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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #14: Baby Grobags

December 13th, 2010 No comments

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

“Baby Grobags”

Written by Chris Ruppenthal and Adrian Hein

“I love babies. They’re so sweet. Especially with pickles.”  –Breughel

The Story: Ovu-Vat offers would-be parents an entirely new option: babies gestated and brought to term inside a bag. But the child belonging to Helen–an old friend of Theora–is stolen, and the trail leads to Network 66’s and its new hit show about brilliant babies, “Prodigies.” Meanwhile, Bryce entertains a job offer from his former employer, Ned Grossberg.

Behind the Screens: The final episode of Max Headroom (which, as I mentioned last week, did not air in the U.S. until years after the series was cancelled by ABC) is a disappointing capper to a generally remarkable series. Admittedly, I’m not too interested in “somebody stole my baby!!!” stories, but even discounting that prejudice this script doesn’t make much sense.

The plot hinges on an agreement between Ovu-Vat and Network 66 in which the baby factory supplies the broadcaster with super-smart kids for the “Prodigies” show. Yet even Grossberg (who, I’ll remind you, tried to have his own star reporter whacked back in the pilot) is horrified to learn that Ovu-Vat is creating “in vitro clones” without the knowledge of the donor parents. Which begs the question, what did he think was happening? Were parents who went to all the trouble of commissioning a baby in a bag supposedly just handing over their freshly-minted kids to a network exec?

Furthermore, the reason that Helen’s child (who, we are told, will be a frickin’ genius) is missing is that the head of Ovu-Vat, Cornelia Firth, has stolen it. Never mind that it’s already come to term and is about to be picked up by its mother. How on earth did Firth think she was going to get away with the theft? And even if she escaped justice, a security breach so egregious would be deadly to a company in such an emotionally-charged business as childbirth.

Meanwhile, there’s Bryce’s storyline, which sees him interviewing for a position at Network 66. I kept waiting for him to reveal that it was part of a long con, yet by episode’s end he had all but signed on the dotted line. Although Bryce’s amorality was well established, over the course of the series he seemed to have developed enough of a sense of right and wrong that I expected him to be wary of working with Grossberg again. (Also, I’d be more than a little suspicious of a network head who made me change into trunks to conduct the job interview in a swimming pool.)

To his credit, Grossberg’s intentions for Bryce are pretty forward-thinking. He wants the boy whiz to lead a team composed of the kids from “Prodigies” that would “develop a cutting edge in television thinking…new technology, new shows, advanced technique.” And really, nothing happens that would derail this plan. Network 66 might not receive more genius babies, but presumably they already have a clutch of them. The only thing that keeps Bryce from taking the job at 66 is that Edison literally grabs him by the scruff and drags him out.

No Blank Reg or Dominique in this one, but Breughel and his new “Mahler” put in a brief appearance serving as unlikely couriers returning the stolen kid to Edison Carter. Because, who else would you trust with a valuable Baby Einstein?

Network 23 has a show called “The Cocktail Club,” which apparently takes downtrodden viewers inside parties of the well-to-do. Apparently, it’s supposed to be a ratings-grabber that the latest episode is taking place within Edison’s apartment. It isn’t. Viewers switch over to “Prodigies” in droves.

We see Theora’s apartment for the first time since the pilot, though it appears that she no longer parks her car in the bedroom.

Amusingly, Helen’s astronaut husband is named “Zeno,” a homonym of “xeno,” a word prefix often applied to extraterrestrial life.

Speaking of names, Murray makes it all the way to the end of the series without acquiring a surname. Or did he? When Theora and Murray go undercover as prospective Ovu-Vat customers, Theora is referred to as “Mrs. Murray.” Was Murray really his last name all along? Or is he just Murray, like Cher or Xuxa?

While this was the final episode produced, several more were in various stages of production when the cancellation blade fell. The description of  Theora’s Tale” is especially intriguing: during a shooting war between Zik-Zak and its corporate rival Zlin, Theora is kidnapped and we learn the secret of her parentage. It’s especially disappointing this was never made because Theora is such an underdeveloped character.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

Aside from the baby bags themselves, most of what Ovu-Vat does has either already passed or doesn’t seem far off. Its clients can choose their child’s sex and even select many of its attributes, but is that far-fetched in the days of widespread genetic manipulation?

