For awhile there in the 80s, you could not get away from Max Headroom, an animated talking head created by George Stone, Annabel Jankel, and Rocky Morton and sold as the first computer-generated artificial intelligence. Max, portrayed and voiced by a then-unknown actor named Matt Frewer, became a cultural phenomenon, going viral in a way unprecedented in the pre-Internet age. His image and his stuttering delivery of one-liners made him one of the most instantly recognizable icons of the era.
Max segued from doing interstitials on a music video show to being an uber-pitchman and finally, he got his own television movie in England, a pilot called “Twenty minutes into the future.” The show was then retooled for American television and premiered on ABC in 1987.
The show was set in the kind of dystopian world familiar to readers of modern YA fiction; a world run and ruled by television networks where technology is omnipresent and often sinister and ratings wars were deadly.
Stories revolved around crusading reporter Edison Carter (Frewer) and his digital doppelganger Max, created when young genius Bryce Lynch rebooted Carter’s consciousness inside a computer in the aftermath of an accident that left the reporter in a coma. (The last thing Carter saw before blacking out was a barrier that said “max. headroom.”)
Max Headroom was a cult hit for the network but couldn’t get traction against its competition (Dallas on CBS; Miami Vice on NBC) and it only ran for 14 episodes. The series was unavailable for years, although several episodes eventually showed up on YouTube.
Last August, a dvd (with extras) finally appeared. It’s not cheap, but it’s filled with the kind of behind-the-scenes goodies fans love.
What stands out when watching the show again is how much it’s held up. The trenchant observations on media and celebrity culture feel even more relevant today than they did 20-some years ago.
The look of the show is contemporary as well. Sure some of the computer stuff is a little old school, but everything from the low-rez bits on the credit sequences to the timeless wardrobe would look perfectly fine on a show produced today. Not many shows from the 80s can say that. (Or even the 90s. Check out those massive mobile phones in any Friends rerun.) Continue reading