The Tubi streaming service has been quite a pleasant surprise. Every so often, if I search long enough and hard enough, I can find old TV shows that I haven’t seen in ages.
Such was the case yesterday, when I puttered around the streaming service and found …
And you young’uns might have some nebulous memory of what looked like a talking head behind some weird graphics, and I understand that.
But what I’m talking about was probably one of the most forward-thinking science fiction dystopian programs of all time. 14 episodes spread over two seasons, and we were damn lucky to get these at all.
Max Headroom was a sci-fi adventure series that focused on the digital pop icon of the late 1980’s, and was in itself based on a 60-minute special produced by Channel 4 in the UK.
The whole idea – and trust me, this is 1987 – was that Max Headroom was a digitally-created talking avatar that could comment on news and pop culture. The series is entrenched in a world where television is king, and the populace are addicted to senseless, mindless prattle on televisions that have no off-switches. Instead of governments, the world is maintained by television networks, and ratings (and keeping them at any cost) are king.
Such is the case where the top on-air news reporter, Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) can report on and travel to stories that governments want covered up. During one of these assignments, Carter is chased and forced into a vehicle accident, with his head flying through a wooden height barrier – the barrier having the worlds “Max Headroom” painted on it. . Maximum headroom, follow along with me.
Carter survives, but the television networks want to find out what he knows about some subversive happenings. So they digitally copy his memories into a computer, which created the Max Headroom character (also played by Matt Frewer under lots of prosthetics). For the rest of the show’s run, Edison Carter and Max Headroom uncover breaking news and battle the television network overlords.
This show was so far ahead of typical television dramas. Firefly fans, you have no idea.
Oh, and another thing. This show was created in 1987. 35 years later, the show correctly predicted the following:
- Advertising techniques designed to keep people from switching channels
- Sports specifically created for the TV market
- The 500-channel universe
- Hacker technology and electronic surveillance
- Identity theft and compromised credit attacks
- The monetization of education
- Addictions to trash television (and trust me on this, I’m a recovering Amish Mafia addict)
- The creation of online “bots” that can pass Turing tests
This is the kind of show that should have been nurtured on a cable station. This could have been a well-loved sci-fi drama like Mr. Robot or Orphan Black. But this show appeared on ABC, and although it drew decent ratings in its first season (and having Moonlighting as a lead-in on Tuesday nights was a benefit), the program was shoved into the Friday Night Death Slot for the 1987-88 season. Not only was Max Headroom sandwiched between a new comedy (Full House) and ABC’s warhorse newsmagazine (20/20), Max Headroom’s 9:00 p.m. time slot was the same time slot as Dallas and Miami Vice, which sucked away any reasonable audience the program could have wanted. Five episodes into the show’s second season, ABC yanked the show off the network. They burned off two of the show’s three remaining filmed episodes in April of 1988 (Thursday nights at 8:00, right up against The Cosby Show), then the program just disappeared from the network, poof.
At one point in time, I actually recorded all the episodes on VHS tapes. Complete with the old WTEN commercials and all that. But those tapes went walkies. I bought the DVD boxed set of the series, which had all 14 episodes and some bonus features, including a sit-down interview with several cast members (except for Matt Frewer, who left the show behind the second it was cancelled). But I loaned that DVD to someone I thought was a friend, and never got it back. Ugh.
And here it is on Tubi. All 14 episodes, whenever I want to view them or stream them. Swank.
I’m definitely happy with this.
So if you’ll excuse me for a day or so…
I want to go back to 1987. Or at least 20 minutes into the future of 1987.