The show conflates the term “in vitro” with the practice of cloning, and everyone seems pretty shocked about the whole thing. Never mind that everything Ovu-Vat does is technically in vitro.

frightening advances in genetic engineering  -10 minutes
misunderstanding the definition of in vitro -2 minutes
Murray’s laughably large secret earphone  -3 minutes
aquatic job interviews  +1 minute

= 6 Minutes Into the Future


And now, some final thoughts.

This is a series I’d been looking forward to owning on DVD from pretty much the first day I bought a player, even though I still have off-air VHS recordings from the original ABC run. I need to go back and look at those tapes again; when the series was cancelled after facing stiff competition from Dallas and Miami Vice in a tough Friday night slot, Max made a final speech that doesn’t appear on the DVD set:

“And if the ratings books last for a thousand years, men will still say this was Max Headroom’s finest hour.”

To be sure, Max Headroom was a show well ahead of its time. It looked like nothing else on TV, and its cyberpunk storylines likely confused the hell out of viewers.

A remake would be interesting. Certainly, its depiction of a media-obsessed world in a constant 24-hour news cycle would make a lot more sense to a modern audience. And I think that a 21st Century Max Headroom would benefit from the long-form storytelling and focus on characterization typical of modern dramatic series.

Really, the weakest aspect of Max Headroom is Max himself. He’s funny, but as a character who exists solely within the TV screen, he’s of limited use. By the series’ end, he was largely relegated to the role of a chattering Greek chorus mocking his real-life commercial sponsors and even (as in the tag of “Baby Grobags”) his own show.

And that’s it for Max Headroom M-m-mondays. As I’ve found all too often when I get into these recurring series of blog posts, this one rapidly got out of control. It’s a lot easier to queue up thirty or forty Tron images. Still, I hope that you found it interesting.

Back in the day I made a half-hearted attempt at writing a Max Headroom fanzine. It took another 23 years, but I finally gave this show its due.

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #13: Lessons

December 6th, 2010 No comments

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

“Lessons”

Written by Adrian Hein and Steve Roberts

“Words are much too valuable to be free. If you were educated, you would know that.”  –Dragul

The Story: Literacy is only available to those who can pay for the restricted cable service, but the Blanks are duplicating educational videotapes. This brings down the wrath of Network 23’s censors, who not only personally conduct Metrocop raids on the illegal schools but suppress Edison’s attempt to cover the story.

Behind the Screens: Back in the day, this episode served as a de facto series finale. Of the eight episodes produced for the second season, five aired in the fall of ’87, and two in spring of ’88. One additional episode (“Baby Grobags”) never aired on ABC; it was unseen in the U.S. until the cable channel Bravo repeated the series in 1995.

The authority of the censors appears absolute. Not even Ben Cheviot can override their decisions. Yet their agents–as represented by the thin-faced and smirking Dragul–answer to a higher power, the CENSOR computer. As Cheviot points out, the continuous flow of televised content is impossible for humans to monitor, therefore the job of protecting viewers from naughty words and dangerous ideas is left to the machines.

One question the script poses but never really answers is why it is that CENSOR is involved in shutting down the Blanks’ use of pirated educational videos. Not even Dragul knows what it is he’s looking for. Presumably, like all good censors, he knows it when he sees it.

Dragul carries a wicked electronic wand which is capable of selectively erasing content from illegal videotapes. Bizarrely, it wipes the on-screen host (“Doc Friendly”) but not the show itself; furthermore, the unfortunate Doc reacts as if he is aware of his deletion.

Bruno the Blank makes a return appearance, this time operating out of a former church. Despite what we were told in the episode “Deities,” Murray suggests that religion has been largely supplanted by television, which has the benefit of better miracles.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

“Sky Clearance” is a Mardi Gras-like festival that celebrates Zik Zak’s annual destruction of its outdated satellites. Revelers carry makeshift steel umbrellas to protect themselves from the shower of debris. (It must be noted, however, that the satellite chunks dropping onto the set are moving much too slowly to have fallen from orbit.) Dressed for the party, Dominique makes a frightening appearance in a star-spangled leotard.

