Peel Here #102: L-L-L-L-Love that Pop-Pop Culture!

By Shawn Robare

It’s kind of weird when I think about it, but even though I feel like I experienced a good chunk of the television programming from the 80s (the first time around) it’s sort of impossible to have really gotten into most of the shows enough to really experience them.  There’s just not enough time in the day, even as a kid with no job and only homework to deal with.  When I try and envision all these shows that I think I remember, I imagine this giant orb of light that’s made up of all these television images, screen shots linked together like a puzzle.   All of them are familiar and all give that sense of nostalgia, but inside this orb there’s nothing.   I expect it to be filled with memories of watching these shows, or pointless trivia, but when I glimpse inside there’s only darkness.

Max Headroom lives on one of these television screens covering the giant empty orb at the back of my brain.  On the surface I remember the television commercials, the New Coke ads, and the fact that the character was on a number of different TV shows.   I remember that the main show was a dystopian, futuristic, cyberpunk adventure that feature Matt Frewer as both a reporter named Edison Carter and the titular Max Headroom, but I’m not sure why because for the life of me I can’t recall a single episode.

In doing a little bit of research I find it kind of strange that this character and the sci-fi television show lasted as long as it did considering that the various iterations were all at odds with each other.  One the one hand you have Max Headroom the cyberspace TV host showing music videos and battering on with some odd comedy routines.   Then you have the product spokesman schilling an un-liked improvement to Coca Cola that no one really wanted.  Finally you have Max Headroom, the cyber manifestation consisting of the downloaded memories of a counter culture news reporter that’s fighting against corporate greed and advertising.   It’s all one big cynical joke that feeds on itself.  Maybe this is why I find it so fascinating…

Equally as fascinating is that of all the possible merchandising angles that could have been taken with the character, in 1986 Topps chose to use the sci-fi TV show as the inspiration for a set of 33 Max Headroom sticker cards.  Granted, the show was on the air off and on for two years, but I doubt it ever caught the hearts and minds of kids, which must have been the target audience for these sticker cards.  I’m surprised they didn’t partner with Coke and do a bunch of more brightly colored Headroom portrait stickers…

You do see a little bit of that in this set, in particular with the Headroom floating head stickers, but all in all it’s a pretty dark bunch of stickers featuring assassins, a bunch of cyberpunk rejects that look like they were swiped from a Terry Gilliam film, and some odd shots of the Matt Frewer character Edison Carter caught on film.   If I had to guess I’d say that these probably didn’t sell all that well for Topps.  As far as the stickers themselves go, I was a little disappointed that these weren’t die-cut.  For some reason that’s one of the aspects that I’ve really come to love about trading card stickers, in particular the output from Topps.

I have to say that I’m pretty stoked about the fact that he show is finally coming to DVD late this summer (August 10th).  Shout! Factory is releasing the complete series with bonus features, so I’ll finally be able to go back and get a better feel for the series…


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  • PhillyRadioGeek

    I watched the show as often as I could, but never understood what was going on. I’d like to catch the DVD and see if it makes more sense now that I’m an “”adult.”” The American series is a remake of a British version, and there are some differences between the two (I’ve never seen it, unfortunately)

  • Paxton Holley

    I had a few episodes of this show on VHS. It was definitely different. I liked the Max Headroom character to a point, but he got old after a while. I haven’t seen the show in years, I had forgotten that Amanda “”Tina McGee”” Pays was the female lead.

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  • TheNavigator

    I hadn’t seen this article before but as you’re UK correspondent I find it my duty to tell you more information about it as it was in fact a UK product originally. The brilliantly dark UK pilot episode 20 Minutes Into The Future from 1985 is criminally missing from the Shout Factory box set but im sure its available somewhere on the web. It was a special hour long Blade Runner/Road Warrior inspired movie made for the then fairly new UK channel 4 which in the 80s was trying to be a lot edgier than the more old fashioned BBC think of it as our HBO. The movie was redone as the first episode of the US series but lacked the dark as you said Terry Gilliam style look and was more in common with Captain Power or something similar. Another fact is that the husband and wife team who created the character and show also went on to direct the awful Mario Brothers movie in 1993 unfortunately.

    • Wow, I guess they needed to concentrate on their own material (that Super Mario Bros movie is … something else).