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Halt and Catch Fire S01E01: "I/O"

Before we get to the meat of Halt and Catch Fire's series premiere, can we take a quick 30 seconds to appreciate the new AMC drama's awesome opening credits?


Daaaaaaaang! That is fresh! And honestly, it's a much better introduction to the computer-revolution series than watching Lee Pace's Joe MacMillan run over an armadillo in a sports car. I'm assuming that scene was a heavy-handed metaphor for Joe's ability to penetrate even the hardest of armors. Or maybe it signified his hatred of animals? It wasn't that clear to me. 

What WAS clear to me about Halt and Catch Fire first episode, armadillocide aside, is that it marked the beginning of a potentially great drama for AMC—something that's eluded the network since Mad Men and Breaking Bad earned it the reputation of being television's next big prestige-drama factory (The Walking Dead is more successful than great).

"I/O" set the stage for a series that takes place during a fascinating time in history—the personal-computer revolution that shaped today's society as we know it—with characters who have the gusto to punch through the walls and break open the possibilities. It also featured a boomin' soundtrack, competent cinematography, and one scene about reverse-engineering an IBM computer that had no business being as enthralling as it was.

Lee Pace's Joe MacMillan is one of those guys who shouts "I'm a maverick!!!" into a mirror while brushing his teeth, and he's so wrapped up in the idea of being a pioneer that it probably costs him a lot of personal relationships (does Joe have any friends?). It seemed like he took a job at Cardiff Electric just to pick the brain of engineer whiz Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and then suck him into a get-rich-and-legendary-quick scheme through a combination of back-patting, begging, and scolding. And the result was Cardiff Electric versus IBM thanks to some legal quicksand that was purposefully—and somewhat nefariously—laid out by Joe, forcing Cardiff to jump into the computer-building business against its will, lest it face the lawyers of IBM. It's basically a new version of the David vs. Goliath story, but a new version where David starts out by forcing his big brother to partner up with him. And by the time the army of suits from IBM stormed into Cardiff's offices, all Gordon could ask Joe was, "What are you trying to prove with this?"


However, "I/O" wasn't completely bug-free. A case of Pilotitis made the hour feel sluggish at times, as we all knew that the three main characters would be teaming up by episode's end. Surprise! The rugged prodigy hottie with the Mary Stuart Masterson 'do who initially rejected Joe in a clichéd introduction between two strong characters eventually joined up with him. And we still had to wade through nearly a whole episode of watching Gordon kick and scream and resist Joe's advances, and then kick and scream against his wife's fussing, despite Halt and Catch Fire's logline (and decades' worth of television storytelling) giving away the secret that yes, Gordon would collaborate with Joe. 

What's especially worrisome is the way that Gordon took that predictable step: After vehemently protesting, his wife just changed her mind about letting Gordon risk everything to do what he wanted. As a result, his decision didn't feel earned, bringing up questions of the series' writing. 

A few other characters exhibited questionable behavior, too: Why would Cameron have sex with Joe in the bar after spending an entire scene trying to get away from him? And why would Joe's boss John Bosworth—a man who would later showcase a careful business acumen—hire Joe without even seeing a resumé? Moving the story into position appeared to take precedence over believable character conduct.


Ultimately, the setting, atmosphere, and characters of Halt and Catch Fire are so intoxicating that I don't believe the series will continue to be as predictable. I wish that instead of focusing on assembling the team, "I/O" had delved deeper into what makes Joe tick, given that he's going to be the core processor that makes this show hum. Like all successful visionaries, he boasts a dramatic combination of ruthlessness, sociopathy, and mystery. Rather than portray Joe as a salesman who would earn praise from Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glenn RossHalt and Catch Fire would've been better served by immediately scratching the surface of the many questions that surround Joe. How did he spend his year off after walking out on IBM? Is his confidence part of his act? Does he know what failure tastes like? Does he ever feel any remorse for dragging other people into his flights of fancy? Joe may have the swagger of a veteran gunslinger with no holes in him, but his strengths are also his weaknesses, and the fun of Halt and Catch Fire will be watching the back-and-forth game as Cameron and Gordon follow their fearless leader between triumph and the abyss. Joe will get his wins, but he's going to f*ck up big time, too, and everyone will pay for it. 