Shades of Fahrenheit 451, the secret the Blanks are trying to protect is a printing press. The Sky Clearance celebration masks the noise of the press as it prints textbooks and lesson plans for the children of the Fringes. It’s not clear whether books are themselves forbidden, or that they’re denied to the Blanks.

portable phones with huge, retractable antennas  -4 minutes
censorship by computer  -4 minutes (-14 if you’re reading this in China)
literacy forbidden to the poor  +1 minute (not as far off as you think)

= 13 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #12: Neurostim

November 29th, 2010 No comments

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

“Neurostim”

Written by Arthur Sellers and Michael Cassutt

“We make everything you need, and you need everything we make.” –Zik-Zak advertising slogan

The Story: The Zik-Zak Corporation’s new promotion is the Neurostim bracelet. (Free with a Burger Pak and Crunch Fries!) This dangerous piece of bling puts its wearer into a hallucinatory world of sexual imagery and rampant consumerism. It’s all part of Operation Serendipity, Zik-Zak’s plan to bypass network television and implant advertising messages directly in its customers’ brains. When Edison’s investigation proves inconvenient, he is tricked into wearing an overpowered Neurostim that locks him into a perpetual state of shopping madness.

Behind the Screens: This one is a mixed bag for me. It scores some good points about the mindlessness of consumer come-ons–all of the Neumostim fantasies involve sexual encounters and/or fast cars–but the story logic is a bit of a mess.

The addictive properties of the Neurostim device are every bit as dangerous as Blipverts or Whacketts. In fact, the bracelets work so well that Zik-Zak is able to pull all of its advertising from Network 23. The resulting drop in 23’s stock price allows Zik-Zak to buy a controlling share of the network itself.

In the end, nothing that Edison does matters. Zik-Zak sells Network 23 once they realize that the other channels won’t accept advertising from a competitor. (Never mind that Neurostim makes traditional advertising meaningless.) And there’s no suggestion that Carter’s investigation puts an end to the promotion.

From a character standpoint, this is one of the stronger episodes for both Edison and Max. Max interrupts Edison’s timeslot because he feels that he can speak truths that Carter can’t or won’t. Meahwhile, Edison resents Max’s very existence; he’s furious that his personality was copied and is now in direct competition with himself.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

In hindsight, the resolution of the story is naive in the extreme. Every American broadcast television network is now owned by a media conglomerate, and if there’s any serious resistance to advertising the wares of a competitor, I haven’t seen it.

We get our first glimpse of a location outside of the unnamed city in which Network 23 resides. The headquarters of the Zik-Zak Corporation is in New Tokyo, a sleek metropolis depicted in cheesy mid-’80s CGI.

A map of the world in the Zik-Zak boardroom suggests that there are two other similar conglomerates: Zuma, which controls the North and South American markets as well as Great Britain; and Zlin, which dominates Africa and the majority of Europe and Russia.

media conglomerates owning broadcast networks? horrors! -8 minutes
soda cups that open at the small end +1 minute
virtual clothing stores +2 minutes

= 15 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #11: Whacketts

November 22nd, 2010 No comments

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

“Whacketts”

Written by Arthur Sellers and Dennis Rolfe

“Why bother to save television sets? They’re given to the needy.”  –Murray

The Story: In the aftermath of a building collapse, tenants ignore fellow victims in favor of an addictive television game show named “Whacketts.” A disgraced former network sales executive is using BigTime TV to market test a “narcotic” signal embedded within its program. Max Headroom is exceptionally susceptible to its influence and threatens to spread it to a global audience.

Behind the Screens: Talk-show host and comedian Bill Maher makes an early acting appearance as the villainous Haskel. He sports a tiny, evil ponytail.

“Whacketts” is in reality an episode of a Puerto Rican variety/game show called “Super Sabados.” Apparently it aired for five hours straight each Saturday evening, which suggests that it may have had its own narcotic effect.

The addictive signal triggers the release of endorphins in its viewers, leading to feelings of extreme pleasure. Max Headroom doesn’t have a pituitary gland, but being an “electromorph” somehow makes him even more vulnerable.

When Network 23 chief Ben Cheviot sees the enormous ratings spike enjoyed by BigTime TV, he orders his team to determine the appeal of “Whacketts” and have a clone on the air within an hour. The enterprise is sidetracked when Max bootlegs the actual show and overrides 23’s signal.

