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Halt and Catch Fire: "FUD" OAD 6/8/14 ***SPOILERS***

Discussion in 'TV Show Talk' started by phrelin, Jun 9, 2014.

  1. Jun 9, 2014 #1 of 20
    phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    Northern...
    Because the title of this episode is a term that stirs memories of great anger and frustration in me, I'm going to let Wikipedia handle the explanation:

    To further put this in context in 1983 the majority of the "IT departments" in this country were found in large companies or companies that specialized in data intensive business activities. The life of an IT manager was framed in fear of failure because most, if not all, of the suits in the executive suite (or investors if your company was in a data intensive business) had never touched a computer and resented the investment required to effectively become "computerized." Everyone knew "it" was inevitable, but few understood and even fewer liked "it" (note how "it" is a play on the term "IT").

    When the microcomputer began to look like the future of computing, the initial large market for microcomputers was precisely the firms that already had an IT department. Those in the IT department were more likely to have been trained on IBM mainframes and/or minicomputers. Many had a love/hate relationship with IBM and many had tried to break free by buying "other" brands of mainframes or minicomputers. But many of those "other" brands had trouble delivering, lacking the depth of personnel that IBM could throw at a problem. Fear of failure was the basic emotion of an IT manager.

    When IBM created the "PC", they were late entering a microcomputer market dominated by others. But the others had not yet made headway with most corporate IT departments. While there may have been a few people playing with Tandy, Commodore, Apple, etc., purchase orders for a couple of hundred microcomputers were not being issued. Until IBM started successfully marketing its "PC" to its mainframe customers.

    I mentioned this in a previous post, but I remember reading in the San Francisco Chronicle an article indicating that IBM had sold a hundred PC's to California's largest "investor owned" utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). At that point, I recognized that our (my wife and my) investment in Tandy equipment became instantly a questionable choice. For while the early IBM PC was a poor imitation of the others created from "off-the-shelf" parts supported by a third party "look alike" OS (Microsoft), once IBM sold a few thousand of these microcomputers to IT departments across the country, business software developers would have no choice but to orient their future business plan to the PC. A large army of IBM blue suits were already out there using FUD to eliminate the competition.

    Episode 2 of "Halt and Catch Fire" was all about fear, uncertainty, and doubt created by IBM both in Cardiff Electric's customers and in those who put their faith in Joe, who we learn may have more than a bit of "the crazy" in his makeup. This leads to Gordon ranting at Joe using John Lennon as a reference point:

    And, of course, Cameron has already dismissed Joe as "just a salesman" and at the end calls him on his latest pitch about the 1958 Superbowl and Sputnik (much like IBM, Joe depends upon the ignorance of others).

    About Cameron. We shouldn't let this episode go by without noting the recent spate of headlines, columns and posts about Google's release last week of demographic data on its employees. Yep, they are predominate male with only 17% of tech jobs held by women.

    But in this show we have Cameron, a lead character. We know she's a bit of a computing genius who constantly thinks about where the technology should go and, in addition to dismissing Joe as a saleman, dismisses his idea of a competitive "open architecture" microcomputer as just another "lawn mower or microwave." And she sees Gordon as another old guy who needs to get out of the way though he flares back with:

    We learn more about Cameron who sleeps at the office. Gordon, in a scene that seemed too contrived even if necessary, goes through her backpack possibly discovering the life of a street kid, maybe even a violent one as symbolized by a butterfly knife (now illegal to carry in the U.S. and many other countries).

    We also watch her in a mall trying on 1983 women's clothing before shoplifting some men's shirts to go with her army pants.

    Cameron also becomes the focus of a bit of drama between Gordon and his wife Donna (who is also an employed techie) when Gordon can't tell Donna that Cameron is a woman. While that whole story arc creates a degree of intimacy and a demonstration of couple's power dynamics, it is also a reminder that defining relationships in the workplace can create unconscious confusion.

    We end up with more questions about Cameron than at the beginning of the episode despite what we learn.

