It's time to catch up on AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire'

Kelly Lawler
'Halt and Catch Fire' chronicles the rise of personal computing in the 1980s. It features a female coder and female hardware engineer.

You need to be watching a certain 80s period drama with stellar performances, great female characters and good old fashioned nostalgia. And no, we're not talking about Stranger Things.

We're talking about Halt and Catch Fire, the AMC show you're probably (OK, definitely) not watching, that returns for its third season on Tuesday, Aug. 23. The show startedas a Mad Men-like take on the dawn of personal computers, following a troubled anti-hero (Lee Pace) as he shakes up the status quo at an electronics company in the Silicon Prairie (just like the Silicon Valley but in Texas) in the 80s. The name of the show comes from the code HCF, which would cause a computer to stop working but not catch fire for real.

The first season is, admittedly, a little tough to get through. The show doesn't find it's footing until Season 2, when it shifts focus to the pursuits of two of its female characters (Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé) running an early incarnation of an online gaming company. There’s a renewed energy in the second season that comes from focusing on the women and a far more novel concept.

The trouble with the first season also makes it hard for new viewers to catch up on HACF, but we don't want that to stop you. So for your viewing pleasure before next week's premiere, we put together a guide that only includes the most important episodes. The first two seasons are available on Netflix.

Optional start: "I/O"

The pilot is still the best place to start, especially if you’re a completist. We meet our four main characters, Joe (Pace), Cameron (Davis), Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Donna (Bishé), who are brought together by Joe’s insane idea for a small company in Dallas to create their own personal computer and rival IBM. The specifics of how they do that are part of what drags Season 1 down (at one point our guys are effectively stealing from IBM), but it’s good to know the baseline. Plus watching the pilot will make you appreciate the improvements in Season 2.

But definitely make sure you see "Up Helly Aa" and "1984"

If you’re OK with learning characters and settings quickly, start with the final two episodes of Season 1, which follow the core four on a trip to a computing convention to show off the machine they’ve put together. These episodes plant the seeds for how the show will pivot in its second season. Cameron and Donna are given time to shine and Joe moves beyond his Don Draper roots. Plus the show makes great use of computing history you’ll remember, including that Apple Superbowl commercial that shook up the world.

Finish with all 10 episodes of Season 2

Now that you’ve put in the time with the first season you get to reap the rewards of Season 2. Cardiff Electric moves to the background as the show focuses on Cameron and Donna’s startup, Mutiny. The new setting allows new themes to shine (women and mothers in the workplace, finding love and friendship online) and the pace and energy is electrified by losing its "serious drama" pretenses and just having fun.

Once you’ve finished Season 2 you’ll be ready for Season 3, which premieres on AMC on Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 9:00 p.m. ET.