People under the age of 30 or so probably don't know who Max
Headroom is, but those of us who are just a bit older are certain to
ubiquitous New Coke commercials in the 80's featuring the faux-computer
generated wise-cracking pitchman. He
also stared in a wonderfully subversive TV show starting in 1987 that
developed a cult of followers. Now, at
long last, The Max Headroom Show:
Complete Series arrives on DVD thanks to Shout! Factory. Though it was made on a shoestring budget and
aspects are a little dated now, it's still an interesting show that was
ahead of its time.
Max Headroom was originally conceived as the host of a music
video TV show. At the time MTV was all
the rage, and a new British Network, Channel 4 was looking for
programming. As the idea of who Max was
and how he came about became more developed, the concept evolved into
long TV movie, which aired in the UK in 1985.
The next night Max's music video show began
(also in England). He jumped across the pond soon after and
stared in a series of ads for Coke, a company that was try to save
horrible unsuccessful 'New Coke' from a well deserved grave.
Finally ABC gave the green light to for a Max Headroom
drama, which hit the airwaves in 1987 as, simply, Max Headroom. Though it lasted only 13 episodes (though 14
were filmed... the unaired show is included) it's fondly remembered today
unique and creative show. It is that
program that has finally made its way to DVD.
Set "20 minutes in the future" this series takes place in
dystopian future where TV is king.
Homeless people live in vacant lots yet have TV sets and riots
in overcrowded cities when popular shows are preempted or cancelled. Churches give the most desperately poor
to watch television rather than warm meals and even elections are
television: voters watch the channel
that a candidate is associated with and the ratings determine the
One of the most popular shows around the world is Network 23's
investigative news show featuring Edison Carter (Matt Frewer). Like all reporters, he's ferried to the site
of a story by helicopter and also acts as his own cameraman. He stays in contact with the station through
his camera, and is helped out of tough situation by his controller,
Jones (Amanda Pays) back at base and his producer Murray (Jeffrey
While on a particularly hot story Carter is chased by a gang
of thugs and tries to escape on a motorcycle.
Unfortunately a ramp is raised at just the wrong time and Carter
thrown through the air where he hits his head on a sign warning of "Max
In a coma and dying, Edison's
brain pattern is scanned into the mainframe computer at Channel 23 by
whiz-kid Bryce (Chris Young) in an attempt to discern what information
had learned. Running the pattern through
a program creates a virtual version of Edison,
though one with his brain partially scrambled.
The simulation takes his name from the first image he remembers,
Edison makes a full
recovery and Max manages to integrate himself throughout the Channel 23
computer. He can't be removed without
shutting down the whole station and the board will never let that
happen. Max is able to 'see' people that
him on TV and can even broadcast himself whenever he wants to. In a compromise Network 23 gives Max his own
show with the understanding that he doesn't interrupt broadcasting
The shows are fairly episodic, with Edison
chasing down a story with Max providing periodic comic relief. The thing that separates this show from all
the others is that it's very subversive.
The show uses the medium of television to rail against that very
thing. The bad guys are always the
advertisers and TV executives that are actively trying to dumb-down the
populace so they'll be easier to manipulate.
The masses are lulled with lowest common denominator
shows and cliché filled dramas, and any order given by a
computer is considered
One episode that illustrates this best was the last one
broadcast, Lessons. In
this story Edison
witnesses the police and Network 23 Censors raiding an illegal school
slums. The people running the school
were using pirated TV shows from a pay site to teach the ghetto kids
read, something that is verboten. That's
so there will be a permanent underclass to perform the menial labor. Edison
wonders why the Censors are involved, but when he tries to broadcast
it is censored automatically and doesn't go out over the air. [Spoiler Warning]
Ultimately it's discovered
that the Censors and the police received their orders from a computer
didn't want any changes in the status quo.
The dystopian future the show portrays is interesting and
complex, and they do a good job of creating that world with a very
budget. Ironically the backgrounds would
be made by computers today, but they used what they could get. Viewed today the effects and the sets are
dated. Even Max Headroom, a supposedly
CGI creation was made by filming actor Matt Frewer with prosthetic
pieces and a fiberglass suit and putting him in front of a cel-animated
background. That's easy to overlook
however as the show makes up for a lack of impressive effects with an
evolving world that grows more complex with each episode.
The one problem that the show continues to wrestle with is
just what role Max should play. He
sometimes helps out my infiltrating a villain's computer system or
like that, but he doesn't really fit in with the rest of the show. He's the yin to Edison's
yang (there are a lot of similar opposite pairs running through the
almost a theme) and consequently silly, irreverent and juvenile. That and he is locked inside of a
computer. It's hard to work that into an
episode about a corporation stealing intelligent babies or thugs
people to harvest their organs. They
try, Max often gets the closing words, but sometime it feels like he's
shoehorned into the plot.
The discs come with a DD stereo track and optional English
subtitles. It sounds okay, with not
defects but the dialog isn't a crisp as a recent show.
The dialog is easy to discern so I don't have
any real complaints.
The full frame image hasn't been restored but it generally
looks fine. There picture is soft and
the details aren't as strong as I was hoping.
The colors are muted too, and some of the flesh tones are a bit
red side of things. There are a few
spots and specks occasionally but the show isn't really marred by that. Overall the image is fine with no really
There are some great extras included with this set (all on
the fifth disc), and an omission or two that keeps this set from
First what they have:
The extras start out with an hour long look at the genesis of
the show, Live on Network 23: The Story of Max
Headroom the creators, writers, and producers relate the history of
show and how it came about, including how Max got his distinctive look. It's a very interesting story, and there's a
lot of interesting information such as why Max Headroom is an American. Be sure to watch until the end to hear a
pitch for the 2011 version of Max Headroom.
That's a show I'd watch.
The next bonus is Looking Back At The Future, a 35 minute roundtable
discussion with Amanda Pays, Jeffrey Tambor, Concetta Tomei and Chris
moderated by Javier Grillo-Marxuach (creator of The Middleman). Notably missing is Matt Frewer who really
leaves a gap in the discussion. In any
case, this was the first time that the cast was reunited since the
ended, and it's a lot of fun to listen to them reminisce.
The Big-Time Blanks is an interview with the
two 'blanks' of the series Morgan Sheppard (who is brilliant in his
Blank Reg) and Concetta Tomei. They talk
about their roles and real-life friendship.
The Science Behind the
Fiction is a twelve-minute talk with Max
Headroom co-creator George Stone who discusses his thoughts on
and computers. Next up is Producing
Dystopia where series producer
Brian Frankish reveals the trials and tribulations that took place
scenes. The disc wraps up with The
Writers Remember which features Executive
Story Editor Steve Roberts and Story Editor Michael Cassutt reminiscing
their role in the show.
I was really hoping that they'd include a few things that
are not found in this set. A New Coke
commercial would have been wonderful, but it's understandably missing
rights issues. Similarly having one of
Max's British music video shows would have been a welcome addition,
they didn't include the actual videos themselves. The
item I'm most disappointed about however
is that the original British movie is no where to be found. The first episode of the series basically
retells the story, but there were several cast changes and I would have
enjoyed seeing the original version.
I had a lot of fun revisiting this show. I
only saw a few episodes during the initial
run, but the show has held up well even if the special effects haven't. A subversive and entertaining show that was
way before its time, Max Headroom
comes Highly Recommended.