Sunday, February 08, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Max Headroom Edition

When you look at the myriad of here-and-gone cultural phenoms of the 1980s, Max Headroom has to be right up near the top of the heap. Hyped as TV's first computer generated talking head, Max was actually a mixture of prosthetics and actor Matt Frewer, plus some handy-dandy digital stutter. No CGI, but plenty of buzz --- for about a minute-and-a-half, anyway. Whether that's because the concept was a flash in the pan or simply ahead of its time, I leave to you to determine. Max originally debuted via The Max Headroom Show, a music video showcase on England's Channel 4 in March of '86, with Max appearing between videos to offer commentary and non sequiturs. Here's the intro:


In April, just a few weeks after the music video show had debuted, Channel 4 revealed Max's backstory in Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future, an hourlong telefilm/backdoor pilot. The gist: In a dystopian near future, crusading reporter Edison Carter (Frewer) is left comatose after an unfortunate encounter with a parking gate. Though Carter revives, a computer copy of his personality is uploaded, calling himself "Max Headroom" (for the last phrase Carter saw before lights out). Watch the whole thing below:


Max's popularity in the UK naturally led to him crossing the pond. First up, Cinemax re-aired the pilot film and followed up with their own take on the talker. Called The Original Max Talking Headroom Show, the skein aired for six eps in 1986 and was pretty much the direct forerunner of Cartoon Network's Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. Max would appear on a monitor screen in front of a studio audience and interview various celebs. Check out his chat with William Shatner to get a sense of what I mean:


Although that show had a short run, Max was ubiquitous enough to become the spokesman for Coke for a while there. Observe:


Meanwhile, ABC rolled the dice on an hourlong dramatic series. Premiering in March of '87 and set in the kind of future that really only existed in the imaginations of people living in the 1980s, the Max Headroom series added Jeffrey Tambor to the cast alongside Frewer (and Amanda Pays from the 20 Minutes Into the Future pilot). Here's the intro and closing theme for the series:



Although it did well enough in its midseason debut to garner a renewal, Max got steamrolled in year two thanks to competition from Miami Vice on NBC and Dallas on CBS, and its conclusion coincided with the end of Max's brief time in the spotlight. Pays would appear on CBS's The Flash two seasons later, and Frewer has regularly appeared in a variety of projects, both in person and via voiceover. The ABC Max Headroom series remains a beloved cult artifact today, but having picked up the DVD set a few years ago, some of it's pretty hard to watch through a modern lens.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: It's Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, Brother!

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Miami Vice -- Cool Cops, Hot Town, Dated Show

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: ABC's Dinosaurs

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