Episode ABC.2.1: "Academy"

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Episode ABC.2.1
Title "Academy"
Production No. 2.3
UK Air Date NA?
US Air Date 18 Sep 1987
Length 48 minutes
Creative Written by David Brown

Directed by Victor Lobl

Edited by Philip J. Sgriccia

Watch for: An early form of online shopping/one-click ordering.

A Joker-like smile.

Dragons.

A nose that... knows.

An acronym goof.

An enticing (not!) food ad.

Reg's inability to spell.

Crew Series Crew, Season 2
Actor Role
Main Cast
Matt Frewer as Edison Carter /

Max Headroom

Amanda Pays Theora Jones
George Coe Ben Cheviot
Chris Young Bryce Lynch
W. Morgan Sheppard Blank Reg
and Jeffrey Tambor Murray
Guest Starring
James Greene Sidney Harding, HeadSysop
Hank Garrett Gene Ashwell
Lee Wilkof Edwards
Concetta Tomei Blank Dominique
Dick Patterson "You The Jury" Judge
Mya Akerling [Stark] Miss Partridge
Christopher Burton Nicholas Stratton
Barry Pearl Paul Wade ("You The Jury" Prosecutor)
Melissa Steinberg "Shop & Spree" Hostess
and Maureen Teefy as Shelley Keeler (Reg's Lawyer)
Co-Starring
Bill Dearth First Prosecutor
Paul Marin Video Judge
Featuring
Joe Hart  ?
Sue Marrow ACS Student (female)*
Tom Fitzpatrick  ?
Unknown Cast
 ? Network 23 Board (female)
 ? Network 23 Board (male)
 ? Jail Visitor (female)
 ? Jail Visitor (male)
 ? Video Inmate
 ? ACS Announcement Voice
George Coe? ACS Instructor Voice*
* Tentative role match, pending confirmation.

Unknown roles represent credited cast members with no certain matching role.

Unknown cast represent roles with unknown, possibly uncredited actors.

The first episode of the ABC series' second season took us into the bleak world of the justice systems of Max's world... especially that of the underclass Blanks.

The complete episode, from original broadcast masters, is available on the Shout! Factory DVD set.

Synopsis

20 minutes into the future, we open on a wasteland with a huge industrial building in the background, and the usual down-and-outers - fringers? - buying and selling things and warming themselves over burn barrels. Past the usual heaps of junked but babbling TVs is the Big Time TV bus.

Inside, Blank Reg is rocking out to the program, an 80s-era hard-rock video of "Summertime Blues." Blank Dom objects to the volume, because it's interfering with her attention to the current offer on "Shop & Spree," a smarmy shopping program on Network 23. She gleefully accepts the offer by poking her credit tube into the terminal and tapping in a PIN. Max, of course, pops in to comment. Dom screams at him to quit interfering, but then it gets worse: her program is broken into by nonsense noise and images. It's another attack by "zippers."

The Network 23 board is also watching in the boardroom as the zippers' content flashes on the screen. When Lauren asks how they could be doing this, Ashwell pops in with a boring technical answer... only to have Cheviot cut him off and point out that Lauren meant the more important issue of how could they have gotten through broadcast security. Edwards points out that every time zippers take control, their ratings plummet. Lauren and Ashwell point out the dangers of such sophisticated hacking to personal information, but it takes Edwards to point out the real danger: to their ratings.

Cheviot has already put Bryce Lynch on it, and they conference him in for a status report. After his usual boasting about being the smartest hacker around, he lets them watch as he tracks the break-in signal... to a location that disturbs him. He says it's "a little error" and works frantically. The signal shifts a bit, and he declares the zipper pinpointed. Cheviot calls security to close in.

A Metrocop van pulls up next to Big Time TV's bus and armored Metrocops pour out. As Edison Carter saunters back into Network 23 control, Theora hails him - Blank Dom is on the link. Reg has been arrested for signal zipping. Edison scoffs - "that's way out of his league!" - but is immediately off to MetroJail 42 to help.

