|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (February 2015)|
|Created by||Clive VanderBurgh|
|Country of origin||Canada|
|Original release||September 1, 1981– July 1, 1987|
Today's Special is a Canadian children's television program produced by Clive VanderBurgh at TVOntario from 1981 to 1987. It was set in a department store, based on the flagship location of the now defunct Simpson's in Toronto. Many sequences for it were shot at the Queen Street West and Yonge Street store after hours.
- Jeff (Jeff Hyslop): A mannequin with a magic hat that makes him come to life when someone says "hocus pocus alimagocus". If it comes off his head, he turns back into a mannequin. He can't leave the store or he will become one permanently (he can only go outside onto the building's roof or, in very rare episodes, when traveling by magic). Because he has not been alive for very long, he knows little about many everyday objects (at least in earlier seasons). However, he is often shown to be a fast learner, a deep thinker, and a source of ideas. He is also a very talented dancer, which he gets to show off at some point in nearly every episode. Though he wishes that he was not bound by the rules of the spell that keeps him alive, he puts his friends' needs first.
- Jodie (Nerene Virgin): The store's display designer. Portrayed as a sweet, level headed woman, she functions as a mentor and teacher to Jeff, who is relatively new to the world. He often works as her assistant in setting up the displays. Although she has no established authority, she usually takes a leadership role among the characters. Her words are often comforting to others, and she is always ready to help her friends with their problems.
- Sam Crenshaw (puppet, Bob Dermer): The store's security guard. Born in 1919, he is the oldest of the four main characters. He is a generally laid-back individual, as the years have worn him down. He often fails to notice or realize certain things around him at first, though when he does, he is known to get hysterical about it. He doesn't seem particularly bright and is sometimes clumsy, but he means well and is capable in his job. He is a retired member of the merchant marine, and his signature song is "Singin' Yo Hee Ho". He's a widower and also has a pet cat named Penelope that Muffy is afraid of.
- Muffy Mouse (puppet, Nina Keogh): A mouse who speaks in rhyme and lives in the store. Young, childlike and more mischievous than the other characters, she likes to ride her scooter, plays the piano, enjoys playing tricks on people, and is obsessed with eating snacks (especially cheese). She is usually the first one to get upset or frustrated over a situation. As a mouse, she is afraid of cats and hates it when people mention them.
Other main characters
- TXL Series 4 (Robyn Hayle): The store’s computer system. Sam operates it from the security room. It appears to have a feminine persona. Despite being a machine, it is suggested that it is capable of human emotions.
- Mrs. Pennypacker (puppet, Cheryl Wagner): An employee who runs the stock room at night. She is an elderly lady who shows her age in terms of physical appearance more than Sam does, but often appears more enthusiastic and full of energy than him.
- Mort (puppet, Bob Stutt): Muffy’s cousin from the farm. His country lifestyle tends to contrast with her city life. He, like her, speaks in rhyme, and often comes to visit.
- Waldo the Magnificent (Barrie Baldaro): The magician who originally brought Jeff to life. A rather wise but somewhat inept man, the spells he casts with his wand often go awry, and it may take multiple tries to get it right. A running gag is his tendency to call Sam by the wrong name.
- The Mime Lady (Nikki Tilroe): A mime character seen in quiz segments of the show. Tilroe also provided voices for several other characters.
In the children's department of a major department store, each night when Jodie arrives for work, she carries a mannequin (Jeff) upstairs, where Muffy says the magic words "hocus pocus alimagocus!" This brings him to life.
Many early episodes focused on a tangible object as a subject, such as hats or costumes, with the show revolving around teaching about it. Later episodes dealt with more complicated ones, such as the episode "Wishes" dealing with sacrificing one thing for another, or "Phil's Visit", which dealt with alcoholism.
Short films, often less than a minute long, were often inserted as breaks in the episode's main plot, narrated by Robyn Hayle (the same actress who provided the voice of TXL). These included Mime Lady segments, animated quizzes designed to test a child's observation, narrated storybooks, and popular nursery rhymes (which an unseen Muffy would introduce with "And now I'd like to introduce a nursery rhyme by Mother Goose").
Many episodes featured one or more one-time visitors to the store. Some would cause problems for the characters, while others would befriend them and help solve their problems. These visitors included the characters' friends or family, people coming to the store to do their jobs, people brought there by magic ("Treasure Hunts", "The Queen of Hearts"), bizarre, non-human characters ("Space", "Sam and the Robot"), and real-life celebrities ("Opera", "Trash"). Magic was important to many episodes, and the characters sometimes would have an adventure that involved it.
For the 1984 season, the sets were changed significantly. The children's department set was given a new color scheme, along with the addition of two large "Today's Special" signs. Muffy's apartment received a new entrance, complete with a balcony and elevator. The computer room set was completely redesigned from the ground up, to give it a more futuristic appearance. Additionally, the rooftop set was transformed from a functional-looking appearance to a space designed for people to spend time, with the addition of large, wooden flower beds.
These set changes were introduced in the 1984 episode "Changes", where it was explained that the store was being redecorated. It is unknown what the real-life reason (if any) for it was. Viewers can determine if the episode they are watching was made before or after the redecoration by listening for two chimes (descending, then ascending) mixed into the start of the opening. If present, it was made after the redecoration.
- "Sam and the Robot". Today's Special. Season 7. TVOntario.