'Max Headroom': When Big DVD Sets Happen to Short-Lived Shows


Max Headroom was not a great TV show. I can say that because: (a) I watched it; (b) it survived only 14 episodes after an enormous marketing campaign (including a cover story in one NEWSWEEK magazine); and (c) like Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel, it seriously dented the careers of almost every actor who came near it. And yet here it is, coming to a Best Buy near you: Max Headroom: The Complete Series.

There's an irony in this: the 1987 TV series Max Headroom was itself about bringing someone back from the dead, a TV reporter (Matt Frewer) who crashes on his motorcycle (the last words he sees are "Max Headroom") and is resurrected as some kind of computer that looks like an old MTV video and speaks in a weird, stammering voice. At the time, the show was billed as a breakthrough in cutting-edge sci-fi, one that used visual technology and a sharply satirical script to make it oh-so-modern. Undoubtedly, the creators would like to think that it was ahead of its time—there was a bit of early X-Files about it—but considering its short life, it was closer to a show that deserved to be forgotten.

Of course, nothing is forgotten in our recycled world, and Max Headroom is hardly the first extremely minor TV show to somehow earn a second chance on DVD. But there's a second chance and there's the second coming, which is how the rereleased version is being treated. Altogether, Max's 14-episode life will be spread across five DVDs—that's fewer than three episodes per disc. The blank space will be filled by the always popular "bonus features," which in this case might mean the episodes that never aired because no one wanted to watch them. The set will also feature something called "3-D lenticular packaging," which is apparently very, very special because it's helped jack up the price for the new Max to $49.97.

Peyser is NEWSWEEK's culture editor.