Here they are — all the Max Headroom ads for Coca-Cola. (I am linking here to the awesome Zona C Youtube channel.) When I mentioned the iconic corporate spokesman here on Monday, I had no idea he’d appeared in so many Coke commercials.
Matt Frewer’s stuttering alter-ego really was everywhere in the 1980’s. (There’s a terrific rundown of his digital reign right here over at Pop History Dig.) And, for my money, the infamous pirate broadcast incident in Chicago is actually a little creepy when viewed in its entirety, in an accidental, V/H/S kind of way. (I actually remember seeing coverage of it on the nightly news back in the day — someone hacking into a television broadcast was a big deal.)
Frewer himself remains a sublimely talented guy. He’s now 65, and his filmography is truly gigantic. He’s an always enjoyable “that-guy” actor who pops up in all sorts of horror and sci-fi properties. (You can probably tell a lot about your personality and viewing habits by where you’ve seen him last.) My favorite role of his might his turn as a doomed nice-guy in the 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” simply because I love that movie so much.
Alright, 80’s pop culture historians, the chronology for the various “Max Headroom” movie and television shows can be a little confusing. I think I’ve got it down …
The original “Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future” was a 1985 TV movie for Britain’s Channel 4; it was two years later that ABC made it the pilot for an American show that would last for two seasons. (A sanitized version of the British movie served as the pilot for the series.)
There were also a couple of versions of a “Max Headroom Show” that ran in either Britain or the United States more or less concurrently. But these simply had the eponymous digital personality hosting … a talk show? With music videos? And, at any rate, a lot of people remember Matt Frewer’s iconic character only from his famous Coca-Cola commercial.
“Fear the Walking Dead” has devolved. It’s fallen a long way from its early years as an earnest, deadly serious prequel to “The Walking Dead.” (I, for one, really liked the first season’s creative mix of slow-burn horror and family drama, and I loved the ambitious, milieu-exploring apocalypse-in-progress stories of subsequent seasons.) Today, we’ve reached the point where the show has become so slapdash and campy that you have to wonder whether its creators take it seriously at all.
I’m sorry to say this, but the Season 5 premiere felt like pretty amateurish stuff. Its writing, directing and acting (in some places) were really, really spotty. Its early action set-piece involving a plane crash, for example, was choppy, confusing and awkwardly staged. The plotting and dialogue were … poor.
Even the premiere’s marketing was goofy. Its television ads seemed like an intentional self-parody — like maybe a Saturday Night Live skit lampooning zombie shows. (See below.) The poster is a mess too — even if the center image’s suggestion that John Dorie is a gunslinging Christ figure is pretty damned nifty.
With all of this said, it may surprise you that I still liked the episode well enough, and I’ll still watch the show. I’d rate the premiere a 7 out of 10, because “Fear the Walking Dead” still has its merits. I can think of three reasons in particular why I still had fun with the premiere, and why I’ll still tune in next Sunday.
First, some of the characters are terrific. I’ll always love Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). I really like Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and his mild-mannered girlfriend, June (Jenna Elfman), and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) is the kind of child character that typically grows on me. (Let’s hope Dorie’s posture in the poster isn’t a hint about his death.) I still like Morgan, because Lennie James is always a pleasure to watch, even if I don’t share the immense zeal of his legions of fans. (The writers need to do more with him beyond his weird, vaguely “Kung Fu,” born-again altruism. I know he’s supposed to be the Eastern philosophy guy, but his dialogue sometimes makes him come off like a stereotypical, nattering Evangelical.)
The second reason I’ll stay with this show is that its stories move along quickly. There are no static, Negan-centered endless epics here, like there are on this show’s plodding progenitor.
The third reason is this — “Fear the Walking Dead” has always hatched the most creative story ideas. Whatever problems the show might have developed over time with character, dialogue or plot details, the basic story concepts have always been really damned inventive. (They consistently offer much more than “The Walking Dead’s” two boiler-plate plot arcs — group-vs.-group or refuge-with-a-hidden-danger.) This season looks like it will be no exception. There are two major reveals in this episode’s closing minutes. One connects Season 5 with past seasons of “Fear the Walking Dead,” while another is a tantalizing hint about greater forces in the “Walking Dead” universe.
Oh! One more thing! There is an important new character here played by the terrific Matt Frewer. If you’re a true zombie horror fan, then you’ll recognize him as none other than Frank, from Zack Snyder’s superb, unfairly reviled 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake. And if you’re an 80’s kid like I am, then you might remember him as the original Max Headroom — from both the Coca-Cola ads and excellent but short-lived 1987 sci-fi series. That’s some pretty fun casting — and the guy is a really good actor.