For the lulz: The 9 best moments in American Genius: Jobs vs. Gates

Break out the popcorn and maybe the shot glasses. It's worth it to see our favorite tech titans played by unknown actors, as the soundtrack pounds and the narrator intones.

american genius jobs vs gates together with apple ii

We watched the DVD and this is what we LOL'd

National Geographic’s American Genius miniseries kicks off Monday night with Jobs vs. Gates, a dramatization of the frenemy-ship of the two tech titans. It’s like Pirates of Silicon Valley, just condensed and interspersed with talking-head interviews. 

Don’t expect any fresh insight into what made Steve Jobs and Bill Gates tick. But do expect geek-thrilling cameos by vintage PC hardware, surrounded by unknown actors, intense narration, overwrought music, and occasional subtleties, like Gates giving Jobs a discreet eyeroll in this scene because Steve doesn’t code. We thought about crafting a drinking game, but honestly, we don’t want anyone to get hurt.

American Genius: Jobs vs. Gates airs on the National Geographic Channel on Monday, June 1, at 9/8:00 p.m. Central. It’s all good, clean, nerdy fun.

american genius jobs vs gates how much could we sell it for

Show Steve the money

Steve Wozniak first thought to hook up a TV monitor and a typewriter-style keyboard to what would become the Apple I. To demo text entry to Steve Jobs, he types “Isn’t this great?” Jobs looks astonished. He leans over and types back: “How much could we sell it for?”

True, Woz was the computer nerd and Jobs was the entrepreneur. Too bad this isn’t a musical, or we would have been treated to a rousing number called something like, “Revolutions are nice, but we gotsta get paid!”

american genius jobs vs gates paul allen bill gates nerd walk 2

Reservoir nerds

If this were a drinking game—although it’s not—we would implore you to take a big gulp every time the scene shows one or more men striding down a hallway in slow motion. From Bill Gates and Paul Allen wheeling and dealing at IBM, to Steve Jobs’s triumphant return to Apple in 1997 (backlit by blinding light like he’s descending from a higher plane of existence), this documentary definitely overuses the ol’ walk-and-talk—and doesn’t include the talk.

american genius jobs vs gates steve jobs writes apple with soldering iron

Mister burns

One of our favorite scenes in the otherwise-meh biopic Jobs (with Ashton Kutcher) is when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are trying to agree on a name for their nascent computer company, while they’re driving together in a car. Woz suggests “Enterprise Computers.” Jobs snaps, “No Star Trek names!” and threatens to drive off a cliff. Ha!

In American Genius, this conversation happens in the famous Jobs garage. Steve responds to Woz’s boring suggestions, like “Executek” and “Personal Computers Inc.,” by casually picking up a soldering gun and burning the word APPLE into the workbench. However it really happened, it was funnier in Jobs.

american genius jobs vs gates steve wozniak garage computer club

Tie one on

Oh yeah: In that same garage scene, this one guy is wearing a necktie on his head. You know, like a headband? A necktie. On his head. Now that’s some groovy innovation.

american genius jobs vs gates albuquerque microsoft office

Meanwhile, back at Microsoft...

This is the show’s reimagination of Microsoft’s first office in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The logo over the door is a glaring anachronism, but we got more tired of seeing the same two cars parked in front of the building in multiple scenes, despite the supposed passage of time in the documentary.

american genius jobs vs gates steve jobs green floating vision

Green screen

Woz knew how to make computers, but this documentary stresses that Steve Jobs had the idea to make those computers good-looking. When it comes time to build the successor to the Apple I, Woz is preoccupied with “making the processors faster,” as the narration oversimplifies, while Steve Jobs is having some kind of acid flashback that involves seeing a fully contained Apple II computer come to life in front of him in the form of a glowing green hologram. He’s a visionary, get it?! This was his vision! 

It’s kind of like when Don Draper hallucinated Bert Cooper dancing around in his socks singing “The Best Things in Life Are Free” after he’d already died. Only that was poignant and delightful, and this is just weird.

american genius jobs vs gates steve jobs the same shirt

Too busy changing the world to change clothes

Steve Jobs is seen wearing this cream-colored button-down shirt pretty constantly from the late 70s straight through to when he was ousted from Apple. Gates is seen in the same ill-fitting suit jacket with yellow-patterned tie.

Likewise, when we see a montage of the Macintosh’s development (Steve pointing to things on computer screens as people nod, or angrily throwing papers and yelling at someone), even Steve’s team wears the same outfits the whole time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but maybe the Mac was—or they were just too busy to change clothes.

american genius jobs vs gates bill gates shouting about gui

Drama! Pathos! Bared teeth!

This is the unknown actor playing Bill Gates in his big scene. He’s just come back from Apple, where Steve Jobs has shown him the graphical Macintosh operating system. Now he’s exhorting Paul Allen and their Microsoft cohort to build something just like it for IBM personal computers.

After his big speech, Bill storms out of the conference room, leaving Paul Allen and the others looking at each other in shock. 

american genius jobs vs gates mitt romney

...and then there was—Mitt???

Most of the talking-head interviewees in Jobs vs. Gates made sense. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, of course. Walter Isaacson, who wrote a biography of Steve Jobs. Kara Swisher and Jim Daly, longtime technology journalists. Biz Stone, who founded Twitter? A stretch.

By far the most baffling was Mitt Romney. The only thing we can figure is that Bill Gates went to Harvard, which is in Massachusetts, and Romney was governor of Massachusetts... a few decades after Gates was there. Or something like that. If you have some insight, let us know in the comments.

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