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"Max Headroom" Finally Arrives on Home Video -- 25 Years Into Its Future
August 10, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

When Max Headroom first hit the media landscape in 1985, it was with a two-pronged assault: a music-video series in which the "computer-generated" titular character introduced and often ridiculed the hot acts of the day, and a live-action sci-fi movie explaining the "origin" of Max Headroom.


That movie, like the subsequent 1987 live-action ABC drama series also called Max Headroom, was set "20 minutes into the future." Now, a full 25 years after he first appeared on England's Channel 4, Max Headroom finally shows up on home video...

The August 10 release, from Shout! Video in collaboration with Warner Bros. Entertainment, is a five-DVD set called Max Headroom: The Complete Series. On four discs, it presents the American version of the Max Headroom pilot, and all subsequent 13 episodes produced for ABC in 1987-88 -- including one episode, "Baby Grobags," not televised for another seven years.


The fifth disc is full of DVD extras, including a reunion with most of the show's cast, including Jeffrey Tambor, who co-starred here long before becoming a cult TV star thanks to HBO's The Larry Sanders Show and Fox's Arrested Development. (Missing from the reunion, sadly, is series star Matt Frewer, who played both Edison Carter and Max Headroom.)

For genre fans, it's a must-buy DVD purchase, and you can -- and should -- order it HERE.

The ABC series really was decades ahead of its time, and tackled lots of questions about what TV was doing to viewers, and what greedy TV executives were doing to their own medium. A subplot in the TV movie that launched the series, for example, concerned "blipverts," the devious brainchild of executives at the globally dominant Network 23. "Blipverts" were subliminal commercials, run so quickly that no viewer could fast-forward through them. Another plot had a rival pay-per-view TV operation downloading people's dreams, and selling them as prurient entertainment.


The cleverness of Max Headroom is reflected best in the origin story of the title character. Edison Carter, played by Frewer, is the star reporter at Network 23. While investigating a story, he's chased by some bad guys, and tries to escape by hopping on a motorcycle and exiting an underground parking garage.

But he ends up going airborne, and crashing headfirst into an exit-gate barrier, on which is printed the warning, "MAX. HEADROOM 2.3 METERS."


When a computer genius back at Network 23 downloads Edison's brain into a computer program, what's left of the reporter's consciousness is represented by his disembodied face -- displayed by computer in a plastic, stuttering form. But Edison's memories are intact, including the last thing he saw, which becomes his computerized alter ego's name: Max Headroom.

Utterly brilliant. Especially since, as one of the show's creators explains on the disc of extras, every car park in England at the time was emblazoned with the identical "MAX HEADROOM" warning. Free, instant advertising, all over the nation. (It's a wonder no American series has ever claimed the title STOP, or YIELD, or WATCH FOR FALLING ROCK.)


I loved Max Headroom decades ago, reviewed it positively, and have taught it in my Rowan University TV History and Appreciation II class, quite recently, to the amusement and amazement of my students. Therefore, my only complaint about this first-ever DVD release is that it's not as complete an experience, or a history, as it could have been.

Yes, it's titled Max Headroom: The Complete Series, but that refers only to the ABC series, the live-action drama starring Frewer, Tambor, Amanda Pays, Morgan Sheppard, Concetta Tomei, Chris Young, Jere Burns and others.


Missing from this set is the rest of the Max Headroom experience. Like what? Like this: His popular stint as a music-video host, which included Max interviewing such popular (and impressively game) stars as Sting. The original British Max Headroom telemovie, which was slightly re-edited, with a few supporting cast changes, into the ABC pilot. (These two showed up, eventually, on HBO and its sister network, Cinemax.) And even a few of his Coke commercials, which is where many people may have encountered him first.

The absence of these extra elements keeps this DVD Max Headroom set from being entirely complete -- but doesn't stop it from being impressive. So buy it, and enjoy it. As Max might say, it's f-f-fantastic.

(After about 5 p.m. Tuesday, you should be able to hear my review of the Max Headroom DVD set on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross by clicking HERE. Or Wednesday for sure.)

[UPDATE: Here's a bonus, if I've worked this right. I found, on YouTube, Max Headroom's 1985 interview with Sting, which is every bit as twisted and entertaining as I remembered. The clip is, I hope, embedded below. -- David B.]




Jan D - Fibrowitch said:

Heard your review of the series today on NPR. I am a big fan of the series and will enjoy showing it to people who never saw the original series. I do wish the interviews were available, however I am sure getting all the rock super stars to sign off on it made it impossibly expensive.

Comment posted on August 10, 2010 6:17 PM

Shauna said:

I must have been about 10 or 11 when this show came out but it's one of my earliest memories of "grown-up tv". It was when I was just getting into music and Mtv and all this fun 80s neon, super fast movement and computer generated images. I can't remember any of the details, but the image of Max on the computer as well as the way that he spoke and what he said were indelibly imprinted on my young brain. I have a feeling though that this is another one of those moments in popular culture that you just had to live through to understand its significance (something like trying to explain the importance of the band Nirvana to my English husband, which I've now given up doing). Can't wait to see it again!

[Let me know what you think. And show the Nirvana "Unplugged" MTV special to your husband. It's on DVD -- and if anything will explain Nirvana, that will. -- David B.]

Comment posted on August 11, 2010 8:09 AM

Mark N said:

Dear David

Now THIS is a tv show. Smart, hip, way ahead of its time and it gives both humor and adventure in a eye-catching package. Clearly its prescience is a great recommendation but for me it was the cast, the characters and the writing. I just KNEW it would get canceled...just too clever(and Amanda was sooooooooo hot!). I have been searching the internet looking for this very miracle to happen. Well, now a whole lotta other people are gonna see what I've been talking about when I do my anti reality TV and networks greed spiel starting with the great film Network and old Max as lynchpins of my arguments I too am sad to have seen the Max Headroom Interview Show and not see its wonderful and snarkiness get released...maybe one day. Thanks for letting the many that need to know that MAX is finally here.

Comment posted on August 11, 2010 11:55 AM

Josh said:

Hey heard your review on npr I am suprised that you didn't mention the hacker incident back in 1987.

Comment posted on August 11, 2010 5:04 PM

Colleen said:

This announcement generated a "YAHOOOOOO!" in my house! I loved Max so much more than the TGIF lineup that was geared toward my demographic at the time.

I think what fascinates me now, though, is to see just how prescient the series was. I'm hoping for a repeat of the experience of reading Brandon Tartikoff's The Last Great Ride - reliving some memories while being able to look at the subject from a new perspective.

Either way, I'm making some space on the box-set shelf!

Comment posted on August 12, 2010 8:16 AM
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I think that the series Max Headroom was too close to the truth and that's why it is not aired any longer
Jun 12, 2015   |  Reply
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