The Replacing of Max Headroom

It arrived in the mail the other day.  And boy was I happy.

Max Headroom returned to my life.

Max Headroom was a science fiction hour long drama that created a futuristic society based on television and information.  The show mixed action, drama and satire into an amazing melange.  I taped the episodes on my VCR and saved the tapes for years, watching them until the tapes wore out.

Only fourteen episodes of Max Headroom ever aired – the show was an instant hit for its first six-episode season on ABC (where it followed Moonlighting in a plum Tuesday 10pm slot), but faded quickly in its second season (where network idiots moved the show to Fridays at 9pm, where it suffered from airing against Dallas and Miami Vice).  The show was pulled off the air, with the remaining three filmed episodes airing as summer filler on Thursday nights against The Cosby Show.  Yeah, you know it pulled TONS of viewers on those nights.

The setup was simple.  Edison Carter (played by Matt Frewer) was an investigative journalist on the hunt for a story about a type of television commercial that caused some viewers to spontaneously explode (wow, thirty years before Bird Box?).  While escaping from thugs who wanted to kill him to prevent that information from spreading, Carter crashes into a guardrail and nearly dies.  Fearing that the death of Carter would reveal the exploding commercial story, the network digitizes his neural implants and tries to create a digital avatar that could replace Carter to viewers.  Unfortunately, they created a self-conscious wisecracking sentient digital imp … whose name came from the last two words Edison Carter saw before his injury (the guardrail’s words “Max Headroom”).

Got all that?  Great.  There’s a test tomorrow.

In addition to Matt Frewer, the show also starred Amanda Pays as the super-hot computer handler Theora Jones, Chris Young as the bratty wunderkind Bryce, Jeffrey Tambor as news director Murray, and George Coe as the head of the multinational Network 23.

The program was billed as taking place in a world 20 minutes into the future, and boy did they accomplish that.  It was a science fiction show unlike any other – a world ruled by television, where news is carefully controlled in a 500-channel “you can’t turn off the TV” universe.  This wasn’t about flying spaceships or time travel; this was a gritty science fiction series with a mixture of steampunk and Neuromancer.

Eventually the entire series – along with interviews with most of the cast – appeared on a five-disc DVD boxed set, and I ordered it the moment it was released.

Oh it was fun to watch.  So much fun to watch again.

And then … in an effort to share the joy of watching Max Headroom with others, I lent my DVD boxed set to a friend.

A few weeks later … we weren’t friends any more.  That friendship went straight to toxic nuclear level.  I never got my DVD box set back.  I was told that it landed in a Goodwill bin or was sold off for a dollar, that’s how much our friendship had deteriorated.  Ugh.

Finally, after realizing that you can’t repair broken friendships any more than you can reassemble broken plates … I found a copy of the DVD boxed set on Amazon.  One payment click later … and it was now in my possession.

Okay.  Feeling better now.

I’ll tell you this much – for years, I had hoped for a reboot of Max Headroom, maybe new episodes or a theatrical release or something.  But over time, I understood that, in all honesty, what I have is a decent short-run TV series.  It was way ahead of its time – heck,if this thing had aired on Syfy or BBC America it would have filmed its 300th episode right about now – but it was great for the short run it had.

And let’s face it – even if they did bring the show back, they’d need to get Matt Frewer into the Max Headroom costume, and that’s not happening.  Frewer parlayed his stint as the digital talking head into his own long acting career, appearing in comedy shows (the sitcom Doctor, Doctor) and other sci-fi dramas (Orphan Black, Timeless).  So don’t expect Frewer to return …

Unless they took Frewer’s memories and subconscious, and digitally converted it into an avatarish alter ego…

I mean … the technology’s available now, isn’t it?