Halt and Catch Fire was an AMC series that ran four seasons, from June 2014 through October 2017. That it lasted long enough to get 40 episodes is notable in itself. The premiere episode gathered 1.2 million viewers, which might sound like a lot, but, as Wikipedia notes, "It was the least-watched drama series premiere in AMC's modern history". It didn't get better. Wikipedia again: it "was the only episode of the series to surpass one million viewers during its initial broadcast." AMC gave it a second season ... the ratings were worse. They gave it a third season ... again, the ratings fell. Why not give them a fourth season? The two-part finale drew 394,000 viewers. (Time shifting raised the ratings a bit.)
We watched a couple of episodes when it began in 2014, and gave up soon afterwards. AMC was riding high ... Mad Men still had a season to go, Breaking Bad had just finished, and ratings giant The Walking Dead was rolling strong. Legend now says that those first two shows were a reason why Halt and Catch Fire got off to a poor start, for the damaged anti-hero was the standard of the day. Halt and Catch Fire, which told the story of the personal computer revolution and subsequent move to the web, had such an anti-hero, Joe MacMillan, a charismatic entrepreneur who had a knack for bringing people into his orbit. There were two problems: Joe wasn't as interesting as Don Draper, and Joe was the least interesting of the main HACF characters. So no one was watching, and critics were only moderately impressed ... the Metacritic score for Season 1 was 69.
But then something happened. Novice series creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers got their feet wet and seemed to better understand what they had. What they had was a strong ensemble cast: Lee Pace as Joe, Scott McNairy and Kerry Bishé as a married couple involved in tech, and Mackenzie Davis as a wunderkind programmer. In particular, they figured out that the most interesting relationship on the show was between the two women, Donna Clark and Cameron Howe. For two seasons, the two worked together, creating a business, fighting industry sexism, and establishing a basis for a much better series. When they fell apart (most of Season 4), it was heartbreaking, because we loved them together. By that time, though, all of the characters had depth, all of them interested the audience, even Joe MacMillan. Side characters added to the mix, and the real-life history fascinated, as our characters found themselves on the cutting edge time and again, only to be cut out, again and again.
For Season 2, the Metacritic score was 73.
For Season 3, the Metacritic score was 83.
For Season 4, the Metacritic score was 92.
I don't know, but this seems like a pretty big turnaround. And it's why, two years after the series ended, we watched all four seasons on Netflix over the course of just over a month. And now, Halt and Catch Fire goes on my life of series I can recommend. The improvements, after the big one between the first two seasons, were gradual. But they were impressive, and with a satisfying finale, I'm willing to say that it was worth getting through that first season. Check it out on Netflix.