In the series’ oddest pairing, Network 66’s venomous Ned Grossberg (Charles Rocket, once again furiously twitching his neck) takes Dominique on a business dinner date. Rocking a huge feather boa and some serious cleavage, Dom proves a shrewd negotiator.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

The unfortunate Metrocop Lt. Ziskin, who winds up at the bottom of an elevator shaft after confronting Bill Maher and his stubby ponytail, has a nifty video wristwatch which plugs into the station’s computer bank via a retractable cable.

We finally learn a bit about the regime in charge. There’s a reference to a “global government.” And Cheviot reports to something called the “World Broadcast Governing Body.”

video narcotics  +4 minutes
Dick Tracy wristwatches  +1 minute

= more than 20 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #10: Dream Thieves

November 15th, 2010 No comments

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

“Dream Thieves”

Written by Steve Roberts and Charles Grant Craig

“People love to pay. It massages their self-esteem.”  –Greig

The Story: Edison reconnects with Paddy Ashton, a former colleague whose life went decidedly downhill after Carter beat him for the promotion to network telejournalist. Guilt turns to fury when Paddy dies during an experimental dream recording technique producing content for the launch of a new pay TV channel.

Behind the Screens: As I watched this episode, it struck me that they must’ve spent a small fortune on the scenes set in the Fringes. Nighttime exteriors, dozens of extras and a junkyard’s worth of grungy set dressing…for a anarchic hellscape, it looks pretty awesome.

For all of Edison’s righteous wrath, the eponymous “dream thieves” don’t seem all that villainous. Okay, they don’t tell their subjects that their dreams will be televised to millions. And sure, they cover up the occasional death-by-nightmare. But compared to organ traffickers or Charles Rocket, they’re pretty small potatoes.

Once again, Breughel is your go-to guy when it’s time to get rid of a body. However, this time he’s a got a new “Mahler,” having sacrificed his former partner one night during a shortage of fresh corpses.

There are a couple of odd things about this outing. It’s the first episode to have no scenes in the Network 23 boardroom. It also sees Dominique serving as Theora’s surrogate when Edison leaves behind his vidcam and has to make do with Blank Reg’s infrared surveillance camera.

Meanwhile, Max Headroom–who, being either “off” or “on,” cannot himself dream–replays some of Edison’s dreams to distract the bad guys. He chooses an erotic encounter with Theora which turns out to be a creative reuse of footage from the pilot episode.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

Movie theaters no longer exist. Edison rhapsodizes about these lost “dream palaces” and the forgotten experience of hundreds of people watching the same screen at the same time.

The dream-recording device is weirdly low-tech. For reasons unexplained, video cameras are unable to capture the images being projected onto the eyeball from the pineal gland, so it uses good, ol’-fashioned film reels.

Carter pays off Breughel to deliver Paddy’s body to a cemetery rather than a body bank. The final scene of the episode has Edison and Murray remembering their friend in the midst of a field of tombstones which appear to have TV monitors mounted atop them.

video cemeteries  +2 minutes
the demise of the movie industry  +2 minutes
canine video jockeys  +2 minutes

= more than 20 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #9: Grossberg’s Return

November 1st, 2010 No comments

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

“Grossberg’s Return”

Written by Steve Roberts

“Pictures don’t lie…at least not until you assemble them creatively.”  –Murray

The Story: Ned Grossberg, the disgraced former head of Network 23, has resurfaced on the board of rival Network 66 just in time for the all-important tele-election.

His scam–non-existent “ViewDoze” technology that allegedly allows people to watch an all-night “Porky’s Landing” marathon while they sleep–is artificially goosing the ratings in favor of Network 66’s candidate Harriet Garth. However, it’s only the opening gambit in a much larger scheme intended both to embarrass Network 23 and to stage a boardroom coup.

Edison’s exposé of “ViewDoze” is sidelined when Ben Cheviot learns of “leaked” footage that purports to show Harriet Garth in an election-eve tryst. But the video has been faked…or has it?

Behind the Screens: This was apparently the first episode of the second season to be filmed, which is perhaps why Grossberg feels the need to provide short bios of Edison, Theora, Cheviot, Murray and Max to the assembled board members. Strangely, Max Headroom barely makes an appearance in his own show, which may be one reason this was held back a couple of weeks.

When Edison calls Theora in the middle of the night, he’s upset to see her sharing her bed with an unidentified male arm. He spends about half of the story pissed at her, even though he’s had ample opportunities to put the moves on her prior to this.

