Sunday, December 12, 2010

Max Headroom episode recaps 1-4

I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for Max Headroom to come out on DVD.  I remember loving it back in 1987 - back then, it seemed like one of the most subversive things on television and I was drawn to its cynical, punk-lite sensibilities.  Looking back now, I realize that I ended up being drawn to similar motifs: Brazil, Time Bandits, The Road Warrior, Neverwhere, etc., ... all post-apocalyptical or just-prior-to-the-apocalyptic scenarios with burned out buildings, widely separate social strata, punks, bad teeth and underdogs fighting against the Man, whosoever the Man might be at the time. 

Before I sat down to watch this series again, I figured there's no way MH can stand up to my remembrances.  To be honest, it's pretty dated with the clothing (shoulder pads!), big hair (and I'm not even counting the mohawks) and synthesizer music.  But I'm finding it very interesting to watch in 2010 a show made in the late 1980s about the insidiousness of network television - how the networks control what people watch and how they'll do anything to keep people watching.  It's rather more prescient than one might have expected.

Episode 1: "Blipverts" - During the pursuit of a mysterious death story - in which a new kind of television ad, a "blipvert" which compresses 30 seconds' worth of advertising into a 3-second spot, which can overload a lethargic human's nervous system and cause them to explode - investigative reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) sustains a massive head injuiry.  His employer, Network 23, who is running these blipverts for their major advertiser, Zik Zak Corporation, wants to know just what Edison knows and has their resident boy-genius/mad scientist Bryce, download Edison's memories into his computer using his cutting-edge artificial intelligence program (which uses fabulous "Money for Nothing" era CGI).  The AI takes on a life of its own, becoming the charming and distractable Max Headroom, and Max helps Edison, his controller Theora (Amanda Pays) and his producer Murray (Jeffrey Tambor) break the blipvert story.  As it turns out, the viewing audience loves Max Headroom and Network 23's ratings skyrocket regardless.

Episode 2:  "Rakers" - Theora's estranged brother has become tangled in the illegal underground game of raking to try to make some money for his wife and baby.  Originally conceived of by young punks as a way to blow off steam, rakers ride motorized skateboards and try to knock each other off.  Local gangsters have seized on this game as a way to make some money and up the ante, making the players wear razor-sharp knives on their gloves and spectators bet on the survivors, rather than the winners.  Edison, Max and Theora track down the illegal games and broadcast the story just before Network 23 signs an exclusive contract to air the exciting new "sport."

Episode 3: "Body Parts" - The city's rich and privileged class are stealing body parts from the young disadvantaged people living on its fringes.  When his girlfriend is taken for her pituitary gland, a young fringe-dweller enlists Edison to help him track her down and expose the body-snatching.  In the process, we're also introduced to Reg and Dominque Blank, proprietors of an indie television station, "Big Time Television," doing broadcasts whenever and wherever they can.  In the B plot, Network 23's biggest advertiser, the Zik Zak Corporation, wants Max Headroom to promote their latest products; Max is proving difficult to work with, however, until he can talk to Edison to clear up some holes in their memories - many of which apparently occur around bouts of "drinking," whatever that is.

Epsidoe 4:  "Security Systems" - Edison investigates the possibly hostile takeover of Security Systems, Inc., a global company with a monopoly on information systems.  When he gets too close, the artificial intelligence running the company, a sexily-voiced mainframe called A7, alters his file and puts him on the run - locked out of his home, his job, his bank accounts.  With Bryce and Reg Blank's help, Edison infiltrates the SSI headquarters where Max flirts with A7 and manages to save the day, and his good buddy Edison.

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