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Max Headroom is coming back into our lives and onto our screens

Matt Frewer's iconic '80s artificial intelligence will be making an unexpected comeback soon

The Max Headroom Show
Image credit: Channel 4

It’s time to return to 20 minutes in the future, with the news that AMC Networks is planning a revival of '80s science fiction television property Max Headroom, with Halt and Catch Fire co-creator (and current writer of Marvel’s Iron Man comic book series) Christopher Cantwell as showrunner.

For those too young to remember, Max Headroom was a genuine pop culture phenomenon in the ‘80s. He debuted in a 1985 British television movie titled Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future, which acted as an origin story for the buggy, pop culture obsessed artificial intelligence ahead of his appearance as host of The Max Headroom show, a pastiche of contemporary chat shows that featured the character – played by Matt Frewer – interviewing celebrities in a studio setting, from the comfort of his very own television set; importantly, program makers publicly said that Max was an entirely computer-generated character, with Frewer’s involvement kept secret for some time until after the show’s launch.

Here's a trailer for the original Max Headroom series:

Watch on YouTube

The Max Headroom show aired in the UK until 1987, becoming popular enough to spin off not only a Christmas special written by none other than George R.R. Martin – yes, really – but an American version of the show, titled The Original Talking Max Headroom Show, which ran for six episodes on cable channel Cinemax.

That wasn’t the end of the character, however; the final episodes of the Original Talking Max Headroom show actually overlapped with the first episodes of an ABC remake of the original 20 Minutes Into The Future movie, expanded into a full-length series. In this new series, simply titled Max Headroom, Max co-existed with the investigative journalist whose brain patterns he’d been modeled upon, also played by Frewer; the two existed in a dystopian near-future that was clearly informed by the then-new cyberpunk fiction of the likes of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. (In fact, the ABC Max Headroom show is often referred to as the first cyberpunk TV series.)

While all of this was going on, Max started showing up elsewhere: he had a top 40 hit with the band Art of Noise, he had his own video game, and he was the spokesperson for a New Coke ad campaign. He was parodied in Back to The Future Part II, the newspaper strip Doonesbury, and on Late Night with David Letterman. Even for people who’d never watched any of the actual Max Headroom shows, it was difficult to avoid the character. Years after the end of the ABC series in 1988, he’d continue to show up where he was least expected; he’s shows up in both Ready Player One and Ready Player Two, as well as making an appearance in the 2015 movie Pixels, and gets referenced in both Agents of SHIELD and Bojack Horseman. Now, he’s making an entirely unexpected comeback in his own show.

According to Deadline, which broke news about the revival, Matt Frewer will once again play the character in the new series, as well as act as an executive producer for the project alongside Cantwell and Lisa Whalen. The series will be produced by Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah’s SpectreVision and All3Media.

On Twitter, Cantwell – who also acted as showrunner on the Prime Video adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls – wrote that the new show is “going to be absolutely bananas. My pitch was an hour of batshit story and character, but it’s also once again about technology and its impact on our very lives… my favorite subject.”

While waiting for Max Headroom to return, why not read about another piece of weird but wonderful sci-fi with this liveblog of the San Diego Comic-Con panel for 3 Worlds/3 Moons?

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Graeme McMillan: Popverse Editor Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.
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