    And that is the reality for us with Joe. We get a lot of information but no clear answers. He obviously can go berserk. Is he really just a motivated salesman, or is there really more than money and salesman-of-the-year awards behind his weirdness. Is he really trying to get revenge on IBM? Or dear old dad? He seems to have scars, literally and psychologically, but we know he lied about his Sputnik fixation so was he really a nerd? As the guy from IBM says:

    Is Joe really the guy who says to Gordon and Cameron:

    This was the second episode and it redefined everything we knew at the end of the first episode. Probably the most significant redefinition seemed to be going on in the background.

    We see Joe's boss John Bosworth attempt to "make it work" by formally introducing Joe as the new senior product manager (the new product being a microcomputer). This gives Joe the chance to give an inspiring talk plagiarizing Steve Jobs in the process.

    Then everything falls apart as IBM does a successful FUD attack to destroy Cardiff by stealing their long term clients.

    In the pilot, Bosworth (played by Toby Huss) was presented as a caricature of a Texas good ol' boy crude oil salesman, an unimaginative obstacle in a business that has moved on. Except that in episode 2 the writers smoothly create an admirable businessman who won't lie to IBM because its wrong, who cares about the employees that Joe's tunnel vision have put at risk, and who becomes so distraught at the lack of loyalty shown by his long time customers he loses it by yelling at them, calling them names.

    Gordon and his wife Donna were characters clearly drawn as recognizable people by the end of the pilot. Bosworth joined them by the end of this second episode.

    Many strong scenes occurred in this episode. To write meaningfully about all of them would be a major job. Not every scene, not every story arc, in this episode could be described as perfectly created.

    Obviously the most challenging scenes involve Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace). At times he comes off as simply bipolar. But at other times when the writers have others crush his spirit (and his sophistry) we see what may be the anger of a sociopath or what may be well-justified anger in a man who was deliberately mistreated by his father and misled by the Big Blue environment. We don't know which he is yet.

    It's easy to find fault when a complicated character is being created and it's too easy to criticize at the end of the second episode. I like the portrayal of all the characters. And the story is sufficient to support the drama.

    Of course when you write about "history" that is a part of the lives of so many of the viewers, we get the nit-picking over details. For example in 1983 it was easier to think in front of a whiteboard than in front of a clunky computer. I'm not sure if what was on the whiteboard accurately reflected what was being portrayed. As a plot device it worked.

    As a final historical note for this review, those appear to be Zenith terminals (sans label) we're seeing:

    [​IMG]

    Here's what you probably don't need to know, from Wikipedia:

     
  2. Jun 9, 2014 #2 of 20
    Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    Great analysis, my friend. I hadn't done the research but I had suspected Zenith. My guess is that some of them are dummies too, as there couldn't be that many real terminals in the world today.

    Mixed feelings about this, the first "regular season" episode. I think we got a little too much backstory on McMillan, despite the fact that some of it might not even be true. I would have liked to have seen some of that parsed out over the season. Also I think that if the pilot was a little bit too in-your-face about the '80s-ness in which it takes place, this episode wasn't quite '80s enough. Not to say they got a lot wrong...It's just that a few more cultural references might have helped with new viewers.

    I'll give them this: a solid story and characters that remained consistent throughout. The wardrobe - spot on from those ivory dress shirts to the high-collared blouses. The settings, the set decoration, perhaps a bit less so. I'm struggling as to whether we would have seen so many whiteboards. I remember chalkboards being de rigeur at the time but I'm not saying whiteboards were unknown. I struggle also with whether or not "Lido Shuffle" was the right song for the moment; as a non-teenager Gordon would probably not have been listening to top-40 so in that sense a song from 1977 was the right choice, but it did a disservice to the 1980s setting to have an older song there.

    Good reference to Marc David Chapman, very subtle, but the show might have benefited from something a bit less subtle. Also Compaq was mentioned. As another Texas corporation, the folks at Cardiff might have known about Compaq, but they were really not known to the public until they started selling in late 1982/early 1983.

