Conceived in an animation laboratory, sliced and
diced through a computer, a semihuman
head becomes a multimedia megastar. .
The time is "20 minutes into the future" and all over the city TV screens are going blank.
Since this city is both entirely dependent upon and totally dominated by television, panic sets in: people are even raiding each other's homes for old video recordings. Enter Edison Carter, ace investigative reporter for Network 23. Carter quickly discovers who is sabotaging the TV transmissions. It's the "Blanks," a band of terroristic urban outcasts who have used their computer skills to wipe themselves off all official records. Now the Blanks are trying to pull the city's plug. Whom to turn to? Why, Max Headroom, of course, Carter's computer-generated alter ego. To penetrate the Blank's headquarters, Max is transformed into a "self-contained ROM construct with an isometric optical microlink."... At last the TV image of Max confronts the leader of the Blanks in his electronic lair. But before they can cross disc drives, Max can't resist doing his Bogart. "Of all the computers in all the systems in all the world," he sighs, "I had to walk into yours."
That's our Max Headroom--always with the jokes. Yet who (or more precisely, what) could have better reason to yuck it up these days? At the venerable age of two, Max has it all: a smash cable-TV series seen in 20 countries, a spokesmachine contract with Coca-Cola reported to be worth $4 million, two best-selling books in Britian (one a self-help opus called "Max Headroom's Guide to Life") and a line of merchandise ranging from T-shirts (in some places, they outsell Madonna's) to cosmetics (for, naturally enough, "electronically oriented males"). Now the world's first computer-simulated megastar--actually, folks, he's just a talking head on a TV screen--has fashioned the final link in his legend. It's a weekly network series that is being hailed as one of the hippest, funniest and most innovative entertainments to pop into our culture. To quote the egocentric Max's least self-worshipful Maxism: "I'm an image whose time has come."
Actually, ABC's "Max Headroom" is, in every sense of the phrase, the television of tomorrow. That doesn't mean that the audience of today will get it or even like it. It's at once a slashing futuristic satire of the TV industry and a cornea-zapping demonstration of the medium's technological potential. But it's also, in a word, difficult. Figuratively speaking, the series sucks viewers inside the tube, showing us a chillingly surreal, all-video universe in which both humans and machines have blown their circuits. From above, thousands of satellites monitor all activity; below, omnipresent "securicams" keep close-up tabs on the entire populace. A few sinister conglomerates control the world's 4,000 channels; they are not above killing people in order to boost ratings. In this global "electrodemocracy" the citizenry is represented by the networks, who, in turn, select public officials through rigged "instant telelections."