Max Headroom

As sometimes happens the posts on this blog haven't faithfully been representing what TV I've been watching lately (I get caught in a conflict between that aspiration which would make the blog more accurately reflect the lapfrog nature of my inner world and the opposite aspiration to write constructively and in an orderly manner and try to concentrate on things), and this post is an attempt to remedy this. I actually got distracted by Virtual Murder and what has most been at the forefront of my attention lately has been the various TV incarnations of Max Headroom. This post is purely intended to chat about them a bit and try to disentangle them, and then I'll write some blogs about different episodes of the various TV shows.

I loooved the eighties, I think because I was at the exact right age to appreciate the good sides of it without being too deflated by the incredible greed and other terrible things that were going on. For that reason the 1980s shows that have appeared here are actually among my favourites, and looking at what I've covered I think they are all classics. The only time Max Headroom has appeared here before now was in my post on Max Headroom: Twenty Minutes into the Future (broadcast 4th April 1985). This TV film was intended to provide a back story to the Max Headroom character and in fact three TV series in all followed; one in the UK and two made in the US. As always you know TV is cult because of the element of archaeology needed to know what on earth is going on. 

Having three TV series in quick succession is the indication that Max had become a celebrity in no time. In that post I commented on the disdain with which Max Headroom is now seen by some people: as overly commercial and emblematic of 1980s excess.  Of course I see that there are very valid criticisms of the way his 'brand' was used so commercially, including as the face of a failed variant of Coke. However two other aspects of this also come to me: in the 1980s we didn't have people like Elon Musk and Riski Sunak of such immoral, eye-watering wealth. Yes, there were immorally rich people, but their interests and commercial interests were less funnelled into the laps of so few people than they are now. THe other aspect of this is that Max was supposed to be the reflection of the society at the time, of TV fame, and supposed to reflect back to society what was going on. The fact that people look back on Max Headroom in disdain because he was used commercially just indicates they have missed the point and their disdain shows that Max was used and spat out by the culture of the time.

This is actually one of those posts where I started writing to see what would happen and I'm a bit surprised it's getting so postmodern.

I see that also in that post about Twenty Minutes into the Future I felt that in the subsequent TV shows there wasn't really enough Max: I think that I may have been specifically thinking of the UK series The Max Headroom Show (broadcast between 6th April 1985 and 10th March 1987) because earlier episodes are mostly music videos linked together by Max's commentary, only developing later into a chat show format. I have since revised that opinion on rewatching them: the comments are funny and the music chosen is the pick of 1980s music which you won't find on the compilation albums. Hallmarks of the early show were that it didn't have titles and just started with static as if Max Headroom was interrupting normal broadcasting, and Matt Frewer was not advertised as starring at all, so that the illusion of Max Headroom being created by Artificial Intelligence was maintained.

Also in 1985, I just know that you want to see Max arriving at a theatre to be interviewed on the BBC by Terry Wogan...

There was a Christmas special in 1986, called Max Headroom's Giant Christmas Turkey, which was broadcast between the second and third series of The Max Headroom Show.

At this point Max, having been created in Britain* yet sounding American, crossed the atlantic and got a chat show (did I say that he was intended to embody the eighties?). But first there was the TV show about Max Headroom which is perhaps best remembered, which was confusingly just called Max Headroom (broadcast in the US between 31st March 1987 and 5th May 1988, with a stray episode first broadcast on the 10th September 1995). This is the show which was an ongoing dramatic series based on the Max Headroom premise.

(*I do realize that interests on both sides of the Atlantic, including actors, were involved in making Max Headroom, but the original film was made in London and I personally associate it with Channel 4 so as far as I'm concerned he's British. But then you've all noticed that this country is full of things which we think of as British but which aren't, including most Britons, hadn't you?)

Finally, there came the show called The Original Max Talking Headroom Show (broadcast in the US but not the UK between 23rd July 1987 and 1st October 1987). This was the chat show where he chatted with various celebrities (although of course never leaving his TV screen) with a studio audience.

I'm going to include the Max Headroom signal intrusions because they are actually related to television in a way the adverts he appeared in aren't. On the evening of November 22nd 1987 several broadcast signals on different stations in the US were interrupted by a hacker posing as Max Headroom. I don't know why but only two of them are usually mentioned, but there was actually a third, so that three different stations were briefly interrupted. The identity of the perpetrators has never been identified.

Seeing all this all these years later I'm totally biased in favour of the Max Headroom idea. Not just because I love the idea of an electronically created TV presenter who just says what everyone else is thinking, but I particularly like the ideas embodied in the original TV film and the 1987 ABC dramatic series. The vision of a dystopian world dominated by compulsory TV viewing is one which is strangely suitable for this blog. Don't quote me on this but I feel the original idea that Max Headroom was supposed to embody the whole of TV's worst aspects as they were then perceived, rather got derailed as things went on. I am not completely sure how the ideas of blipverts, corporate dominance and compulsory television are related to contemporary concerns about presentations of untruth and conspiracies on certain TV channels.

I'm going to try to do a series of posts on different episodes from the various incarnations of Max Headroom, partly to wallow in memories and partly to make myself think about the world which was depicted there and how things have changed or remained the same, now that we are more than twenty minutes in the future.

I am not going to commit to a certain number of posts because even just rewatching Twenty Minutes into the Future I have had an uncomfortable realisation that the odious whizzkid Bryce Lynch is the character most like me (because we all identify with Max don't we?). I love the way in the original film he's busy sabotaging Edison Carter's exit while in the bath which is exactly the sort of thing I would do. I also love the designed filth of the bathroom, emblematic of the sort of decay of Max Headroom so that the bathroom isn't merely dirty. And he's also the kind of whizzkid who is slightly cleverer than his teachers and says all the things nobody is supposed to, and of course I never do that in the slightest.

So put on your big shoulder pads and get out the Duran Duran records, we're going on a trick back much further than twenty minutes!

A note about availability: Max Headroom Twenty Minutes into the Future is available on YouTube; it had releases on VHS and in Japan on DVD. Episodes of The Max Headroom Show are available on Youtube; it has not had a commercial release and the whole of the first series is considered lost. Max Headroom has had a release on region 1 DVD. There are episodes of The Original Max Talking Headroom Show on YouTube and on the Internet Archive; it has not had a commercial release. Having said that these things haven't had a commercial release, there is a Japanese released Laserdisc called The Best of Max Headroom (in English with Japanese subtitles) on YouTube; this looks like it includes chat and music but I don't know in great detail what's on it.

Credit for the dates used here:

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