Max Headroom

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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The non-virtual cast

"This is Edison Carter, coming to you very much live and direct on Network 23."

Back in the 1980s, it looked like computers were going to be able to do just about anything. It also looked like Japanese businessmen were going to economically conquer the world. And it looked like corporate greed was going to grow and grow until the average citizen was a virtual slave to the mega-corporations who would happily destroy the environment, culture, history, and basic human liberty all in the name of profit (come to think of it, that might still end up happening).

Max Headroom, a plastic-coated stuttering faux-CGI host full of sardonic wit played by the frankly underrated Canadian actor Matt Frewer, made his debut in April of 1985 in a British one hour pilot entitled Max Headroom: Twenty Minutes Into The Future.

Though Max was the star of the show, he was really a very minor character. The story followed intrepid reporter Edison Carter (also Frewer) and his "controller" (i.e. director) Theora (Amanda Pays, who later played fanfic-favorite Phoebe Green on The X-Files) as he attempted to uncover a conspiracy revolving around the Blipvert, a highly compressed advertisement his station had recently adopted, which had the unfortunate side effect of causing some viewers to explode. In his daring escape from security with orders to kill, he is gravely injured when he crashes his motorcycle into a gatepost.

A totally unlikable Teen Genius generates an AI copy of Carter's mind to cover up his disappearance, but the copy is somewhat unstable and has a bad stammer. He takes his name from the last thing Edison had seen before his injury: a sign on the gatepost reading "MAX HEADROOM: 2.3 METERS".

The pilot wasn't picked up, but the rights to the Max Headroom character were sold to the makers of a music-video program on British television, on which Max appeared later in 1985. The Max Headroom show was the first to play with the music-video format, with Max frequently talking over lousy videos and making jokes, or cutting the video off partway through, a technique later picked up by Beavis and Butthead and other satirical video shows. The character was later picked up by Coca-Cola, for a series of TV spots for New Coke and appeared on T-shirts and mer-*BZZZZZZZZZZT*

The man himself.

That does it! He's a freakin nerd *giggles* ...yeah im better than Chuck Swirsky, frikin liberallllllllll--l-l--ll-l-l

*BZZZZZZZZZT* Er, we apologize about that. Moving on. Max Headroom was a huge hit, especially in the UK. But it was in the US that the pilot was picked up. Sort of. It was remade by Lorimar in 1987 as the first episode of the Max Headroom TV series, keeping only Frewer, Pays, and Morgan Sheppard (Blank Reg) from the original cast, and substantially rewriting the second half of the movie (but using all the video effects so the money budgeted to effects could be used elsewhere). The Teen Genius was changed from a villain to an unwitting patsy, and Max's role was greatly increased; in the original, Max and Edison never met, and Max spent the rest of the movie as a VJ for a pirate TV station. In the series, he and Edison became partners, breaking the Blipvert story together.

Max Headroom strayed back and forth between Black Comedy and (mostly) serious Cyberpunk for two half-seasons before being cancelled and largely forgotten. Many believe the network intentionally killed it, scheduling it opposite the hugely popular Miami Vice (where, ironically, Matt Frewer played a villain in a two-parter shortly after his show was cancelled).

The world presented by the show was strange and unwieldy, full of corporate greed, corrupt politics (elections to all political offices were done via TV: each network hired a candidate, and the highest rated network at the close of polling got their man installed), and a legal system that could not possibly have worked (it was illegal to turn a television off, books were banned in order to disenfranchise those who couldn't afford pay-per-view educational TV, bloodsports were mainstream, and trials for all but the rich and powerful were carried out in game show format). Also, everything had silly SciFi names: "Blipverts", "Baby Gro-bags", "Cred-sticks", "Neurostim", etc.

The character was resurrected in 2008 as part of Channel 4 's marketing for the digital switchover, in a number of (full-length) adverts. In 2010, it was announced that the US series will be getting a DVD release in August of that year, with an amusing lenticular cover.


Max Headroom is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Max Headroom include:
  • Advert-Overloaded Future: The very premise of the series.
  • Almost Kiss: At the end of "Blanks".
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the world of Corporate control, there's one crime you better dare not commit:
    • "Credit fraud?! My God, that's worse than murder!"
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Insofar as the Networks have effectively become the government, Edison could often use the threat of his camera on uncooperative leads.
    • The protagonists often exploit ubiquitous surveillance to learn things their superiors want to remain hidden.
  • Black Comedy: Throughout the series.

Breughel: I love babies. They're very sweet...especially with pickles.