In addition to the return of Charles Rocket as Grossberg, this episode introduces Andreas Katsulas as one of the Network 66 board members. Katsulas later went on to play recurring Romulan foe Commander Tomalak on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Narn diplomat G’Kar on Babylon 5.

Truth to tell, the tele-election doesn’t quite make sense. The winner appears to be determined solely by whichever network is ahead in the ratings “auto-count” at the stroke of 9:00 am. That seems awfully early, or do people in the future start work at 10:00 am? On the other hand, if it’s a worldwide election, that suggests that a large portion of the global audience would’ve slept right through the Harriet Garth scandal.

In the end, the plot is vaguely reminiscent of The Phantom Menace, in that everything our heroes do plays right into the villain’s rise to power. Grossberg unseats the head of Network 66 and becomes a recurring enemy during the short second season.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

There are at least two genocides happening on the other side of the world, and that’s not even counting the plague of frogs in Egypt.

As before, the politics of the future are ill-defined. A line of dialogue suggests that the networks themselves aren’t the actual government. We never do learn what offices are being filled or what portions of the world they represent.

24-hour news cycles  -6 minutes
engineered political scandals  -8 minutes
elections as ratings races  +7 minutes

= 13 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #8: Deities

October 25th, 2010 No comments

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

“Deities”

Written by Michael Cassutt

“Let’s leave religion to the televangelists. After all, they’re the professionals.”  –Cheviot

The Story: Vu-Age is a tele-church that solicits donations based upon empty promises of resurrection via a combination of brain scans and cloning. Normally, this sort of exposé would be right up Edison’s alley, but he seems reticent about pursuing the story.

Max reveals that the charismatic leader of Vu-Age is a woman with whom Edison had a lengthy relationship during college. Torn by his lingering feelings for Vanna Smith, Carter shares with her a copy of his report prior to broadcast.

Aided by Network 23 board member Ashwell–revealed to be a Vu-Age member–the church retaliates by kidnapping Max Headroom. If Edison doesn’t agree to spike the story, they say that they will completely erase the computer personality!

Behind the Screens: Vu-Age is said to be one of the leading tele-churches. In terms of airtime and advertising rates, it’s pulled ahead of Islam, Judaism, IBM and Scientology. Only Catholicism and the 700 Club are bigger. (Hinduism, it seems, has fallen off in popularity 20 minutes into the future.)

As the script itself points out, Max Headroom’s existence demonstrates that the brain scan technology necessary to recreate someone after death already exists. However, Bryce argues that it takes the vast computer resources of Network 23 to maintain just one personality. All Vu-Age can manage is some very low-resolution video with a few pre-programmed responses. (Tellingly, the one deceased church member we “meet” can only repeat “Yes. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”)

Edison gets himself a little something something with Vanna, another clear breach of journalistic ethics. It’s the first–but not the last–time that one of the cast enjoys some between-the-sheets action.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

Highly profitable television churches aren’t anything new. What we haven’t had, to my knowledge, is one which offers clone-based resurrection.

Aside from that, there isn’t anything here that seems more than

= 8 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #7: Academy

October 18th, 2010 No comments

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

“Academy”

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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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #6: Blanks

October 11th, 2010 No comments

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

“Blanks”

Written by Steve Roberts

“We’re going to have riots out there. We should distribute emergency video players immediately!”  –Edwards

The Story: “Blanks” are being jailed thanks to Network 23’s overreaching politician, Simon Peller. In retaliation, Blank Bruno threaten to overload every computer and video screen, plunging the city into a nightmare world without television.

It’s everyone on deck to stop this existential threat. Max is offered up as a Trojan Horse to penetrate Bruno’s security. Theora vamps to get close to Peller. And Blank Reg–who has been aiding Bruno in his effort to free the imprisoned Blanks– becomes a reluctant hero, using a flashlight to keep the needlessly elaborate “solar trigger” from bringing down the system at sunset.

Behind the Screens: “Blanks” are those who have contrived to have their identities erased from the central computer. While it appears that many of them inhabit the Fringes, the female Blank arrested at the start of the episode lives in a nice apartment in a relatively normal urban neighborhood.

Janie Crane–the kidnapped Network 23 reporter from last week’s episode–assists with the investigation of the incarcerated Blanks. She is horrified when she realizes that the recently apprehended woman has done the unthinkable: installed an off-switch on her television!

