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Home > Sci-Fi > Max Headroom M-m-mondays #7: Academy

Max Headroom M-m-mondays #7: Academy

October 18th, 2010

Continuing my weekly look back at 1987’s Max Headroom series.


Written by David G.B. Brown

“But you haven’t evaluated my floppy disc!”  –Defense Attorney Shelly Keeler

The Story: Someone is breaking into Network 23’s signal…a capital offense. Bryce traces the interference back to the Academy of Computer Sciences. In a hasty effort to protect his alma mater, he shifts the blame onto the nearest available scapegoat: Blank Reg.

Reg endures a twisted parody of the legal system which culminates in an appearance on Network 23’s “video court” game show. Can he survive long enough to reach the bonus round? And will Bryce convince the real culprit to cop to the crime?

Behind the Screens:

This is my favorite episode of the series, with the exception of the pilot. Not coincidentally, it’s also the most broadly satirical installment.

Network 23’s court system is typically TV-obsessed. At Reg’s pretrial hearing, the justice is wheeled out of chambers as a monitor atop a video cart. (“All rise for the most highly-rated judge!”) The trial date is determined by the defense attorney whirling a wall-mounted game spinner.

Video court takes the form of a program called “You the Jury.” And it’s not the People’s Court/Judge Judy model, rather a traditionally cheesy game show with flashing lights, buzzers and a smiling, robed host.

Bryce believes that Reg will get off because he’s clearly incapable of hacking into a network feed, but he hasn’t reckoned with the Career Capability Malfeasance Program. Blanks may have had their electronic existence wiped, but the unnamed criminal records remain. The CCMP compares those profiles to the personality profile of a Blank suspected of a crime. If  the probability matches, it’s assumed as evidence of guilt.

The Academy of Computer Sciences is a network-run school that turns out brilliant young hackers such as Bryce Lynch. ACS instills an amoral code in its pupils; right and wrong never enter into their equations. For the headmaster, the fact that none of his children have stepped forward to take responsibility means it’s inconceivable that one of them could be the guilty party.

He’s wrong, of course. The culprit is a creepy kid named Nicholas who refuses to ‘fess up to “zipping” Network 23 even though he’s a minor and won’t be jailed for the offense. It falls to Bryce to trick Nicholas into duplicating his experiment during Reg’s trial.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

In an obvious case of life imitating art, a mere two months after this episode originally aired there was a real-life “zipping” incident. Someone wearing a Max Headroom mask broke into the signals of two Chicago television stations. They were not, to my knowledge, executed by WGN.

Courtroom shows were nothing new at the time, but the stakes were much lower and the results decidedly unofficial. Max Headroom takes the concept to its extreme, with life-or-death cases considered by a jury of whomever happens to be watching.

The Career Capability Malfeasance Program is one of the more blatant examples of Kafkaesque bureaucracy in action. While this network-dominated dystopia doesn’t seem as intentionally malign as the dictatorships of 1984 or Brazil, it’s not a good place to live for the unlucky.

The floppy discs are back. Not only are they once again used by the attorneys during the pretrial hearing, Edison at one brandishes the 8″ variety.

real-life “zipping”  -3 minutes
8″ floppies?  -2 minutes
the CCMP  +1 minute (not as far off as one might think)
capital trial conducted by instant viewer poll  +4 minutes

= 20 Minutes Into the Future

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