  • Blipvert: Trope Namer
  • Brain Uploading: How Max was created. The process was less than perfect, and Bryce only allocated enough of 23's system memory to simulate the head and shoulders. Max stutters because the 23 mainframe's video memory bus wasn't QUITE fast enough to generate the 3D image frames of Max in real time ("it takes a moment to read out the frame store"). In later episodes the "Max Headroom process" is brought up as a potential method of saving the life of a terminally ill millionaire as well as letting those visiting graves talk to their departed loved ones via a "Max" type image in the headstone.
  • Computerized Judicial System: With Floppy Discs!
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ned Grossberg. Many of the other network executives have their moments as well.
  • Crapsack World: Let's put it this way: Instead of foodstamps, the government gives the needy free TV sets.
  • Cyberpunk: One of the first television shows to apply this trope.
  • Ditzy Genius: Bryce Lynch. The most prominent example being when Grossberg says (over Carter's unconscious body) that they need to know how much Carter knows about the adverse effects of Blipverts; Bryce suggests they ask him when he wakes up.
    • Also when Grossberg mentions that it would be unfortunate if the public discovered that the Blipverts were making people explode, Bryce suggests they don't tell them.
  • Engaging Conversation: Notable in that it's the woman who pulls out the "marry me!" gag.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Grossberg, on stealing babies: "Carter, you've got to believe me. What you speak of is even beyond me!"
  • Everything Is Online: The way the internet in this show was shown to work, one could very well hack into a tree if they wanted.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Complete with Rapid-Fire Typing and a Shout-Out to William Gibson with the term "ICE" (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics).
  • Hot Librarian: Theora.
  • Instant AI, Just Add Water: Insufficient resources are mentioned in the episode "Deities" to be the reason that the Vu-Age Church's Brain Uploading process only created an "idiot version" of the deceased that could only respond to people in a pre-programmed manner; whereas the system resources of Network 23's mainframe made Max Headroom, a complete artificial intelligence, possible.
  • Irony: It's made clear in one episode that Edison doesn't know what Chernobyl was. This is rather shocking since one of the basic foundations of journalism is a good grasp of history (this is even stranger since Max knows, and Edison doesn't!).
    • Not that strange, as it was clear that Max could learn things for himself, either observing through cameras and microphones or investigating online sources of information ("I wonder where this wire goes...?").
      • Fridge Brilliance in effect: the networks have censored it, but Max was created in the very computers that would still have access to this information.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Both Edison and Max, but the "of justice" part usually only applies to Edison, since Max generally prefers snark and mischief over heroism.
  • Line-of-Sight Name
  • Max Trope: Max Headroom. Duh (also doubles as a Punny Name).
  • Mission Control
  • Percussive Maintenance: On a coffee maker, no less!
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: As president of Network 23, Ben Cheviot's top priorities are always increasing ratings and trying not to antagonize Zik Zak, their biggest sponsor. However, he does have a moral compass, and he's a tough but fair boss to Edison and Murray, which is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Corrupt Corporate Executive Ned Grossberg.
  • Schizo-Tech: Trope Namer for Twenty Minutes Into the Future- but the cars were all from The Fifties.
    • And whenever a computer keyboard was shown, it was actually the keyboard from an antique manual typewriter.
  • Second Hand Storytelling: In "Body Banks", Edison mentions a long conversation he had with Max the night before, wherein Max asks him many questions concerning his memories and what they mean. Script-writer Steve Roberts mentions that the one thing they were unable to do in the show was actually have a real-time conversation between Max and Edison, with the two reacting to each other (every time someone talked to Max, they were talking to an empty screen or prerecorded footage, unlike the video phone conversations where the actor was actually talking to another actor on another set in real-time).
  • Soul Fragment: Edison's relation to Max.
  • Teen Genius: Bryce.
  • Terrorists Who Don't Do Anything: Subverted by the White Brigade.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Mr. Breughel and Mr. Mahler.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Trope Namer -- appears onscreen at the start of the movie and every TV episode.
    • In the TV series, Bryce Lynch was born in 1988, and Chris Young was 16 when he played him, so the setting can be pinned down to the year 2004.
  • Video Phone: Featured several times on the show. It is The Future, after all.
  • Virtual Celebrity: Take a wild guess.
  • We Will Use Wiki Words in the Future
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love?: How Max is able to get Security Systems' A-7 computer to turn against the corporation and help Edison.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: "For God's sake, treat A-7 with some respect-spect! She's not just a machiiiiiiine...!"
  • Yakuza: Revealed to be the owners of the omnipresent ZikZak Corporation.