Yes! The wait is over and our long, national nightmare has finally come to an end: Max Headroom is now available on DVD! Thank you, Shout Factory!
When the UK-born Max Headroom first aired in the spring of 1987, it was cool, ironic, disturbingly foreign, yet obviously crafted from large swaths of American pop culture. The pilot movie was the coolest thing I had ever seen on non-cable tv (I was 14), and the fact that it was going to be a weekly series (!) made my young heart tremble. The weeks that followed provided a world-building that only true sci-fi and genre nerds could appreciate, with “blanks” (off-the-grid types who’d erased their digital foot and fingerprints) and “blipverts” (subliminal ads with editing so fast that sedentary viewers would explode) entering my lexicon immediately.
In between the short first season and the cancelled second season, I found a VHS tape of the original UK movie (the US pilot was a near-remake). Its longer running time and explicitly nihilist viewpoint hit me like a ton of bricks. As much as Camus and the Sisters of Mercy, that UK version of MH convinced me that the almost-on-us future was going to be a bleak, existentialist apocalyptic distopia. Hell, it might have introduced me to the word “distopia.”
I’m not going to go into Max Headroom’s long list of futuristic gadgets and ideas that came to fruition (and they are legion), but I will give you this little peek into how prescient the show was. In the below clip from the UK version, Edison Carter lets himself into his new partner’s apartment to sleep off a near-death experience. As he enters her place, we hear her tv prattling in the background, selling digital ringtones of your favorite pop hits for your watch. Given that this was 20 years before the ubiquity of cell phones and downloadable ringtones, I still can’t believe that Rocky Morton and Annabelle Jankell predicted the future so accurately.