Justice is swift in the future. The prosecuting and defending attorneys load their arguments–stored on 3 1/2″ floppy discs–into the court computer, which renders an instant verdict.

Panicky, TV-deprived citizens swarm out into the streets, buying tapes and huddling around “Video Vu” kiosks.

We learn a bit more about the videocracy that rules the world. Elections are handled via the two-way sampler, and the vote totals are “computer-enhanced.” Peller says that he negotiated the election results with his opponent several weeks ago.

Beyond that, the government is vaguely defined. We know neither what office Peller holds nor the nature of the governing body. The Metrocops do his bidding, so it may be something equivalent to a mayor.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

When Theora strides into Peller’s suite video camera in hand, she’s glammed up with an absurd ’80s hairdo. Because being a gorgeous woman with a British accent and a very biteable lower lip isn’t quite enough.

Edison’s solution to the stand-off between Peller and Blank Bruno is to have Bryce selectively edit the footage shot by Theora so that the politician appears to be willingly releasing the prisoners. As I sit here typing this, a never-ending string of political ads blares in the background, most of which feature sound bites being taken wildly out of context.

Theora’s spiky bangs  -2 minutes
3 1/2″ floppies?  -3 minutes
video/audio/image manipulation seems so quaint now  -5 minutes
government by the networks, for the networks  +6 minutes

=16 Minutes Into the Future

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Max Headroom M-m-mondays #5: War

October 4th, 2010 No comments

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

“War”

Written by Martin Pasko, Rebecca Parr, Michael Cassutt and Steve Roberts

“Since when has news been entertainment?”  –Edison

“Since it was invented?”  –Murray

The Story: State-sponsored terrorism has given way to commercially-sponsored terrorism. A Network 23 reporter is injured and subsequently captured during her investigation of the “White Brigade” and its connection with a television packager.

Network head Ben Cheviot has a difficult decision to make. Explosions equal ratings during a crucial global “sweeps,” but what’s the real cost of purchasing exclusive rights to the White Brigade?

Behind the Screens: In another example of the television-dominated future, the Stock Market has been replaced by an “Ad Market” where commercial availabilities are traded in real-time.

Actor Robert O’Reilly, who played the bug-eyed Klingon ruler Gowron for the Star Trek franchise, here is Hauser, the bug-eyed leader of the White Brigade.

We never find out exactly what it is Hauser wants. While he largely seems content to blow up empty buildings for the sake of ad dollars, he professes to have another agenda. His attack on the Ad Market suggests that he’s protesting the very same mediacracy that’s providing him with funding. (Hmmmmm…)

Cheviot and Miss Formby are caught on the periphery of the Ad Market blast, and Formby sustains minor injuries. Despite this, Cheviot is not above contracting with the Brigade’s packager once Edison Carter’s investigation of the terrorists goes up a blind alley.

Max Headroom is barely in this one. Up ’til now, the writers have been good at finding ways to work him into the plot, but here he just offers occasional commentary.

The Ratings Report:

Theora’s Level of Concern

How Minutes Into the Future Is This Now?

The time has come to address a couple of significant ways in which Max Headroom the series got it both right and so very wrong.

The world of 20 Minutes into the Future is under the thumb of the media, but it’s specifically the medium of broadcast television. From my current vantage point in that industry, I can tell you that this is laughably unlikely.

The World Wide Web was only about four years away in the real world, yet there’s no suggestion here of people using computers for anything other than hacking and/or staring pensively at monitors. There are video screens everywhere, but they’re analog TV sets.

I also need to bring attention to the video cameras used by Edison and his peers. They’re bulky, shoulder-mounted affairs, not the tiny HD camcorders of today. Granted, they have built-in uplink capabilities–seemingly without any need for line-of-sight–so that might account for the extra load. But that does nothing to account for the bazooka-like “camera gun”–complete with videotape “clip”–that Network 23 reporter Janie Crane operates.

To my knowledge, no television networks are making back-door deals with Al Qaeda for exclusive news coverage. But media-savvy terrorists who profit from the system they want to bring down? That’s so 2001.

omnipresent media companies  +2 minutes
but they’re the wrong media companies  -5 minutes
bazooka video cameras  -2 minutes
terrorism ad-buys  +3 minutes

= 18 Minutes Into the Future