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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

Amer­i­can ca­ble tele­vi­sion drama has a mu­sic prob­lem. In­creas­ingly, the rai­son d’etre for such drama seems to be to pro­vide vis­ual wall­pa­per for mu­sic from the great Amer­i­can song­book, which pre-dates the mu­sic video.

Look at — and lis­ten to — David Si­mon’s re­cent se­ries Show Me a Hero, which is seem­ingly an ex­cuse to give Bruce Spring­steen songs a con­vo­luted New York State back­drop, al­beit in Yonkers, across the Hud­son River from Bruce’s New Jersey.

Pre­vi­ously, Si­mon made his se­ries Treme with New Or­leans’ dis­tinc­tive jazz at its nar­ra­tive and au­ral core. The south­ern coun­try mu­sic of Way­lon Jen­nings, Lucinda Wil­liams et al was prom­i­nent in True De­tec­tive, and the songs of Bob Dy­lan pop up as an ir­reg­u­lar fea­ture in a num­ber of re­cent ca­ble drama se­ries, in­clud­ing re­cently (and I felt im­prob­a­bly) Mas­ters of Sex.

It’s not al­ways bad. Matthew Weiner used mu­sic won­der­fully in Mad Men, even if that fi­nal Coke song left us be­fud­dled. And the ren­di­tion of Zou Bisou Bisou by Jes­sica Pare’s Me­gan in the open­ing episode of sea­son five was TV mu­sic per­fec­tion.

The mu­sic mess came to mind while de­vour­ing Halt and Catch Fire be­cause this new se­ries, which filled Mad Men’s times­lot for the AMC chan­nel in the US, has its own mu­sic prob­lem.

It is set in the emerg­ing com­puter in­dus­try in Texas in 1983, sug­gest­ing it re­quired elec­tronic mu­sic, for which Amer­ica was not known in the early 1980s.

So what do they play? Boz Scaggs, of course. Ad­mit­tedly, that made sense in an early scene where Gor­don, a timid pro­gram­mer played by Scoot McNairy has a mo­ment of free­dom in his car.

But it took this dense se­ries un­til its third episode to roll out a Gary Nu­man song and give the im­pres­sion it was worth stay­ing with. Ap­par­ently it turns into some­thing bet­ter in its sec­ond sea­son (now air­ing on Fox­tel); its first se­ries feels like a big tease.

Halt and Catch Fire looks and feels the part, but its nar­ra­tive doesn’t de­liver the episodic blows or pay-offs you would hope for.

Su­per­fi­cially, it bears some re­sem­blance to Mad Men in that it is a pe­riod drama about a dis­tinctly Amer­i­can busi­ness era and fea­tures ex­act­ing pro­duc­tion de­sign, a sharp vis­ual style and strong lead per­for­mances.

In­deed, Lee Pace’s Joe MacMil­lan, a for­mer IBM sales­man who al­most de­mol­ishes a small Dal­las elec­tron­ics com­pany with his am­bi­tious plan to take on IBM with a bet­ter PC, feels a lot like Jon Hamm’s Don Draper.

There’s enough in Halt and Catch Fire to like, par­tic­u­larly the prospect that it will im­prove, and pro­vide stronger fe­male char­ac­ters, in sub­se­quent se­ries.

Yet se­ries one lacks the big mo­ment or the big metaphors to give it depth be­yond its tech­ni­cal acu­ity. Which is the story of cod­ing, I sup­pose, mi­nus the mu­sic.

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