The jail is a grim stone building, and we watch a figure get bundled into it, cuffed and covered with a thigh-length body sack. Inside, an elegantly dressed woman and her son use a credit tube to open a video link to her inmate husband. In the next stall, Reg's lawyer is talking to Reg on a link about his "prime offense." Reg denies even being able to zip a network satellite, and claims he's being framed... and when he catches who's doing it, he's going to "unilaterally murder the swine"... which sets off monitoring alarms on the channel.

Carter walks up to the pair just as they are interrupted by a gong and an announcement to "stand for the most highly-rated judge." In a parody of courtroom etiquette, a television is wheeled in, and Reg's lawyer and a prosecutor "approach the bench" and insert their case floppy discs. The judge asks the lawyers for their summaries... and when the prosecutor declares Reg to be a Blank, the judge says the case is beyond his jurisprudence... and with a bang of the gavel, the charges stand and the case is sent to Video Court.

Reg's lawyer begins the Video Court process begins by choosing a court date via a spin of the pointer on a day-of-the-week wheel. It lands on Wednesday... and it's Tuesday, leaving one day to prepare a defense. "I play Grateful Dead on Wednesdays," Reg says mournfully. Carter expresses his complete faith in Reg's innocence and wonders who could have actually done the deed. No one has a clue, but Carter is out to find them. In time.

Back at Network 23 Control, Theora is on the case and has discovered, by burrowing into the temporary files in the "Purge Directory" - the electronic trash bin for the whole network - that Bryce switched the signal tracking. She begins to piece together the scraps of Bryce's work. Meanwhile, Max is concerned that Bryce seems upset about something, and finally asks if it's about switching the coordinates... which he of course observed. Bryce asks if he'll tell... and Max makes a pffft sound. It's all TV to him, and Bryce is a friend.

Theora reconstructs Bryce's work and catches the target switch - to Big Time TV, from... ACS, the Academy of Computer Sciences. Murray, overhearing, declares "That is a story." As he takes a call, Theora and Carter remember that ACS is Bryce's alma mater... and then Murray returns to say he's asked Bryce to go with them, to help ferret out the hackers.

Bryce discusses the horns of his dilemma with Max and asks him to go along (in his travel box), as he's going to need some help. He then sends a text message alerting the "ACS Student Guard": "The spore is in the wind."

They arrive at ACS, which is populated entirely by students about 10 years old, working on extremely esoteric classroom problems. We zoom in on one young student, Nicholas, who confers with classmate Miss Partridge about keeping watch. As Carter and Bryce look at a wall of class photos, Bryce remembers his first day at ACS. It was his tenth birthday.

Theora is following them from her console by tapping into ACS's securicam network - which she can do because she's either "older" or "wiser" than the kids. Carter knocks on the door of Sidney Harding, HeadSysop of ACS. ("Head Sysop. Does it teach, or devour maidens?" he muses - the first of three dragon references.) Edison confronts Harding with the possibility that one of his students is responsible for the zipping. Harding says respects Bryce's ability to track the signal there and remembers him as "an odd boy... who never made contact with his parents after coming there. They were, um... "middle management," he intones meaningfully.

Carter follows Harding to his class and watches as he gives the day's assignment and then introduces Edison Carter - who Miss Partridge notices resembles Max Headroom. Harding tells the class Carter is there to investigate highly illegal signals coming from the school, and admonishes the responsible parties to come to his office - as minors they will not be prosecuted, and as for punishment, "we have our methods" here. Carter wonders if the guilty parties will show up, and Harding assures him that they instill the strongest sense of "morality as a binary absolute" there... but insists on "responsible" party rather than "guilty," as guilt is gray area of no use to genius computer programmers.

