The sign of a good satire can, occasionally, be seen as a sign of failure. Watching it 30 years later, and it seems a little tame; the reason being, not that it lacked bite then, but that reality has become so horrible that if you’d tried to make satire about what it’s actually like today, 30 years ago, you’d have been laughed out of every TV station in the land.
Everyone of a certain age will have some memory of Max Headroom. He was incredibly culturally ubiquitous for a while there, with several TV shows, famous advertising campaigns and a distinct enough visual look to “inspire” a million lame parodies. The character’s career path is an interesting one – the character was created to front a music video / interview show, which got odder and odder through the run of its two series on British TV; then there was two series of a show created by the Brits for American TV (with an almost entirely American cast, set in the USA), which was a dystopian drama and ran for two more series. This film was created to be a backstory for the music video show, and is similar to the later show, being a dystopian fiction. Confused yet?
Edison Carter is a reporter for Channel 23, according to his producer the most popular reporter in the world, and a decent man, devoted to the truth and exposing corruption among the rich and powerful. Unfortunately, he’s a hair’s breadth from stumbling on a huge conspiracy involving his own station and “blipverts”. Blipverts are 30 second adverts compressed to three seconds, and the technology behind them has made Channel 23 no.1. The one small problem is if you’re a couch potato, then something about the blipvert will set off a chain reaction in your brain which causes you to blow up. Their creator is a precocious teenager who, it turns out, is a great deal more evil than even the evil network executives, which is a nice touch.
As Carter gets closer to the truth, we see more and more of their world – TV stations being run out of beat-up old transit vans, crushing poverty, kidnapping people to sell their bodies to spare-part shops, and an aesthetic which was no doubt forced on them by a very small budget, but ends up looking great (to modern eyes, anyway) – and they also do a great job of recreating the beats of the mystery movie, but with less money and less time (it’s only an hour long).
How does Edison Carter become Max Headroom, I hear you ask? Well, that would be spoiling, but it involves a full-brain download, a very bulky computer and a TV station run by a sad old punk. I’d forgotten the constrant stream of puns which was a Max Headroom show, and he doesn’t disappoint here, despite only being on screen as Max for a few minutes.
For a show designed to just introduce a character, it’s a great deal better than it has any need to be. There are jokes all over the place, a good sense of design, and because it’s short there’s no time to get bored. If you’re at all interested in 1980s TV, then…you’ve probably already seen this, but if not definitely give it a go.
Rating: thumbs up