"I/O" wasn't without its faults, but I suppose that's to be expected from a pilot episode that has one objective: get the gang together. I'm still pretty excited for Halt and Catch Fire, because I get the feeling that "I/O" was a necessary step for the series to take in order to start telling its real story. Even though the laying of the foundation wasn't pretty, we're at the start of something that could be really great. We'll find out soon enough. 


LINES OF CODE

– Scoot McNairy, who plays Gordon, is Halt and Catch Fire's early breakout star. He's fantastic in the role of Gordon.

– Kerry Bishé is also very good as Gordon's wife Donna, especially considering that she's playing a character type that's becoming tiresome on television: the wife who doesn't want to let her star-of-the-show husband do anything. (See: Breaking Bad's Skyler White, Mad Men's Betty Draper, The Sopranos' Carmela Soprano, Boardwalk Empire's Margaret Schroeder.) However, Donna's also a computer programmer, so there's a good chance that her character will have more substantial storylines later in the series.  

– Someone arrest Toby Huss, who plays Joe's boss at Cardiff Electric! The guy was stealing scenes left and right!  

– Unless we're eventually going to learn that Joe and Cameron are sex addicts, I don't understand why that early sex scene was necessary, other than to pique the interest of viewers who were ready to tune out. Seriously, the whole meeting between the two of them was pretty awful.

– The reverse-engineering scene with Joe and Gordon was awesome. It reminded me of Walter and Jesse cooking meth in Breaking Bad.

– What did you make of Joe's senseless murder of a poor Texan armydilly? Smart metaphor, or animal cruelty?

– Most importantly, will you be back for Episode 2?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 8/2/2015

Season 2 : Episode 10

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The pilot intrigued me and I'll be back for the next episode. There were a few predictable parts here and there but I loved Lee Pace's performance, which kept me watching. I've only ever seen him in Pushing Daisies before and this is really something else.
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You REALLY need to seek out Lee Pace's Wonderfalls, a complete gem of a show. As for HACF, I came to the show for Lee Pace as well and will be sticking around. :)
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Now that you mention it, I think I've watched a few episodes of Wonderfalls. Wasn't he some kind of sleazebag and the brother of the protagonist? I totally forgot about that!
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This show moves way too slow for my taste.
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I think the armadillo was a metaphor to show us that Joe is so focused on his goal and trying to reach it at such a high velocity that he only starts to realize the costs of this when it's too late.
I want more of this show!
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Loved it. Great cinematography and something about the 80s just makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The review negatives seemed pretty contrived though because the partial-sex scene and how it went down sort of helped define both characters.
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So...I think I like this show. At present, it will likely be a DVR watched show for me (have you seen what happens to Sundays in about two weeks?) and as far as I can tell, I have one or two other nights with nothing to watch.

I do see what you mean of the pilotitis of the episode (and it will be fun watching an early eighties show where the kids are actually closer to the age I was then versus Paige and Henry). I like that they made Donna more than just a doting housewife (and I am no computer expert, but I don't know that she is a computer programmer, she might be a computer hardware engineer, which would make sense if she was working with her husband a software engineer...it also will make her necessary to the actual mission at some point).

No, I don't get why we killed the armadillo. I don't 100% get Joe and what is up with him, like I get what he literally wants to do, but the why, I am not sure. Right now, I guess I am just applying what I know of salesmen, which really is more from the Office than anything else. I am guessing there might be some drama we get to know next week with the IBM people. I do get Gordon though, and I did want to say to him occasionally, put a token effort in at home and you can be as morose as you want, Donna is too busy to notice.
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OMG OMG OMG! Lee. Pace.
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The review: Wow, such excitement! Is that 80s nostalgia, or just letting an inner geek run free? :) I remember getting that excited over TV series, but it mostly ended badly a few weeks later. Anyway, the review made me smile and maybe a little envious.

