"Max Headroom" is an odd beast: An American series based on a British TV film whose main character first became familiar to American viewers through a series of advertisements. Furthermore, it's a TV series about a TV reporter which openly criticizes and ridicules TV networks and the way "news" is made. It doesn't get much more meta than this.
It's easy to ridicule Max Headroom as a camp curio of 80's TV, given its lineage and the shoulder pads. These reviews won't go that route. Parts of this show already looked retro the day they first aired.
Seen today, Max Headroom seems both dated and prescient. Some of the writer's visions still seem possible, some have already come true and others stand out as painfully unfeasible. The show uses scifi trappings to try and give some insight in how journalists and TV networks work. Some revelations are painful clichés, other observations ring painfully true.
If you ever wondered what makes investigative reporters seek out danger instead of following the natural impulse of staying the heck away, Max Headroom might give you an idea. If you've never before realized that programming is what networks develop to be able to sell advertisements... boy, this 1987 show will pry your eyes open with a crowbar.
A note of warning: In order to properly convey the tone of the show, the following review goes into a lot of detail. Further reviews will contain shorter plot summaries instead of a play-by-play.
Max Headroom Episode 1: Blipverts
The US series pilot of Max Headroom begins with one of the worst opening credits sequences ever. Yes, even worse than the faux feel-good credits of "Star Trek: Enterprise."
The titular character appears for only an instant; the first proper close-up is an old punk lady licking her finger. The music keeps switching between agitated synth arpeggios and sustained guitar chords. Much like the episode itself, the credits sequence arrives in fits.
The credits are followed by a three-second, lightning-fast montage promoting something called "Zik Zak", its slogan "Know Future". It's never mentioned what product is being advertised, the ad just hammers the brand into your brain at 88 mph.
Digression One: When you get a chance, watch a few TV ads in a foreign language and try to make out what's being advertised. If you don't recognize the brand or cheat by reading the YouTube description, you're probably going to be quite lost. So it makes perfect sense for the show to introduce a megacorporation without telling you what they produce. Digression ends.
For a second or two, a black screen appears: "PLACE NETWORK COMMERCIAL HERE". If you had tuned into this show on its first broadcast, you could be forgiven for not realizing that the episode is already well underway.
At last, a proper opening shot: The camera swoops over a stylized cityscape which makes no effort whatsoever to conceal it's a miniature. It's accompanied by a now-legendary caption: "20 MINUTES INTO THE FUTURE."
One skyscraper has a ZIK ZAK billboard so high up that nobody on the streets below could actually see it. This sly joke literally flies by you the first dozen times you see the sequence. One building stands out, almost twice as high as its surroundings. This imposing tower is marked "NETWORK 23 XXIII."