on for the job, Joe and Gordon still have to prove that they’re something more than typical. They have to prove it to us too, but they make a good start at it.

Can the Maya Rudolph Show survive the fact that no one likes variety shows?

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/can-maya-rudolph-show-survive-fact-one-likes-variety-shows/

Last night NBC aired the pilot for The Maya Rudolph Show, an hour-long variety show that featured Sean Hayes, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, Kristin Bell and Craig Robinson, with Janelle Monae as the musical guest performing Electric Lady.

Hosted, of course, by Rudolph, the show doesn’t exactly throw it back to the Sid Ceaser Caesar or Muppets-style comedy-variety show, but sticks very close to its SNL roots — a little too close to separate itself from the superior Saturday show.

Overall, the show featured too much Sean Hayes and too many 12:50 slot quality sketches, including a dance off with Andy Samberg’s as Tony Manero (that could have been funny without Samberg), a kind of unbearable parody of The 25,000 Pyramid and Frozen sketch, with Rudolph, Bell and Hayes write the sequel:

Variety shows have been dead since the 80s, and with good reason. They’re a terrible television format, especially as the media landscape grows and tries to consume all of out waking hours. No one needs to rely on network television to see the stars they like as they did in the 40s and 50s. These days it’s harder to avoid seeing the stars you like than it is to see or read about them in far too much detail. We have little need for variety shows because everything else we can see on a screen to so tailored to our specific wants that the format falls to pieces the second something we don’t 100% like comes on.

You could argue that SNL is a comedy-variety show, but it’s so extremely tailored to its audience that it doesn’t really meet the “something for everyone” idea.

Those thoughts aside, there wasn’t much variety to this variety show. Outside of the monologue song (which featured backup dancers, a pony and plate spinning), it was a steady sea of dance numbers and sketch after sketch, with the enumerated guests (notably missing her more famous friends, Kristin Wiig, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) playing all of the parts.

I could easily see this working as a stage show, especially a Vegas stage show, but on TV it’s just not a format that works anymore. We don’t want something for everyone, we want everything for us.

Can Girl Meets World live up to its original?

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/can-girl-meets-world-live-original/

In our age of sequels, prequels and reboots, it’s the most fair-unfair question that exists: will it live up to the original? It’s a question that might not matter to those younger than the original, but to anyone of the right age for the original, it’s really the only question worth asking.

It’s a question we’ll ask a lot today between the opening of The Amazing Spider-man 2 and the just-released 60 second promo for the long awaited Girl Meets World.

The show sees the cast of Boy Meets World set 15 or so years along their journey in life, where Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) have transitioned from high school sweethearts to an old married couple with two kids. The show centers on their oldest daughter, Riley (Rowan Blanchard), who looks to have inherited her dad’s quirky spunk more than her mom’s brainy practicality, but also on the family unit as a whole as the original did.

It will also feature Rider Strong, Betsy Randle, William Russ, Will Friedle and William Matthews in cameo roles throughout the series.

The show will not begin airing until the end of next month, but the anticipation has been building for months now as the cast have Tweeted out photos of the on-set reunions.

I was a little too old for Boy Meets World to have been my show in the same way The Adventures of Pete and Pete or Salute Your Shorts were. Those are the shows I feel possessive about. I remember Boy Meets World mostly existing in the background while stuck hanging out with younger cousins or friends with younger siblings. Through the casual osmosis of teenage ennui, it ended up seeping in though, and I eventually found myself idly watching reruns and becoming invested in the characters.

Strangely, I became most invested in Cory, the show’s main character. I say strangely because I usually find the main character to be the most boring. Maybe because he was already set in my brain as Fred Savage’s little brother Cory didn’t seem like the typical, boring main character.

The original show was done in the classic mold of zany comedy set up that ended with heart, not entirely unlike it’s Disney extended family cousins Step by Step or Full House, which ran the TGIF table in the 90s. But it was also entirely different. Entirely.

Part of the charm — maybe all of the charm — was that it was so dorky. Cory and Topanga were goddamn dorks, but they never slipped into clownishness like Steve Urkel or Balki Bartokomous. Shawn had his Fonzie thing, and Eric had his classic twist on the bimbo thing, but Cory and Topanga were dorks on a level I can’t remember seeing before. And of course they were backed up by the Father of Dorks in William Daniels, who finally had a body again after playing K.I.T. on Knight Rider.

The first promo for the show that Disney released last month showed none of that. If it’s unfair to question whether a show can live up to its predecessor, it’s cruel to release something so underwhelming as the first impression:

I almost expected an “oh, Mylanta” or “of course not, don’t be ridikulus” by the end of this clip. This clip had all of the appeal of Drexell’s Class or Thunder Alley.

It’s also a good example of how first impressions are sometimes pretty awful. Here is the spot-on promo that Disney uploaded this afternoon:

That’s a huge difference in approach and in general quality. It actually has the elusive feel of the original, but it’s removed from the original too — as an update should be. Riley and her best friend, Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), don’t have the dorkiness that made Cory and Topanga so special, but they seem to have something, and it’s kind of refreshing that neither of them are played by anyone’s younger sister (sorry Ben).

And, maybe most importantly, the show is not above a good nose pick joke, which bodes well.

That’s about as far as I was to go based on 60 seconds though. Sometimes second impressions aren’t worth that much either.

The Newsroom: Pros and Cons, Season 1

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Since it began to air ten weeks ago, I’ve been trying hard to avoid all of the Twitter chatter about The NewsroomThe West Wing aside, Sorkin is a notoriously slow starter, and one of the (many) problems with Studio 60 was that both the viewers and the network had largely written it off before the show began to hit its stride around the Christmas episode. Granted, there were other problems with the show, and some of the sluggishness from the slow start carried its way throughout the show’s lone season. I was hoping for it to be different this time though.

But the problem with The Newsroom might have been that it actually started too quickly, delving into the complex world of office relationships and politics before the story was established. Before I had committed anyone’s name to memory, there were love triangles and cheating and a lot of he said, she said. Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie (Alison Pill) were destined to be together, eventually, despite her being with Don (Thomas Sadoski), claimed McaKenzie (Emily Mortimer), who herself seemed destined to be with Will (Jeff Daniels), and Sloane (Olivia Munn), socially inept as she is, deserved to be with someone too — all stuffed into the first episode.

To contrast, The West Wing built its inter-office drama up over its entire seven season run in some cases, like Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Moloney). Love stories tend to be more satisfying as a slow burn subplot than a blunt object beating us over the head. If we don’t know the characters, why are we supposed to care who they hook up with, or who they don’t hook up with? There is no identification, no agony. Time makes us care about the characters, makes us root for them, or yell at them for being too stupid to see what was in front of them.The Newsroom opted for the blunt object approach, and that may have been a fatal flaw for some viewers who judge things quickly.

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