    I'm conflicted as to the Cameron character. I think the point is that she's a living anachronism, a jarring look at the future compared to the bearded status quo of most of the characters. That said, she really doesn't fit in and I wonder at what point that will stop serving the show's premise and start distracting from it.

    I'm hoping that we'll get a little more of a comfort level in the next few episodes, perhaps a few in-jokes that coders and prospective coders of the day will get and just a bit more cultural context for the otherwise uninitiated. The show needs less pontificating and a tad more wry humor, but it's well on the way.

    Disclaimer I didn't work in a computer company in 1982. I did spend time at one, though, quite a decent amount of time. I was also an avid computer hobbyist and absorbed every bit of material I could about the state of microcomputers (as we called them) at that time. You'd be better off listening to someone who was actually coding back then... so I'll do my best to separate my conjectures from recollections.
     
  3. Jun 9, 2014 #3 of 20
    dpeters11

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    Looking online, the whiteboard started to gain popularity in the 70s, after the dry erase marker was invented. That's one of those little things that we take for granted now, I'd forgotten about wet erase. I was in school back then and of course they didn't see any reason to move away from blackboards until much later.
     
  4. Jun 9, 2014 #4 of 20
    Laxguy

    Laxguy Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense.

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    Does the fiction match somewhat loosely one or two specific companies?
     
  5. Jun 9, 2014 #5 of 20
    hrobbs

    hrobbs AllStar

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    I can't tell yet, but I'm getting a Compaq / Texas Instruments / Dell start-up feel. Probably suffering from the ravages of time on my memory!
     
  6. Jun 9, 2014 #6 of 20
    Stuart Sweet

    Stuart Sweet The Shadow Knows!

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    Dell was quite a bit later and at the time TI was pushing their 99/4 microcomputer. It's closer to Compaq.
     
  7. Nick

    Nick Retired, part-time PITA DBSTalk Gold Club

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    The...
    Subject matter seems more suited for a documentary or mini-series, not a weekly cliffhanger series.
     
  8. dmspen

    dmspen Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    They already mentioned Compaq...Packard Bell?

    When did graters get plastic handles?
     
  9. balboadave

    balboadave Legend

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    While the show is based an an amalgam of start-ups of that time, it is clear that Compaq is the primary inspiration. It was founded by 3 former TI employees in 1982, was the first company to reverse engineer the IBM BIOS, and used former IBM employees for marketing. But they always marketed as high end and cutting edge, and were not a budget conscious company like Dell and Gateway, which came a couple of years later.

    This show isn't history to me so much as nostalgia. One of my first jobs was in the peripheral market with cassette drive memories, and later designing RAM boards for every computer system there was. I knew engineers that worked at two other PC start-ups: AST, started in 1980, and ALR a little later. It was exciting times for engineering.
     
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  10. phrelin

    phrelin Hall Of Fame DBSTalk Club

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    Northern...
    Because the setting is in a time I lived decades ago, sometimes I feel that way. But after watching "Mad Men" for several years I've come to accept the idea that a drama is a drama is a drama. I didn't live in Dodge City, Kansas, in the late 1800's so I didn't feel that way about "Gunsmoke."


    The thing is when we watched "Gunsmoke" in the mid-1950's nobody cared whether Miss Kitty's saloon was based on a business that once existed in Dodge City, Kansas, in the late 1800's. Nobody questioned whether the glasses used to serve the drinks were accurate replicas. In the case of "Halt and Catch Fire" we know that in the early-1980's there were a bunch of "start ups" though I don't know that we called them that. Compaq did reverse engineer IBM's PC BIOS, and in our business we shifted to Compaq simply to avoid IBM. But the characters in this show are not likely representative of the individuals who were responsible for Compaq.


    The "nostalgia" is part of what does it for me though some of it is remembering just how frustrating it was to watch corporate America lavish IBM in money for a mediocre product that pushed software in one direction. What I'm hoping is that the characters and story arcs in the show will soon become the attractions rather than the nostalgia and I think it will happen. Otherwise, Nick will have been correct - it would have been a better documentary.
     