Max and Bryce are discussing different viewpoints of college - Bryce's sober and juvenile view vs. Max's memories of Carter's wild years - when Nicholas, Miss Partridge and a third girl student walk in - the "responsible" parties, as Bryce knows. The boys exchange a finger-greeting in binary code, then Nicholas dismisses Max as a primitive attempt. "See-see... seems like a nice boy..." Max comments sourly.

In the Head's office, Harding assumes Bryce was wrong since no one has come forward. Their emphasis on "perfect information" and no "gray areas" means none of their student could be at fault. Carter suggests he may have a dragon in his garden of Eden, and asks to look around... and Harding assents with a chuckle. "Beware the dragon, Mr. Carter..."

Blank Dom visits Reg via jail link again, and Reg is concerned only about his dog Fang, who's off his food. More so than that Big Time TV could go out of business with him gone.

Theora converses with Carter using the securicams as he walks through ACS, and she shows Murray the many cams that the kids have control of, showing the Head sleeping in his office, a gaggle of students smoking in the bathroom... and Bryce talking into a wired (statuary) head to his companions. He gloats that they got away with it, and dismisses Reg's problems as minor discomfort until the justice system (eventually) figures out he couldn't have done it. "You little beast," Theora hisses, and makes a crack about little boys and their games as Bryce slips through a secret door. "What kind of games did you play, Theora?" Carter asks. "Growing up games," she replies. She directs Carter to the secret door. Inside, Bryce and Partridge are concentrating on a console and startled by Carter's sudden appearance. Carter bundles Bryce off to talk.

At the jail, Reg's lawyer is furious that he kept a lengthy criminal record from her, which Reg protests isn't his. Although as a Blank, Reg hasn't been in the system for years, a statistical match has been made with someone's record and the probability match means the network computer is likely to consider it his... meaning he will be convicted by probability in lieu of evidence. His lawyer tells Reg that the penalty for network program zipping... is "terminal."

Theora and Carter confront Bryce over his alteration of the tracking image and try to enlist his help in getting Reg off the hook. He brushes aside the "gray notions" of right and wrong; his defense is that he needed to make a quick decision and protect ACS... even at Reg's expense. He believes Reg will get off the hook once it's demonstrated that he doesn't have the ability to do such a deed. He's willing to help "rearrange the information" for the network court as long as ACS's role remains secret. Theora and Carter are hamstrung, unable to help Reg without being able to use the illegal data of Bryce's tracking switch, and as Network 23 employees, are ineligible to testify in network video court. Carter goes to see Cheviot to see if he can override the court, while Theora fumes that he is ignoring Reg's innocence.

(There seems to be an editing change at this point. Carter's visit to Cheviot should follow this scene, but is not shown until much later, after a number of other events..)

Max does his best to talk Bryce into having a conscience and helping the man he's put in serious harm's way. That he's just t-talking seems to get through better than if he, too, were lecturing Bryce.

At the jail, Theora, Carter and Dom are trying to figure out how Reg can have a criminal profile of convictions he doesn't know about. Reg says it's something called the "Career Capability Malfeasance Program" (which Theora acknowledges as the "CPMP," and it is referred to by that erroneous acronym thereafter) - a program that matches the personality template of a Blank with the crime template of unassigned criminal profiles. If the profile fits, it's assumed to belong to the Blank in question. That there are more criminal profiles than Blanks doesn't seem to bother anyone. It does bother Carter, and he tells Reg that "the last resort of the innocent is always... publicity."

Bryce confronts Nicholas and tells him to flatline the zipping program and tell the HeadSysop. He has as much trouble getting Nicholas to understand as Max did with him, so he leaves with a vow to fix it himself. He now sees how empty and amoral the ACS codes make the students... and made him.

Reg's lawyer has not arrived, and again he loses his temper, threatening to kill her if she's late for his trial... and again the monitoring system sounds an alarm. Reg has had enough; he tears the monitor off the wall.

Theora calls Bryce on a wall-mounted ViewPhone, only to find out the ACS students are refusing to help. Then it gets worse: Reg has drawn the celebrity prosecutor Paul Wade and the highly-rated show "You The Jury," where the audience decides the accused's fate. As Reg puts it, "It's a game show... for my life!"

