15 October 2009

Today's Special vol. 1

Today’s Special Vol. 1
Canada – 1983 (episode “Smiles”), and 1985 (episode “Fun”)
Director – Robert Gardner, Ted Regan and Clive Vanderburgh
Morningstar Entertainment, 1995, VHS
Run time – 1 hour (30 minutes per episode)

Growing up I was just on the periphery of the satellite and then cable television age. It was just starting to pick up all the niche possibility that syndicated programming wouldn’t dare touch lest specialization alienate any demographic. Cable TV could afford to specialize because syndicated TV wouldn’t. It was an intensely abridged TV version of the industrial revolution; from broad generality to acute specificity in (some number of) easy steps. Today’s Special was a children’s show produced in Toronto, Ontario Canada, and carried by Nickelodeon for several years. In 1987 when I was watching it I hated this show because it seemed claustrophobic and creepy. Twenty-two years later it’s hilarious.

Jodie works in the children’s section of a department store doing something. She is rather attractive and does seem quite friendly and compassionate, enjoying fun group activities with. There is nothing particularly special about her except that she seems to enjoy a job that completely secludes her from social contact. Except for what she gets from her friends.

Jodie does serve as the lonely pivot around which a bizarre scene unfolds each night when her closest friend Muffy, also Canadian and unremarkable except for her status as a mouse who speaks in rhyme and possesses the ability to give life to inanimate objects that wear plaid Gatsby caps. More specifically one mannequin named Jeff. One might be inclined to wonder why he never wears different clothes. He is on display every night when Jodie takes him out of the window, so why is he always dressed the same? Are plaid vests and Gatsby caps always in style in Toronto? And why does the children's department need an adult male manequin dressed as a golf caddy? But the mystery of the magic mannequin is merely a footnote to the monolithic magnetism of Sam Crenshaw. He makes gin-blossomed security-guard grandpa look like pure celebrity. Everyone in this premise has their species gender opposite; Sam does have Mrs. Pennypacker the stockroom granny, who’s just sad and devoted to her job enough to go in for that saggy lush and his heartwarming shenanigans.

But what’s remarkable is that everyone loves Sam and goes out of their way to accommodate him as if they were fawning over a cultic guru. He seems at any moment on the cusp of choosing the lucky mother for his next commune love child or uttering some mindblowing prophecy like “Donuts with chili.” Their adoration should come as no surprise. As the chief operator of the most powerful computer system in the world, the TXL Series 4 Sam does hold sway over the existence of the entire tiny Today’s Special universe and can materialize donuts out of thin air. That’s no laughing matter even now, much less in Canada in the early 80’s.

The sexual undercurrent in Today’s Special is not funny either; This is not a euphoric spiritual halucination. Years after I was subjected to Today’s Special there was another show I watched simply because it was on TV and I was damn sure going to watch something even if it was boring. Are You Being Served? was a British sitcom in which all the employees in a department store made constant sexual innuendos. Each character in Served also had a similarly aged gender opposite and was based on the very real London department store Simpson’s of Picadilly, while Today’s Special was set in and filmed on location in an equally real Simpson’s department store in Toronto.
You cannot make this cosmic shit up.

Unofficial Today’s Special website which includes a present day photo tour of the Simpson's building.

Since there were never any DVD's and the VHS tapes online are pricier than drugs, I recommend watching this Today's Special intro sequence posted by Shikkyn at YouTube where you can also watch numerous episodes of the show.


Anonymous said...

I used to love this show as a kid and totally forgot that it existed. Something made me think of it a few years ago and I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was called. Good stuff.

Jay Clarke said...

Holy crap, you just blew my mind sir. Haven't thought about that show in ages.