Max Headroom
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Max Headroom

When you think of cult classic science fiction hailing from Britain the nature place for you mind to first go would be ‘Doctor Who’. The fact is the ever enduring Time Lord is only one example of BBC bases Sci-Fi. The fact is there are a plethora of shows from that side of the pond. If you have any doubts just attend any Sci-Fi or fantasy convention a mention ‘Red Dwarf’. One of my favorite TV series that falls in to this laudable category has recently been set for its DVD release ‘Max Headroom’. It may have lasted only a couple of seasons but the affect this bizarre series had on popular culture lingers to this present time. Many aspects of the genre that we have all come to know and love are present in embryonic form here, most notably computer generated graphics and artificial intelligence. While most in the audience will feel the special effects used here are primitive and therefore hold the show with some distain. This is truly the wrong attitude to have while watching this ground breaking series. Instead of holding the lower level of technology embraces it. Relish in the primitive technology and consider this as an excellent example of the popular cyber-punk movement. It is not even like what was depicted in this show was the state of the art or representative of the impending achievements in technology. You have to approach the series for what it was intended to do; present a dark dystopia where technology has failed to make significant improvements in the lives of the typical citizens. Here technology has been co-opted, used to further the frequently nefarious goals of a government corporate hybrid existing only to expand is covert agenda. This is one of the finest examples of socio-political satire constructed in recent years. What elevates it to the list of brilliant but cancelled is the title character; a computer generated construct that twists artificial intelligence into real silliness. It is the juxtaposition of the ridiculous with serious problems like unemployment, mind control, urban sprawl and corporate control and plays them against one of the strangest characters ever devised.

The series first came into being as a made for television pilot movie; ‘Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future’ by Channel 4. It was later brought overseas to here in the States by Lorimar productions and released on the ABC Network. Much of this was due to the fan based popularity of the virtual leading man, the titular Max Headroom. He stormed our shores with video games, music video appearances and a wildly popular spokesman gig for Coke Classic soft drink. The success of this unique character is because of the incredible comic talents of one actor, Matt Frewer. I have been a fan of his quirky style of humor for decades and really cannot recall a single performance of his that left me disappointed. He just has a way of delivering a line that can completely pull you in whether it is entirely insane or deadly serious in nature. Frewer has a command of his gawky body language and rubbery face that creates personas that you are not soon to forget. The series, as noted in the extended title, is set just slightly in our future, more accurately in a twisted side track alternate variation of our future. The central characters all work for the news division of Network 23, one of the leading media networks of their time. One of their most aggressive investigative reports was Edison Carter (Frewer) who had the habit of getting to the bottom of a story even if it steps on the toes of people in authority, particularly his bosses in the network. One fateful day he was hot on a story which required hid precipitous departure from work. During the incidence Carter is grievously injured and presumed dead. His consciousness is downloaded into the company computer network by young genius Bryce Lynch (Chris Young). His mind was somewhat frazzled by the experience and the computer version of Edison takes on the name ‘Max Headroom, after the last thing he saw, a clearance sign in the parking garage. There is a limitation to the memory available so only his head and shoulder are visible a Max has the tendency to speak with a staccato, stuttering vocal pattern. Carter survives and resumes going out into the field hot on the heels of the big story rooting out corruption. Helping him his is cyber alter ego who has expanding his scope allowing him to travel computer networks. In this age reports go out in the field armed with a rather bulky portable camera which is hooked real time to the newsroom. Back there Edison is electronically monitored by his controller, Theora Jones (Amanda Pays). From her screen she accesses records, floor plans and any other information that Edison might need at a moment’s notice. Network 23 has an advantage over their competitors with Lynch. Although barely out of his teens he is a one person technical research department who on occasion caused some of the problems Edison has to solve. One such instance is the first episode where a new form of advertising called blipverts was killing people. Developed by Bryce this technique compressed a commercial into a split second, too fast for the viewer to switch channels. Unfortunately the metabolism of the typical inactive couch potato resulted in the person literally exploding. In the time used as a setting the government tracks everybody in vast databases. One rogue broadcaster, Blank Reg (W. Morgan Sheppard) runs pirate news feed bring the unvarnished truth to the masses.

The series has ability to last practically taking on a new vantage point in this modern time. The performances make it worthy while on their own blending biting satire with pure fun.

Posted 07/12/2010

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