As Blank Dom and Fang watch from the audience, Network 23's award-winning game show begins: the "TV pirate" defendant, his accusers and his lawyer are introduced, followed by "the guest prosecutor, Channel of Fortune's leading quizmaster, Paul Wade"... and then there's a pause for a commercial for Zik-Zak Soy Muffin Mix... tasteless, colorless and odorless!

(This scene is the one that seems out of place.) Theora, Carter and Murray are pleading with Cheviot on a video link to postpone the court session to allow Carter time to find exonerating evidence, but Cheviot, although furious that an employee is responsible for activities that have lost them hundreds of thousands in ratings, and could lose them the whole Zik-Zak account, refuses to step in and "subvert the network judicial process." Even knowing his own head of R&D is involved only makes him more resolute to protect the network. He's sorry about Blank Reg... but he has to think of the greatest good for the greatest number (the network, that is). Reg will have to depend on his innocence. "Better find Bryce," Carter says. "It's time for kill or cure."

The show returns with the judge taking his place to music and applause. Reg's lawyer fumbles her declaration of Reg's plea, to audience laughs. The prosecutor makes his stirring opening argument, defending the rights of television viewers and shoppers everywhere... defending consumerism itself! We see Edwards and the Network 23 board reacting sympathetically to the argument.

Carter visits Bryce in his lab, and after he is reluctant to speak for the bugs, Bryce cuts off the securicams so they can talk. Bryce is confused and frustrated by his failure to convince Nicholas... he is a "poorly designed system." Carter has to counsel Bryce that life is more than systems analysis. Bryce argues but Carter maintains life is more than logic... it's feelings, too. You can switch your feelings off when they're inconvenient... but every time, it makes you a byte less human. It's all about conscience... and Bryce will need to work that one out. Carter leaves to watch Reg get punished for something he didn't do... and Max pops up to prod Bryce to make a decision, which he does, "I think I need to rewrite my own program."

Back on the show, the audience is turning against Reg, voting so far by a margin of nine to one to "reduce him to component molecules." The prosecutor offers a "life and a day" sentence in return for a guilty plea... but Reg rejects it... he'd make a "very bad prisoner."

Bryce confronts Nicholas and Miss Partridge and makes one final attempt to sway them by logic and reason. It doesn't work... so Bryce tries out this "feeling" thing, and pokes Nicholas' pride instead. He assures them that Reg is guilty and performed the zipping himself... which outrages Nicholas, who knows only someone of his brilliance could have done it. He proves the point to Bryce... by zipping Network 23 again, right in the middle of Reg's show trial, handing the lawyer grounds for dismissal... which the judge grants. Reg is free... and gets an unexpected hug from Dom. ACS has been protected. And Bryce has learned a valuable life lesson.

The party is on at Big Time TV, and everyone is chowing down and drinking in celebration of Reg's release. Max, of course, has the last word about Bryce... the experience will make him no easier to work with.

Notes & Commentary

The "Summertime Blues" video that opens the episode is not recognizable as any of the famous hard-rock covers (The Who, Blue Cheer, etc.) and may have been recorded especially for the show to keep rights costs low.

The Zik-Zak product being hawked on the shopping channel to cure 'sagging buns' and 'flat muffins' appears to be a cross between a liposuction pump and a... male enhancement pump. And it includes a free diamond necklace... good thing the packaging can be used as a soirée purse, too!

Almost exactly two months after this episode aired, on 22 Nov 1987, video pirates broke into two Chicago-area TV broadcasts with their own version of "zipping." Blank Reg's comment that "they must have a hell of a setup... zipping into network transmissions takes a lot of power! ...takes a lot of nerve, as well" were presciently accurate.

The satellite zoom to the location of the zipper, which we assume is local to Network 23 headquarters, goes from a globe to North America to a vague center on Nashville, Tennessee.