This first episode: I've seen it several times now. As much as I like it and love the story, those first 11.5 minutes .... I don't even have a word for it. It's like watching "random things that happened to some people." Even re-watching it, nothing really connects for me until Joe tells Gordon he's needed for the sales call. But then after that, everything's really good.
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I don't think Donna is a cliche or that she changed her mind for no reason. Based on the interactions in the first 3/4 of the episode, Donna was reacting as much out of frustration with Gordon's disconnectedness and depression as she was out of a concern for the family's financial security. While the only thing she was explicit about was the later, much of the subtext of their interactions belied the former. When she was confronted with the fact that his brief foray back into computer building greatly re-energized him and caused him to begin to reconnect with his family, she decided that having the "good" version of Gordon was worth the risk. Especially when he made the gesture of dropping the thing that helped perk him back up.
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A few observations:

  • The Armadillo scene was there to give the big city hotshot a down home "Welcome to Texas" moment, and Joe's reaction was him saying "Big deal. I'm not here to take prisoners. You may be the first, but you won't be the last."
  • The sex scene at the beginning was to show a) Joe's a good salesman - not content to go for the easy pickings, he went after the one that held him in complete contempt, and still closed, and b) Like many great men (Do you hear me Bill Clinton), he has his flaws, and isn't above letting his little head do the thinking sometimes, even if it causes huge problems for him later.
  • I actually understood a bit of what they were doing in the reverse engineering scene, and it was still awesome. So many shows involving computers are completely unrealistic. This one isn't. They still took something that could have been tedious, and turned it into a gripping scene. More like that please.
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Joe/s character was better demonstrated in his pursuit for Gordon. The whole sex scene just added nothing for me. It was just another example of Joe being an asshole, which he was doing throughout the entire pilot. Far from necessary, espciially it being between two of the three main characters. I really hope they end the whole Cameron/Joe sexual tension thing right there, because this show can definitely do better than that i feel. Armadillo thing didn't bother me at all, got the same thing out it. And yes, I also enjoyed the engineering scene miraculously, lol
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Yes, Joe is an asshole, as are many of the other movers and shakers in this world. While the sex scene wasn't really necessary, it did establish this trait right away. And while there's no need for them to repeat it, or for any real attraction to develop between them, if Cameron continued to consider him a lying bastard, it wouldn't hurt the dynamic between them, at least for us viewers.
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I just want to echo what I'm hearing from the reviewer and (most of) the comments below. Bishé is great, and I like her character. Not whining, not aloof. She's coloured as a capable, compassionate person that just wants her empty-shell-of-a-man husband to be and do something. Refreshing, and Bishé pulls it off with aplomb. I'm glad this isn't just another whiney spouse, and I hope she has a bigger role to play.
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Why do they need female characters at all? Tech world was women-less back then (and pretty much now). So why bother and bring nagging wife character whom everybody would hate or some love interest (sex addict or tool for creating romantic tension, tiresome "will they won't they" scheme). AMC should have had only male characters in this show, why waste time on female characters that are useless or plot devices anyway?
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ok I just Googled women working on computers in the 80's and a ton of names popped up.
Carol Shaw she was the first video game designer ('78-'84 worked for Atari)
Irene Greif first woman to get a Ph.D in comp sci (from '75)
just to name a few. There might not have been many but it wasn't "women-less".
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that is exactly women-less. why don't they make show about Carol Shaw then? Of course, male character is more complex and interesting, I guess.
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Because not everyone enjoys a weinerfest as much as you?
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want boobfest go watch Game of thrones or better - the porn.
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First, thanks to @JenMo73 for writing a discussion post about this pilot before staff could.

I watched the pilot a week ago and I liked it. The characters were believable enough, especially for that period of time. It's the time that combination of the guys that start in their garage (Apple, or even Hewlett and Packard a long time before that, I've visited that garage) and the somewhat more modern businessman is possible.

I worked in the business in that time. So the technobabble is music to my ears. It was a time when those technical issues were at least a bit understandable. And I've got wonderful stories to tell about IBM and IBM compatible clones. I should have written a book about it.

Amongst other things, I was responsible for the purchase off all PC's for the Dutch government. When I think of my first meetings with IBM it was like in the pilot. Grey old man, always at least one more then we were and they were arrogant. We should be happy that they allowed us to buy IBM stuff, that we were allowed on jump on the riding train that IBM was.