  11. TomCat

    TomCat Broadcast Engineer

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    With the airing of episode two, Halt and Catch Fire has been elevated. It didn't just get better; it got great.

    I think we all went into this thinking that the premise, a fictional history of the computer industry, or at least one company’s attempt to make a better computer, was an interesting one. But I also think that at least on a subconscious level we all knew there was more than just this surface story, that there was more under the surface. And that the minutia about anachronistic set decoration inaccuracies is all just noise that belongs much farther in the background than some posters here have allowed it to be.

    Episode two demonstrated to us in no uncertain terms what this story is really about at its core.

    There is a critically-important instruction written into human DNA that is not all that unlike an instruction written into the BIOS ROM of a computer. It tells us to not accept the status quo. It drives us to look for better answers. It compels us to take risks in order to drive human evolution, risks that are sometimes not even in our best self interests.

    And it is how we got here; its the reason we crawled out of the ocean, walked erect on two legs, and emerged from the caves we once shivered in, and eventually created agriculture, society, and community, and discovered all of the great and wonderful things that we have accomplished, so far.

    Halt and Catch Fire is not about building a better personal computer, and it is not about the David and Goliath scenario between fictional and nonfictional companies. All that is merely symbolic. That is just the MacGuffin, the thing that really doesn't mean anything in itself that allows a writer to build a story around it that has real meaning beyond that central placeholder.

    After a late-night parking-lot scuffle, as Joe McMillan passionately and apparently quite spontaneously tells his two partners in crime, each of them not really liking the other two all that much, a horrific watershed example from his past, even if “slightly” embellished as only a Joe McMillan can embellish, we then learn definitively what the story is really about, and it's about that drive within the human spirit to make the world a better place, about finding your passion and following it at whatever cost, and about how that “line of code” written into our DNA occasionally triumphs over the risks taken, which is that single magic force that allows the human race to evolve.

    And that begins to resonate, finally clicks with the other two, as well as with the viewer, and acts as a virtual demarcation for the beginning of Act II of this story.

    The real beauty of the writing here is that Joe doesn’t say anything except what (he says) happened to him, and everything about his “drive and passion” to do this project is thus only implied. But it is written so that you can see the wheel’s turn in the other two’s heads, as they are turning simultaneously in yours. It’s pretty brilliant how they crafted this.

    If Joe had only told them what I just said, appealing to their sense of reason by reciting to them on an intellectual level what this struggle is really about, and imploring them to take up arms along side him, they probably would have dismissed him completely.

    What Joe does instead is tell them “completely impromptu” how a single experience from his past affected him; he appeals organically to the non-intellectual side, to the human, emotional side of them while appearing not to have any agenda of his own, whatsoever.

    And that is how a brilliant salesman closes.

    We can begin to see how even when driven to physical violence towards each other here in the beginning, these three are already starting to bond gravitationally in a way that will make them completely formidable, and that no man and no giant corporation could ever usurp or deny. And Joe’s told story is the catalyst.

    And because of the actual loving care given this point by the writers, as opposed to the normal hacky plot manipulation we often see, we are not left wondering, and understand exactly why Joe has this particular motivation, and how he infects the other two with that motivation. Because in this climactic scene, what’s really important is that the writers have also “Joe McMillaned” us as viewers, and we’ve bought the premise, which is the oldest, most tried and true dramatic precept, the human condition of struggling to evolve beyond what we were just yesterday.

    We’re hooked, just like Gordon and Cameron are hooked. Rather than the viewer having to suspend disbelief while watching those characters have this experience in the third person, the viewer actually enjoys a shared first-person experience with the characters, all of us being subjected to the same expert sales job. That’s life and art imitating each other, all at the same time, and it sets up perfectly the viewer’s ability to then naturally identify with the characters. Very few writers can pull that off.

