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I M-M-M-M-Miss Max Headroom

Topics: Popular Media | Add A CommentBy admin | August 4, 2010

But that’s okay. He’ll be back August 10th on DVD. Max Headroom rarely gets the credit he deserves for predicting soundbyte-driven talking heads like Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann. Or for pretty much creating Jim Carey’s shtick.

As a countercultural, club-dwelling, art movie snob in the 80′s, the most likely use of a television in my house was as a piece of furniture or a light source, i.e., in one of those typically 80′s “paint everything matte black and use old snowy-screen TVs as decor” apartments. I mean, I really, really hated television. That is, except for Max Headroom. In an era when the top-ranked shows on television included middle-America lifestyle propaganda horrors like Charles in Charge, Silver Spoons, Full House and Webster, here we had this stroke of utter genius in the form of a snarky, highbrow, digitally manipulated talking head. And in spite of this being cutting-edge technology at the time, the creators did the brilliant thing and made the special effects secondary to the writing and character, letting the quirky, fidgety persona of actor Matt Frewer shine through. You may have never noticed, but about two-thirds of Jim Carey’s shtick is lifted straight from Frewer’s characterizations for Max Headroom (see this Letterman appearance, for instance). I was more partial to the earlier British Channel 4 Music video program – I think the character worked best in short snippets – but there was also a Cinemax talk show and a British-produced ABC TV sci-fi series that lasted two seasons, in 1987-88. And guess what. The latter is coming out on DVD August 10. The other productions may never see the light of day because of the labyrinthine copyright issues due to song and cable rights, but you can find many of them as bittorrents or with a YouTube search. We’ve included a few YouTube Clips below.

Max as a guest on David Letterman, being Jim Carey before Jim Carey.

The Art of Noise Video/Club Hit Paranoimia

Max Headroom on 80′s style for men

This clip captures the dry, cynical snarkiness of the original British show…

The Digital Age…
…just like anybody else does, as evident in Max’s “comeback” last year as the spokesperson for the UK’s Digital Switchover :

Coca-Cola Commercial

Max Headroom Cinemax William Shatner Interview

This clip demonstrates why the extended format of the Cinemax version didn’t work so well. With today’s media pacing, the intro alone seems to take an eternity, and in spite of having a talk show host’s dream on set, things just fall a little flat somehow…