The whole series is up on Netflix. I seriously blazed through it in a matter of weeks.
Elevator Pitch: Mad Men meets 80s-90s computer revolution.
I don’t know why I started this series. I had heard it was a sleeper hit from numerous sites online, with the finale’s review on AV Club particularly catching my eye. It was always in the background behind AMC’s other shows like Better call Saul and Walking Dead. It’s actually amazing this show was allowed to finish at all, with the apparent non-existent ratings it garnered in. But somehow, like the characters themselves, it managed to keep afloat for one more round.
I didn’t start loving this show as I do now. After the first season, I felt hard pressed to find that strong a reason to continue. While stylistically beautiful, with appropriate synth music and amazing 80s fashion, I found pretty much all of the characters incredibly unlikable. Of the four mains, it’s hard to believe any of these characters would actually grow on you with how much they cheated, back stabbed, lied, and mentally tortured each other. These characters get droves of their employees fired, they cause incredible amounts of damage to people’s financial stability, and they throw lovers away as if their emotions didn’t matter at all. The show had me, but I remember feeling that I wouldn’t be able to take a whole series of THIS much conflict.
Thankfully, while season 2 started with a lot of the same trappings, these flawed people start to grow on you. You start to get Cameron, Gordon, Donna, and Joe and why they are the way they are. Things start to evolve. Instead of scrapping for the next big idea, characters are managing the creators of the next big idea. Instead of using labor like a asset, they begin to think of their employees as people. You constantly hope for them to succeed, and then smile knowingly when a platform like Yahoo or a game like Doom shows up to knock it all down.
That’s another surprisingly big draw for me. This show has a LOT to do with game dev and publishing. Season 2 starts with Cameron trying to build an online gaming platform, before she moves onto pitching more artistic games. We see Cameron try to pitch her more nuanced art game while the original Doom is tearing up the gaming scene of the 90s. You see her complain about how, “all people want is blood and guts,” and then acknowledge with Gordon that the game is unfortunately addicting as they play together. They mention game systems around the corner that show promise, like 'the Nintendo… ’ It may be boiler plate referencing, but I’ve never seen a mainstream show dig into this stuff and make it important. Games are pretty mainstream now, but we never see correct representation. It’s usually the CSI guy asking about the hot game 'MURDER KILL."
Slight Spoilers below…
And then the final season just hits you like a mack truck. While I was watching this show, my Dad was dealing with his last days of Pancreatic Cancer. It was weird to feel the parallel the main characters were having with the loss of a loved one, how they each reacted, how they spoke about how the funeral service was nice. I’m tearing up just thinking about it now, and it’s not even my story. It just feels adjacent. This show had an impact on me and my life in a certain time and place that I feel like I just have to share it with others and encourage you all to watch it. It’s not perfect, and in fact there is some pretty bad writing in spots, but the momentum of the sheer quality of this program just grows and grows, until it swells into a wonderfully heartbreaking conclusion.
I highly recommend this show to anyone looking for a more modern ‘period drama.’