Marc Summers' Magical Mystery Tour

Usually remembered as Nickelodeon's "Magical Mystery Special," the official title was "Mark Summers' Magical Mystery Tour." The half-hour piece was produced by Nick in the mid 80s and broadcast occasionally around Halloween for the next decade or so - often several times per year.

Apparently, the good folks at Nick were just SURE that Summers could do something besides just hosting Double Dare - and perhaps Summers himself was bugging them to let him do something that didn't involve getting messy (which he hated). This was their attempt to help him branch out. It's a reasonably entertaining show to watch - it's a bit corny, but that's no real sin. Over time, the corniness of these things becomes part of the charm. As the century progresses, there's a good chance that 80s/90s cheese will age better than Victorian melodrama did.

The plot (such as it is) concerns Marc and three kids on the way home from a movie, discussing whether the special effects were real magic or not. Remember when it was fun to wonder how they did things in movies? I don't have any beef with CGI, but "making of" documentaries suck now.

Anyway, their tire goes flat during a thunderstorm and they wander up to a spooky old house/theatre/castle hoping to use the phone. Oh, how I wanted them to find Dr. Frank-n-furter inside.

A sign outside the door advertises a magic show by John "Gomez Addams" Astin (who was in Mr. Boogedy around the same time and Eerie, Indiana a couple of years later). Just before Summers and company arrive, Astin is seen storming out of the place in a very brief cameo, having quit his job as resident magician.

The house is full of secret passages, mysterious pianos, and other neat tricks - it reminded me of the castle they find on Scooby Doo in my favorite episode, the one with the ghost that looks like a guy wearing a sheet and turns out to be a magician who's wanted in several states. I wouldn't have complained if they spent the whole special just wandering around the house, getting spooked by all the weird stuff in the house and enjoying the ambience.

However, the plot only takes up a few minutes of the special, the vast majority of which is given to magic shows put on inside the house by Lance Burton and Tina Lenert, who apparently lure unsuspecting visitors into the house just so they can show them some tricks. Marc Summers vanishes into a phone booth, only to be replaced by a skeleton, then re-appear to do a magic act of his own. This is more of a magic special than a halloween special, except for the shots of the house with lightning flashing.

There are several mysteries left at the end:
1. Who are these kids, and what is their connection to Summers? (They were all TV actors at the time, and apparently play themselves, but I would've liked a bit more backstory).
2. Was that a house, a castle, a theatre, or what?
3. Why did John Astin quit his gig as a magician there and storm off?
4. When Summers disappears in a phone booth and is replaced by the skeleton so he can go learn magic tricks, didn't he say "you know, Lance, I'd love to help you scare the kids, but I need to keep an eye on them, not let them wander around a spooky house by themselves. They must be scared out of their wits!"
5. Why were the kids scared of everything that happened EXCEPT for the piano that played itself, which they thought was awesome?
6. Who fixed the tire? And how was Summers able to drive all the way up to the place with a flat?
7. You can't copyright a title, but didn't they worry about having the same title as a Beatles movie (which made about as much sense as this). To avoid confusion, this special is generally referred to as "Magical Mystery Special," making it another entry in the grand list of Halloween Specials Who Can't Keep Their Titles Straight (along with Casper, The Halloween that Almost Wasn't, A Garfield Halloween, Halloween is Grinch Night, etc).

But these are all plot points, and the point here isn't the plot, it's the magic shows. The magic shows are pretty neat, but they go on too long. Not a great special, but I've certainly seen worse. I would have liked to see John Astin stick around - I got all excited when his name came up in the credits, and then he was only there for five seconds at the beginning!

In any case, it was a hard special to find for years, until it magically appeared on youtube in 2008:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Lexie said...

I think I love you for this. I really think I do. ::obsesses over this blog now::

This is perfect for my theme in October! I was just writing up the post and thinking to myself 'what was the name of that Nick special?'

shezcrafti said...

Jonathan Brandis was only ever in one episode of Who's the Boss, and it was in 1989.

Adam Selzer said...

My mistake! I was mistaking him for the guy who played Jonathan - I often get my 80s sitcom guys confused. Thanks for the correction!

C-Man said...

Long Live Marc Summers!!!!

Matthew St. Cyr said...

Adam, allow me to clear up the mystery of where this special takes place. They are at the Magic Castle ( in Hollywood....where all us magicians like to play. :-)

Matthew St. Cyr said...

Adam, allow me to clear up the mystery of where this special takes place. They are at the Magic Castle ( in Hollywood....where all us magicians like to play. :-)

bigmo said...

I remember watching this when I was in perhaps First grade and it aired even Halloween on Nick or Treat. My sister know that Tina Lenert had her arm in the jacket of the mop the whole time......


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