Another Hitchhiker's reference - MetroJail 42.

The ACS Instructor Voice sounds a great deal like George Coe.

Clifford the target robo-rat looks as if he might be made of... stainless steel. A nod to Harry Harrison's "Stainless Steel Rat" stories?

Floppy discs feature prominently in this episode. The lawyers submit their cases by inserting 3.5 inch "hard" floppies. In a later scene, Carter waves an 8-inch soft floppy at Bryce, saying, "Hey, I was a kid once, too." As 8-inchers were already verging on obsolete by the mid-1980s, this can only be a strange variation of "when I was a kid..." trope.

The return clip for "You The Jury" smashes the TV screen with a gavel, an amusing reference to "breaking the fourth wall."

The judge refers to the celebrity prosecutor as "Mr. Waits" instead of "Mr. Wade."

New channels mentioned in the course of this story:

  • Q Station 7
  • Network 66
  • Network 144
  • Infoweb
  • J. Smith TV

Two of the episode cast, Dick Patterson and Barry Pearl, starred together in the 1978 film "Grease."

Opening Credits

This episode uses the standard second-season opening credits, a smoother and somewhat less frenetic cut than the first-season one, with "W. Morgan Sheppard" in the main list. Charles Rocket as Grossberg is now back in the mix, speaking the lines from the pilot episode that had been dubbed by George Coe.

The Shout! Factory DVD release omits the Lorimar credit panel, leaving the final "In Association With" panel hanging.

Subliminal Credits

This episode has no subliminal credits in the Zik-Zak montage.

There is an embedded credit for "J. Smith TV" on the ratings display.

