News off of the media website Deadline brought joy to my heart. Tepid joy, but joy nonetheless.
One of my favorite science-fiction TV shows, the cyberpunk drama Max Headroom, might be returning to series television – with Matt Frewer playing the electronic avatar character.
According to Deadline, AMC Networks is working with producer Elijah Wood and creator Christopher Cantwell (Halt and Catch Fire) on bringing the character back to network television.
Max Headroom, for those not understanding what I’m talking about, was a 1980’s pop-culture icon, an electronic entity that lived in a TV set and thought the entire world around him was a TV show. His comments were both subversive and satirical, with the kind of humor that bounced between MAD Magazine, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and the National Lampoon.
Max started out as a video host on a series of comedy videos for the BBC’s Channel 4. He would later evolve into his own talk show, which was quite popular at the time.
By 1987, ABC hosted a six-episode drama series based on the Max Headroom character and his backstory. In the show, television journalist Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) uncovers a major story involving killer TV commercials (the videos fly by so fast that viewers develop sensory overload and explode). He is attacked by thugs, and in an attempt to get away, he crashes into a parking gate – the last words he sees before losing consciousness is the words on the gate, “Max Headroom.”
With their top network reporter down for the count, the network tries to create a digital replica of Edison Carter, using Carter’s brain patterns. But the brain patterns develop their own satirical sentience, and Max Headroom is born. Max, together with a revived Edison Carter, now battle injustice in a dystopian world.
Max Headroom was a reasonably sized hit. You know, when you’re on Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m., and you’re following one of ABC’s hottest shows at the time – Moonlighting – you’re bound to get some serious consideration for renewal.
And sure enough, Max Headroom was renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, some dipshit at ABC thought it would be a FANTASTIC idea to move Max Headroom to Friday nights at 9:00 p.m – opposite CBS’s Dallas and NBC’s Miami Vice. The show held on for a few weeks, then we cancelled – with the remaining episodes burned off on a Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. slot against NBC’s The Cosby Show.
There was talk about a full-length Max Headroom for President movie, but that never materialized. Matt Frewer went on to star in a sitcom, Doctor Doctor, and then did guest appearances on shows like Orphan Black, Timeless and the Watchmen movie.
There were a few times when Matt Frewer put the Max Headroom prosthetics back on, as seen in this 2019 cameo in the godawful Adam Sandler film Pixels.
But other than that, Max Headroom was left in 1980’s nostalgia.
Now could a reboot of the Max Headroom TV series work?
Well, let’s see what the original show actually provided. Although the Max Headroom series portrayed itself as being “20 Minutes Into the Future,” it also predicted the rise of corporations controlling information (what we know today as Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News empire), the control of hacker media – everything from 4Chan to Anonymous can trace their roots back to concepts featured in Max Headroom.
I mean, here’s some plotlines from the average Max Headroom episode.
- A sentient security computer determines that Edison Carter is getting too close to a story, and immediately cancels his credit cards and declares him as a wanted fugitive.
- An episode involves using glorified chatbots to pretend to be long-lost relatives, in an effort to re-connect loved ones with those who had passed away.
- Another episode has a television network investing heavily in a bloodsport that combines skateboarding and human cockfighting, to garner ratings for their money-rich sponsors.
These episodes were made in 1987, yet some of their concepts are rather prescient.
But see, here’s what I’m worried about. Reboots of beloved TV shows have a spotty track record. For every successful reboot – Battlestar Galactica, Hawaii Five-O – there are a myriad of failures. The Bionic Woman got a reboot, it barely lasted a year. There was a reboot of Ironside. And don’t even get me started on that trainwreck that pretended to be Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop.
Then again, computer technology has improved in the past 35 years. All of Max Headroom’s computer images were crafted with an Amiga computer. In 1987. And Max himself was crafted with heavy prosthetics. So let’s see if the technology has caught up to the concept.
All I’m saying is … I’m very intrigued that there will be new Max Headroom episodes.
Just do me a favor … don’t disappoint me.
That’s all I ask.
D-D-D-D-D-Don’t disappoint me.
Christopher Cantwell has also been writing comic books lately, and that’s a medium “Max Headroom” never touched.
There is so much that could be done with the character. We are more ripe for this satire then in the 80s. I’m so excited to see Max return!
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