It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

two minds, but with one single memory

One of the series I've been watching in earnest recently has been Max Headroom.

Oh hell yes.

Bleak mid-80s future dystopia on ABC prime time? Yes, please. Did it last long? Not a chance. I love the world of Network 23, the Fringe, the Blanks, news reporters with controllers guiding them through the urban wastelands, and the ghost in the network machine, Max Headroom himself. It's sad that the character is remembered now as mostly a wacky shill for Coke ("C-C-Catch the wave! Don't say the P-Word!") because as originally conceived, Max is a very interesting fellow.

He's the brainchild, quite literally, of Network 23's star reporter Edison Carter. For those not familiar with the story but who want to keep up: Carter's brain was info-dumped into a computer simulation after the flesh-and-blood reporter was involved in a motorcycle accident. The simulated Edison was dubbed Max Headroom. Why? It was the first thing the simulation could say. (It also just happens to be the last words Edison sees when he flies off his motorcycle into a parking garage bar.)

So here we have a simulated man, living inside the Network 23 computer system (which of course is linked to every component of the network, from the television feed to security cameras to employee databases) with the memories and some of the personality traits of his human counterpart. He's more mischievious, but just as inquisitive. Since Max was born unto television, he thinks television is life. He repeatedly interrupts a Rambo-like action show to ask why the hero hadn't been arrested yet. "Just look at him! He's shooting everything up!" ("It's okay, Max," he's told. "It's a children's show.") He has no qualms about bad-mouthing the sponsors and when it comes to the network feed, he comes and goes as he pleases. It's great to think of this AI as a child, learning all sorts of things. "He was born at the age of 27," Edison mentions. "There's a lot of memories of mine he's got questions about." Including what "drinking" is and why it causes fuzzy holes in one's memory. ("That memory is from a graduation party," Edison says. "You graduated a lot," Max replies.)

Even as creative as the premise is, there are of course some typical techy quibbles. I think I'm going to give the "we can track you and whoever else we need to find via satellite, and see wireframe computer schematics of everything around" a pass, because it's the news controllers who get to do that, and guide the reporters around (and it does make for some fun.) Even if that omnipresent technology wouldn't be in the hands of snoopy reporters in the first place. We also won't get into how Max can communicate with anybody through a regular TV set, no matter how a "two-way link" is justified.

The storylines, however, are pretty much the same:

VICTIM OF THE WEEK: Help! There's some Really Bad Stuff going down!
NETWORK 23 EXECUTIVE: We have a vested interest in this Really Bad Stuff. We must not let Edison Carter uncover the secret!
THEORA JONES: Here's the directions to the bad guys, Edison!
BAD GUYS: Ha ha! We're doing Really Bad Stuff.
EDISON CARTER: I've found the secret! It's shocking and terrible!
NETWORK 23 EXECUTIVE: Pull the story!
JEFFREY TAMBOR'S CHARACTER: Edison, we have to pull the story. It's an order from high up!
THEORA JONES: They turned your camera off, Edison!
MAX HEADROOM: Max to the res-res-res-res-rescue! Here-HERE-here, let me show the foot-foot-foot-(footage?) footage.
THEORA JONES: Max, you did it!
EDISON CARTER: This is Edison Carter reporting live and direct with some Really Shocking News about Really Bad Stuff going on in this city.
JEFFREY TAMBOR: Great story, Edison! The ratings are through the roof!
NETWORK 23 EXECUTIVES: This is the point where we should sack the entire news team, but we never do. Besides, it's not like we'll get arrested for this illegal stuff, and we've got the bestest ratings ever. Now let's hatch another insidious plot for Edison to uncover next week.

After three episodes, Edison Carter has uncovered and exposed two dirty plans hatched by Network 23 itself, and one dirty plan supported by a Network 23 exec. And he's done all of his tattling directly on his show. Carried by Network 23. Yeah. And I know some of the stories that are coming up. He's bitten the hand that feeds him enough that it's only got a few fingers left.

The original British Channel 4 tele-film ("20 Minutes Into The Future") was even bleaker than this, actually, and ended itself pointing in an entirely different direction than the US series did. I'm not sure if Channel 4 meant to pick it up as a series, or if the US got in on this as an afterthought. In the original film, Max ends up at Blank Reg's pirate network Big Time, and turns himself loose upon the airwaves. For the series, Max stays in Network 23, becomes the most popular presenter on the network, and mucks about therein. It would've been interesting to see Max get out and about, but keeping him close to home gives him more Secret Stuff to get into. Besides, we still get enough of Blank Reg to keep me happy. I honestly think he's my favorite character, and I'm glad he was translated directly from the original tele-film.

And I still like the series. I still think Amanda Pays is awesome hot. I still like the setting and the concept and Max's persona. There's a lot of dystopian satire that shines through, just as it would do in Robocop a year or two later. And it's got some science-fiction themes which still resonate very well with us today. I think I'll keep both seasons.
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