Quotes & Caps

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  • Blank Reg: "This! Is! Blank! Reg! Yeahhhhh!"
Blank Dom: "Reg... REG!" (she turns the volume down)
Blank Reg: "Dom, if it's not loud it doesn't work!"
  • Max Headroom: "You know, this home shop-shop-shhhoppin' show is great. From start to finish it's just sell sell sell, sell, sell, sell. At last... hah! a show with no-no-no commercials!"
Blank Dom: "GO AWAY! Reg... Max is ruining my program!"
Blank Reg: "Good!"
  • Lauren: "This is dangerous. If they can break into our carrier that easily, nothing will be safe."
Ashwell: "Bank accounts, our medical records..."
Edwards: "Never mind that. What about ratings?"
  • Blank Reg: "You're tuned to Big Time Television, where music is the brandy of the night(?)... so let's pop the cork on this!"
  • Edison Carter: "You see what that explosion did to the people in that city, you know why they call it a 'breeder reactor.'"
  • Reg's Lawyer: "Now just tell me the truth: were you zipping into Network 23 transmissions from Big Time?"
Blank Reg: "Do me a favor, girl! There's not enough power in that bus to zip up me trousers, never mind a network satellite!"
  • Reg's Lawyer: "We might have a chance as long as you're not a recidivist."
Blank Reg: "No way! I can't even spell it!"
Reg's Lawyer: "You don't have a criminal profile?"
Blank Reg: "Of course I don't..."
  • Blank Reg: (After the Video Court pointer lands on Wednesday) "I play Grateful Dead on Wednesdays..."
  • Max Headroom: "Pray-praying, Bryce?"
Bryce: "No."
Max Headroom: "No need, uh?"
Bryce: "No."
Max Headroom: "Ah, good. Ah, good"
[...]
Bryce: "I'm thinking. I'm evaluating a recent strategy."
Max Headroom: "I kno-kno-know. ...did it work?"
Bryce: "What?"
Max Headroom: "Switching the coordinates. s. s."
Bryce: "How on earth did you know?"
  • ACS Announcement: "Academy of Computer Sciences fourth pod begins in exactly one minute and three point zero seconds."
ACS Instructor Voice: "Your assignment for this period is to compute ten designs for piezio [sic - should be "piezo"] polymer fingers of a surgical robot hand. Also, please note that we have distinguished visitors from Network 23 today, so please show them how courteous we are."
  • Carter: "This bring back memories?"
Bryce: "Some. Most memories are the random retrieval of normally superfulous [sic] data. A waste of realtime. I try to bulk-erase mine daily."
Carter: "Yeah, be careful you don't erase all the bits that add up to experience."
Bryce: "Oh, I keep the critical material. I remember my first undergraduate day here. It was Tuesday; it was raining; and... I was cold."
Carter: "Your random recall's almost as good as Max's."
Bryce: "Oh, that's not random. That was my tenth birthday."
  • Theora: "These kids are bright. They're into securicams everywhere... I mean, I'm tapping off their intersat feed."
Murray: "Which makes you even brighter."
Theora: "Well, older."
Murray: "Wiser."
Theora: "Marry me, Murray."
  • ACS Announcement: "Announcement. Nanotechnology pod test results are posted in the Submicron Lab for your viewing."
  • ACS Announcement: "Announcement. Students are reminded not to leave their mutated molecules in their lockers overnight."
  • Carter: "Head sysops, pods... I think in my day, it was headmasters and classes."
Sidney Harding: "Yes, yes. How times change. We're all input systems, operators and pod managers now, my boy. But, you can't fool the old Head, you know."
  • Sidney Harding: "Say hello to Mr. Edison Carter."
ACS Class: "Hello, Mr. Carter."
Miss Partridge: "He does look like Max Headroom."
Carter: "No, actually... he looks like me." (Max-like laugh)
  • Blank Reg: "How's Fang?"
Blank Dom: "Off his food."
Blank Reg: "Oh, blimey, that bad. Now, be sure he gets his ice cream every night."
Blank Dom: "Yes, I will, but he won't eat it off your spoon for me. ...Big Time is off air. We could go out of business."
Blank Reg: "He likes chocolate chip best."
  • Bryce: "I'm uncharacteristically confused. I'm used to logic, not opinion."
Max Headroom: "The thing... the thing is, you're a bit like me. Ex-ex-except, we've got different bits. Eh, sometimes, I think I could use some legs-legs, and right now you-you-you could use some conscience."
Bryce: "Which file is it in?"
  • Blank Dominique: "So that isn't really your profile?"
Blank Reg: "That's what I've been trying to tell you... blimey, Dom!"
Blank Dominique: "Isn't science wonderful..."
  • "You The Jury" Judge: "For one thousand credits, how does your client plead, Miss Keeler?"
Shelley Keeler: "Innocent!... I mean, Not Guilty"
  • Paul Wade ("You The Jury" Prosecutor): "What we're really talking about here is principle... what we're talking is... the threat to television! ...to our lives! We are talking about interruptioning! Decent, honest, peaceful television-loving people cannot watch "Shop & Spree" without these savage attacks on their viewing freedom. Have to ask this question: Are we being too lenient? When our wives and daughters cannot shop from their own homes in peace, we must ask, Is consumerism itself under attack?"
  • Bryce: "I tried to redirect Nicholas, but... but he's a poorly-designed system!"
Carter: "What system?
Bryce: "The system that allows him to be better off by keeping quiet. I mean, what good is a system if it doesn't work properly?"
Carter: "I hate to be the one to break this to you, Bryce, but life is more than just interactive systems analysis!"
  • Blank Reg: "I understand the deal. If I confess to something I didn't do, I go to prison for the rest of me life. Stuff it! I'd make a very bad prisoner."
Shelley Keeler: "They used the phrase 'random electrons'!
Blank Reg: "I can't spell that, either."
  • Murray: "What made Bryce change his mind?"
Theora: "He didn't. He "adjusted his parameters."
Carter:: "Think it'll make him any easier to work with?"
Max: "Never! Con-con-converts are the worst kind of bigot!"
Murray: (To Carter) "One of yours?"
Carter: "One of my best."