“Wait… the New Coke guy… thing?”
Yeah, I hear you… that odd mixup of Blade Runner, Brazil, MTV and way too much sugar-fueled beverages, seems like an incredibly silly thing to reboot, doesn’t it? But hey, if I can make a case for rebooting Space:1999, I must be game for any old crap, right?
But hear me out; it’s not as bad as it sounds.
First, a recap: For those of you who missed the eighties (lucky bastards), Max Headroom was the creation of George Stone, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, and portrayed by Canadian actor Matt Frewer. Using an uncomfortable layering of facial appliances and makeup, coupled with simulated computer backgrounds, Frewer would joke and improvise a character loosely-based on The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Ted Baxter. His first appearance was on the British-made cyberpunk TV movie Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future in 1985. Following that, the character landed a job as veejay on a British music show, then a talk-show host on a Cinemax production. In between, he was featured on commercials for New Coke, and appeared in Art of Noise’s Paranoimia video. He quickly became a cultural icon, and years later, when hackers interrupted a national broadcast, they wore a Max Headroom mask and copied his mannerisms. Playboy even created a female version of him, Maxine Legroom, for a magazine pictorial.
Max was considered popular enough for ABC Television to give it a shot as a weekly series. Based on the original movie and set in a dystopian world, Max was the computer-generated alter ego of TV reporter Edison Carter, created after Edison was almost killed for getting too close to a story. Max proved too elusive to catch or delete, and became a defacto mascot of Edison’s TV employers at Network 23. He was often an irritant, but he also assisted Edison on his investigations and became a mainstay of Edison’s inner circle. The series only lasted two short seasons, but achieved a cult following among sci-fi aficionados.
Looking at Max and his programs today, it’s obvious how dated it is. But this is one of the reasons that a reboot could work today: Almost any change would be a marked visual change from the original. Also, the difference between the eighties and now include great improvements in computer simulations and tricks, which means Max could be effectively generated from actual computer programs instead of people in makeup. Many of the ticks and mannerisms displayed by the original Max could still be recreated, and new effects could be added to his repertoire.
Here’s where the reboot should differ from the original: Instead of being set in a dystopia, labeled “20 minutes in the future” but actually appearing to be a decade or so (and apparently a civilizational collapse) away, the new Max Headroom would be set in the modern day. In the original show, Edison Carter was a maverick that often did his own guerilla reporting, with technicians backing him up over constant communication and able to put him on air, live, in seconds. In the original show, this was just ahead of the technological capabilities of real life… today, we’re right there. We are living today in Max Headroom’s era.
The original show also featured competing television stations and their cutthroat methods, unscrupulous advertisers for greedy companies, government and private industry shenanigans and coverups, technology run amok, and people on the ground struggling to live their lives free of the black-hearted influence of those in power or influence. Again, an era of the original show that describes today’s reality to a “T”.
The Max reboot would again be centered around a television network and an independent, intrepid and hot-headed reporter whose mission was to get the story that would make the world a better place. Max’s creation should also be caused by the reporter’s pursuit of a story that almost gets them killed. And Max should be a fully online creation, so deeply embedded into the global network that it cannot reliably be controlled or contained. As Edison pursues his stories, Max could appear and disappear, occasionally ferretting out useful information, sometimes providing a foil for Edison or his team to discuss stories and situations, and every so often a helping hand to get Edison out of a jam.
Today’s Max could, however, take advantage of the many interconnected robotics platforms in the world today, allowing him the ability to occasionally operate in the real world. Maybe he takes control of a self-driving vehicle… or alters the computer-controlled manufacture of some device… or manipulates city services, lights, security systems, service bots, drones, even telecom satellites… he would have a physical reach into the world.
And with a highly interconnected world comes the occasional story about other computer systems, perhaps being used for wrong, perhaps going wrong through no fault of their own, that Max runs into or against, or helps identify for Edison to pursue. Sort of Max Meets the Machine (from Person of Interest), or Max vs evil Watson, or Max Seeks Others Like Him, etc… in today’s world, the possibilities are almost limitless.
Adding a bit of variety, there’s no reason Max has to be a simulated male, any more than the Edison Carter character has to be male. Although both could be female, one of them could be male… or perhaps Max is androgynous. Either could add a (mostly titillating) element of gender identity to the role, and possibly a deeper element of contrast between the reporter and the simulation.
And although the original’s name came from the last thing Edison saw before his accident (a parking barrier), we could be equally creative in renaming our new Max from something else seen, or something going through the reporter’s mind, before a different accident. I have a few ideas… but I’m not going into any of them here (at least, not without a generous contribution to the Steven Lyle Jordan Retirement Fund, wink wink nudge nudge say no more).
With a reasonable amount of creativity, Max Headroom could be a series reboot to rival the original in adventure, scope and cleverness, and one I’d watch to flippin’ death.