So I will like the series because I lived that story. I understand that people like @TimSpot who were not around at that period of time will judge it on other merits. But remember it is almost as distant as the middle ages from where we are now, although it seems as though it's almost a few decades away.
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Thanks! ;)
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I think this was a very good pilot. I also have the same complaints about the whole Cameron/Joe hooking up scenario. So cliche, but that was the only disappointing part of the pilot. Lets hope theres no "business w/ pleasure" thing that happens later. This show can do better. Very intriguing characters, especially Gordon, wonderfully played by Scoot McNairy. I'm 100% tuning in again, I think AMC has a good one here. And yay for Gordon's wife actually being supportive and not useless. Great call to make her a techy as well.
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hire Joe without even seeing a resumé. I know you're younger @TimSpot, but in those days of cowboy like pc behaviour, i can imagine someone being hired based upon his sales slip. Especially if he was from IBM. IBM was next to God in those days.
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This is one time I totally agree with everything you wrote. This first episode shows much promised but as you mentioned, some of the writings were predictable and unnecessary.

I too love Kerry Bishé more than the girl who played Cameron whom I assume is to be the main lead.

I do hope the next few episodes is better and clearer.

I wanted to love Turn - the other AMC show but it is very hard to follow.
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I found it hard to get into the episode initially but after about 20 minutes, I was sold on the idea... Whether the show will build strong enough plotlines and characters remains to be seen - the characters all felt slightly thin/cliched so far but it is the pilot so let's give them a few eps to fatten them up...
  • I didn't find Joel & Cameron hook up odd although it was a tad predictable - both have confrontational personalities, were drunk and horny so... storage room sexcapade! If you want to get into details Joel was impressed with Cameron but also miffed at her nonchalant attitude towards him and Cameron... She is a college student in her late teens early twenties right? Fratgirl moment or if the show is to be predictable, daddy issues too.
  • Joel disappeared from IBM about a year earlier so I am guessing he has been in hell and back in that period... That time gap (during which IBM actually thought him dead) and the scene where he was bashing stuff with a baseball seem to indicate, not very subtly, there is something very wrong with his life and in his emotional state (background story coming up in the next eps I suppose). Pace is great in the role of this guy on the verge of a breakdown behind his alpha male routine
  • I agree Gordon was an amazing performance by Mcnairy but as for Donna, I think she is different from the female characters mentioned. To me it is crucial that she is also a programmer so she is, not just a mother and a wife, but a peer to her husband. I suspect she'll be drafted to help with the IT stuff down the line
  • The armadillo killed upset me nearly as much as a this week's debacle over at GoT (no spoilers here). There was no need for it... Just guessing the point was to illustrate Joel not giving a fu** about anything? His lack of empathy to other beings?
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Welcome back, Lee Pace, the pie-maker computer-maker!


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My comments in Tim's previous article about whether the show is worth a watch still hold true, however after re-watching the episode I may have been too quick to judge. I still think that the lead up to getting the trio together was drawn out in places it shouldn't have been, while neglecting the back story that I was hoping for in others. I think the show has a lot of promise and now that the pilot is out of the way I'm hoping they dive right into the meat of the story. I want to know so much more about Joe and Gordon, their past, specifically what let Joe away from IBM, what he did for the last year, and what exactly happened with Gordon's "other" computer build they referenced.

I still hope they bring some "real" stories into the mix at some point, even if they're just headlines in passing.
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I still have my computer books and floppy discs that were high tech back in the day. We had to learn programming and commands just to have the computer do things. I took an advanced night class at Saddleback High School in the spring of -88, before windows.
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I showed my grown boys the books and they were like "Duh!!" They laughed at the sizo of the floppys.
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I suppose they were 51/4"and not the old 8"ones :-). I still have the machine code books of my Commodore PET and Commodore 64 but I am not able to do anything with them any more. A lost art. But having done that I understand what they're doing in this series.