    So, rather than being about something as innocuous as an appliance, this story is about something much more universal. Because everything we do has some basis in responding to that drive. Its about having the courage to follow one's passion to express oneself creatively at the risk of losing everything. And if it were not for that drive, what would the purpose of us being here really be, anyway? Would we have accomplished anything?

    Many shows have great acting, producing, directing, editing, and brilliant writing. Halt and Catch Fire has all of that and more, but the key to what makes this one special is the universal core story of the basic human struggle; of fighting to prevail over the odds, daring to make a contribution that is seminal, creating something of lasting value that can be a building block for what can be accomplished moving forward, and harnessing what few gifts we are given to make a lasting mark that has the power to triumph over our mere mortality.

    And that is a story that has the ability to resonate with every viewer, because every viewer has essentially the same basic DNA and is driven by that same line of code, so each of us has a similar personal story of our own. And it all meshes particularly well when written this brilliantly.

    So what we are left with here is potentially the best TV show on AMC since Breaking Bad, and possibly one of the best shows on TV currently. Only a handful of shows reach the level of being worthy of rewatching, either immediately or a year or two down the road, or both, and I think this one qualifies.
     
  12. djlong

    djlong Hall Of Fame

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    Being as I've watched and worked on computers since they were downsized to 'merely' a series of refrigerator-sized boxes, I find myself wanting to insert dialog into these characters.

    Without giving too much away - when one is arguing that "all you want is a faster beige box", the other should be screaming about how you can't GET to all the cool stuff that you want WITHOUT making the faster beige box. Back then, for all the cool stuff that Cam was wanting to see from computers, she lacks the vision to understand just how much processing power is going to be required. On top of that, it's just as important to visualize how you break these tasks down into code. I'll give a couple of examples.

    Back in the 1960s, it was thought that computers would advance to doing simple things - like (I'm not making this up) tying someone's shoes. But the really complex stuff - like playing chess against a grandmaster, well, that was way too difficult. Look at us now. Chess computers CAN beat grandmasters, and have been doing so for ages. Have we yet produced the first robot valet that can tie your tie or your shoes?

    Back in the 1980s, I was having a discussion about graphics and processing power. My esteemed colleague was calculating the kind of bandwidth it would take to completely digitize a movie and display it on a screen. He calculated the enormous (then-unthinkable) number of pixels, multiplying THAT times 24 or 30 frames per second and declared it 'impossible'.

    Well, here we are, and 10 years ago you could do it. Today, you can do it with a $39 Raspberry Pi computer on a chip smaller than a credit card hooked up to your 60" HDMI monitor. Back then, MP4 compression was unheard of. Back then, the fastes, most expensive modems ran at 1.2-9.6Kbps. DIalup, by the 1990s, had gotten to 56Kbps and today I have fiber to my house at 30Mbps.

    So getting back to the show... You have a salesman that has vision but is hiding an awful lot of SOMEthing. You have Gordon who developed something WAY before it's time and it failed (maybe like the Apple Lisa). Then you have Cam who has all the talent, all the dreams and none of the practicality - but doesn't yet really know what's impossible.

    Yeah, there are a few technical burps in this show that I've seen - but there are a LOT more hits than misses. The ratio is well above my 'bar' for being to ignore the occasional slip-up.

    My ONE problem with this show is Joe. He's yet to show me one redeeming characteristic. He's a self-centered, conniving, arrogant snake-oil salesman that doesn't exactly have a lot of empathy. He's borderline psychotic in that he just doesn't care what other people think - he just wants to manipulate them into doing whatever it is that he feels is The Right Thing according to The Secret Gospel of Joe. I do NOT like this character and I keep waiting for SOMEthing to happen that will allow me to like him. I empathize with Gordon - in fact I've been in similar, but WAY lower on the scale of consequences, situations as him. I empathize with Cam as I knew a lot of people like her in the industry (though most of THEM were male).

    I'm still watching because it's compelling.
     
  13. dpeters11

    dpeters11 Hall Of Fame

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    Heck, even most humans really don't tie their shoes properly in a good knot.
     
