Trading Card Set of the Week – Max Headroom (1986, Topps)
When those of us born in the 1970s and 1980s are old and gray, there are going to be a number of things hard to explain to the young children gathered at our knees. Chief among the cultural oddities simultaneously symbolic of the 1980s and pure distilled products of its cultural zeitgeist is Max Headroom, the creepy, stuttering, funny, literal talking head who got his start in Great Britain before crossing the pond to hawk soda and star in a short-lived prime-time series.
“Grandpa, can you explain Max Headroom for us?”
“Well, um, that’s a hard one. But hey, I have these bubble gum cards. They might help.”
“What are bubble gum cards?”
The short of it is this: Max Headroom was created as a parody of the handsome, banal and insincere talking head hosts that were/are fixtures of television news. Portrayed by Matt Frewer in rubbery makeup, the character first appeared in the U.K. in an eponymous TV film (Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future), then became a host of a music video program, then was exported to the U.S. as a television series. Along the way he became a bit of a cultural phenomenon, with his unique cadence and sharp tongue a forerunner of the schtick that Jim Carrey would become famous for a few years down the road — 20 minutes into the future, as it were. He was popular enough to be a pitchman for New Coke, and there was enough 1980s in this union to form a temporal vortex and suck us all back into that odd, glorious decade:
The plot of the TV series built on that of the British movie, with Frewer as Edison Carter, a crusading journalist battling corporate television oligarchies trying to control the lives and minds of a couch potato populace. Max is created when he’s in an accident, near death, and his brain is downloaded into a computer — when he wakes up, the downloaded consciousness has become self-aware. And it has a wry sense of humor! For fun!
Max Headroom was cyberpunk before there was such a thing. It was kind of fun. And funny. The character burned brightly and flamed out rather quickly, but he blazed a trail of sorts. He got an interview show. He was flattered with imitation (Ron Headrest, anyone?). And what do you know, he worked his way over into the trading card world with a small set of 44 stickers, courtesy of Topps.
The first 33 have a TV set motif on the front along with pictures of the cast (and a lot of Max), with the backs forming the de rigueur puzzle. Typical. The supporting players all get their turn — not just Frewer. If there was one great service performed by the series, it was introducing the smokin’ hot Amanda Pays to an audience of young American boys. She would go on to earn lasting comic book fame when she starred as Tina McGee opposite John Wesley Shipp’s Barry Allen in the short-lived but creative The Flash, but it was in Headroom that she made her introductions. She played Theora Jones, journalist partner of Frewer’s Edision/Headroom (a new decade’s answer to Pam Dawber’s Mindy). Also, she looked great soaking wet, as this card attests:
I didn’t realize until writing this post that Pays has been married to Corbin Bernsen since 1988. Arnie Becker: One Lucky Son of a Bitch.
As stated, there’s a lot of Max, not surprising since it’s his set:
The last eleven stickers eschew the black borders for silver foil, and the backs have some background of the Headroom universe instead of puzzle pieces. Of note are the first few cards in this run, which show Frewer in makeup without the contacts and computer filters. GAH CREEPY:
Headroom in Repose.
Here’s one of the backs, with an artistic rendering of Max:
The cards aren’t the most attractive product you’ll ever see, as they’re overly busy with the patterned backdrops for which Max was partially known. But they’re a chunk of the legacy of a decade, and as such are a quite nostalgic little set — and handy visual aids if you’re ever called upon to give an account of the strange creature that was Max Headroom. You can find them cheap on eBay. If you remember Max with great fondness, they’re only a few c-c-clicks away.