You should definitively watch this video where kids react to old computers.
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Oh you ladies. I bought my first home computer in '79, my second in '82 and my first pc in '86. I am not old so you are not old either!
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Yup, so do I. I also have a sixteen year old daughter who's just completed a Btec IT course and is going to be doing an advanced IT course in her spare time between college courses in Animal Care because she (and I quote) 'finds it relaxing' and 'it's always going to be useful, mum'. She says she wants a diversity of possible careers as jobs are scarce in the Midlands in the UK. I now feel like my parents did when I was sixteen and showing them how to programme the video recorder (remember those?) and teaching my lated aged father in law how to use his e-mail. I never thought it would happen to me, but - dear Lord - it has and I am now officially OLD...... :$
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I personally love this. Just wondering if its based on real events?
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www. multicians.org
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It's based on the climate of the industry in the 80s, but it doesn't specifically portray any real events.
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Thank you, now I don't have to google for information.
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I simply loved the pilot, and my love for the '80s helped me close an eye on its flaws (the music! Star Wars! that Speak & Spell! yay sweet memories). Joe "unapologetic as**ole" MacMillan is a compelling enough character, I look forward to see his backstory explored. Oh and I liked Cameron a lot, that girl is awesome. I agree that her storage closet meeting with Joe was kind of awful and not sexy at all, but I'm SO glad if that means ending the whole "will they/won't they" thing before it even started. No time for romance, we have a revolution to lead! Can't wait to see the next episode :)
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Agreed about hoping the bar closet escapade ends any will they/won't they stuff, but I highly doubt it will. Networks seems to think that they need a romance plot in order to be successful or to cast a wider net for the female audience. I wholeheartedly disagree in scenarios such as this show. I'm also extremely excited for future 80's references.
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I haven't watched it, but I might, just because it's awesome when one show rounds up a cast of people that the rest of the world hasn't realized are awesome yet. Silicon Valley did it with TJ Miller, Kumail Nanjiani, Thomas Middleditch, etc., and now this show has nabbed both Lee Pace and Scoot McNairy (who I've been championing even since Monsters and Killing Them Softly, which nobody saw but which he was Oscar worthy in).
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Got to agree with the Cameron comment, why would a riot grrl want to shag a guy in a suit? Best opening credits for a show about IT? The IT Crowd of course you silly goose!
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I thought it was an exciting episode and a promising beginning. The powerhouse performance clearly came from Lee Pace. Scoot McNairy was solid (just like the sales engineer he plays) but nothing special -- he seems to be playing a character similar to the one he did in Argo: smart, with a lot of suppressed anger/frustration. I truly don't understand the praise for him as the "breakout" star in the pilot.
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Its pilot was OK. They reminded me of the two Steves of Apple. :D
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I loved this! Sure it had some slow parts but it was enough to plug me in for more. I believe Gordon's wife and Joe's boss will be scene stealers. Can't wait for the next episode! Oh and more 80's soundtrack, movies and toys please! I love being reminded of those things!
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The Goldbergs had a lot of those!
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I have to say that this is probably the slowest pilot that I've watched in a long time so hopefully it picks up the pace in the next few episodes cause if it doesn't I think ill go insane. And this is coming from a Maddict and ppl say that show is slow so I wonder how other people feel about this show (so far).

As for the characters I like them all except one. And that is Joe MacMillan idk if its just b.c. this is the pilot and they don't fully know his character yet, but my god I couldn't stand him. He was just so loud and annoying, and I couldn't see one redeeming thing about him.

Totally got to agree with the questions listed in this article cause I had them while watching this pilot (which isn't really a good sign).
Overall I think this could be a really great series I just hope it picks up the pace for future episodes.

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(The Walking Dead is more successful than great). - You are entitled to your opinion but I have to disagree. I think it is both and I enjoy it very much.
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You forgot Michelle Monaghan on True Detective and Natalie Zea on Justified. And infamously, Lori on TWD. And the wife that gets killed in Fargo. And Brody's wife in Homeland. It's such a tired trope and it just wastes good actresses.
On a random note: the actress who plays Cameron's bone structure is eerily similar to Robin Wright's. Or is it just the Claire Underwood-esque short hair throwing me off? I agree, the sex scene was pretty meaningless. I'm still not sure about the show but I'm definitely giving it the four episode test.
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maybe the writers thought that the random sex scene is the only way to get viewers? but yeah it was random and had no point.
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Thank you! The entire episode I was trying to pin where she was from/who she reminded me of
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(The Walking Dead is more successful than great).
Agree 100%.
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Lots of shows fall into this category, prominently Glee and Suits.
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