  14. satcrazy

    satcrazy Icon

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    Great...
    with all the crap on TV, this is a breath of fresh air.

    I don't know a lot about the origins of Compaq, or others, but I did know IBM commanded a certain amount of respect.

    It's drama, to be sure, but it's nice to realize there's far more to the pc than just sitting down and firing it up.

    Ask the average kid who has his android plastered to his head about Compaq or "big blue", bet you get a blank stare.......
     
  15. dpeters11

    dpeters11 Hall Of Fame

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    Probably true, particularly since IBM has gotten out of the consumer market. Though I really didn't have any experience with Compaq until much later, with the Proliant server line.
     
  16. clueless

    clueless Legend

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    To all you IBM haters (of which I am one) I assume you know they are in trouble. They sold off their PC business years ago and recently sold off their server business. Years ago they decided to focus on supplying "services" (i.e. outsourcing) to corporate america. That worked for a while. But with the shift to IT cloud services they are having trouble adapting.

    I was outsourced to IBM Global Services almost a decade ago. It didn't take long for me to realize it was all about maximizing IBM profits through billable hours, change orders and contract interpretation - not customer service. I left after about 6 months.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2014/05/30/why-ibm-is-in-decline/
     
  17. Laxguy

    Laxguy Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense.

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    I sure wouldn't short the stock on the basis of that article..... Trouble? Maybe decline in eps, but they ain't foldin'.
     
  18. TomCat

    TomCat Broadcast Engineer

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    Let's not forget that this show is fiction. There is no requirement for accuracy whatsoever, and there is a lot of license available to the writers, who will gladly jettison accuracy in a NY minute if it serves the purpose of making the story better, and that is exactly how they should approach this. If you are watching for accuracy or because you want to see if their historical take matches up with yours, you are probably watching for the wrong reasons and are missing the bigger story, which is pretty terrific, about these three characters. I can't imagine that you could reasonably ever expect a consultation from Dr. House, either, but that seems to be the sort of lunacy I am seeing posted here.

    And I agree, Joe really is a bastard, but even in ep 2 I am warming up to him. He's not a full "black hat". He and I would never share box seats together, but I can still respect the positive side of Joe. Thinking back, it did take time to warm up to Rust Cohle and Marty Hart.

    Where I think they really scored was in the perfect casting of Cameron. When the writers caught their first glimpse of MacKenzie at her audition they both thought immediately, independently, "Oh sh--! There's Cameron!". She had the part immediately. She has the perfect look, skinny, wiry, unconventionally beautiful, and she carries herself in a way that reflects her intelligence, and she just fully embodies that outsider persona. She has also turned out to understand Cameron and portray her pretty faithfully; you believe that Mackenzie is Cameron. I also thought the segment with Cameron shopp(lift)ing was pretty brilliant; you see her "trying on" the persona of a conventional female office worker to see if that might help her cope a little better, and in the end staying true to herself by not caving in to it. These writers really know what they are doing and are very skilled, and it shows.

    The show has a lot of layers, and I expect it to only get better and more compelling. This show actually has something True Detective did not have, which is approachability. Nic P gave us a masterpiece, and the storytelling was pretty great, but the storytelling in this show is better, because it doesn't threaten to soar over anyone's head. It is written with the viewer in mind, a loveletter directly to the viewer, while I felt TD was written with the writer's quest for true art being more in mind, and if the audience couldn't keep up, screw 'em, seemed to be the attitude. Now if H&CF can work in an unbroken 6-minute tracking shot of a shootout in the projects..., well, never mind. The Emmys are going to be off the hook this year.
     
  19. jdskycaster

    jdskycaster Legend

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    Watching this one but the jury is still out for me. It has potential but Joe is getting tough to watch. The edges are just a bit too hard for me and the antics on this weeks episode went a bit overboard with nearly all of the threads. Almost as if they are trying too hard rather than letting the story develop naturally.
     
  20. TomCat

    TomCat Broadcast Engineer

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    It was definitely not the level of quality of the first two eps. Not even close.
     

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