We decided after watching a random episode of Punky Brewster, to start it at the beginning and go through all four seasons. What we had forgotten though, was the show was returning this month, with Soleil Moon Frye revising her role as an adult Punky, now with some little monsters of her own. Apparently our timing, or rather whatever algorithm that put it in front of us, was spot on.
I'd say that one of us identified a bit more with the character than the other, as we have consistently spotted things throughout the series that happened to Punky that Liz either very purposefully or on a subconscious level, took on as style and personality traits.
Obviously Punky meant a lot to us then, and this current re-watch has really been a lot of fun and got us super excited for the new series. We know revivals of classic shows have the ability to be quite the letdown, but we're still going to be excited to see some of our old friends.
Speaking of those old friends - let's do a quick recap of everyone before diving into some of the episodes.
The star of the show, Punky Brewster was a homeless child squatting in an empty apartment across the hall (this particular apartment is occupied by at least two other tenants as the series goes by) from her soon-to-be adopted father, Henry Warnimont, who also doubled as the building's manager.
The first episode reveals that Punky's father left her and her mother, and apparently soon after, her mother most likely loses her shit and abandons Punky and her dog Brandon at some grocery store where Punky quickly learns the art of cute-hustlin, charging people to carry their groceries to their car. (She does a bad job at this.)
Punky is ridiculously cute and funny and it's no wonder why the show did so well just based on her alone. The character's aesthetic is what she's mostly known for and much like her name, is sort of punk lite, or rather... "punk-y". What we found out quickly is that Punky is a MASTER manipulator and made her way into her new life in no time by cute-ing and puppy-dog-eyeing her way into Henry's home. Which by the way, is exactly how she made her way into everyone else's homes in the 80s.
After season 2, the trademark pigtails and outfit are dropped for a more fashion-forward look and hair styles, mimicking (or setting) the styles of the time. But everything after season 2 was now off of prime-time and rather shown in syndication. Which resulted in a couple changes in the show's format which becomes obvious in this current re-watch. We'll get into those differences a bit later, but for now, let's reintroduce a bit more of the cast.
Okay so we completely forgot that Punky's dog's name was 'Brandon' which, if you follow us on IG, is why we posted that quiz in our stories asking what everyone thought his name was. The options were Barkley (Big Bird's dog on Sesame Street), Brandon (a lot of people got it right), Data (this was actually our friend's dog's name that looked like Brandon), and Sandy (the dog who played Brandon's real name). What's weird about that, is that when we met our friend's dog, Data, for the first time, Liz immediately started calling it 'Sandy' and most likely didn't know why.
So Sandy as Brandon was a huge part of the show. Brandon was almost always dressed up as something funny relating to whatever was happening in the episode. Multiple times Brandon would be on the old adding machine helping Henry figure out expenses at the kitchen table, he would often be found serving food on a cart that he'd push out of the kitchen while on his two hind legs. I don't know if any of this was fun for the dog, but I can only assume a dog this smart had tons of loving people working with and for them at the time. We are excite-a-sad to see how Brandon is mentioned in the new series, and hoping they give Brandon (Sandy) some proper credit.
What's impressive about George Gaynes taking on the role of Henry in 1984 is that at the serie's start he was a young man of only 67, and reached his 70s during the show's run. But George went on to do many more shows and movies (Police Academy obviously) until his last acting appearance in 2003 at 86 years old. We're only focusing so much on his age here because during this rewatch it's apparent how great of a sport he was as an actor, to constantly dress up in silly outfits (almost as often as Brandon) and make a fool of himself for a mostly child-filled audience. The episode where Henry dates a woman with a "hog" (that's a motorcycle for those of you not in the know, much like Henry wasn't) and every time he swoops through the scene being picked up or dropped off by her, he's got his hair slicked back, wearing sunglasses, jeans and a leather jacket while singing his own renditions of popular songs (seriously it's like he refused to listen to the actual songs and just wanted to read the lyrics in order to prep for each scene).
The point being man was a damn good sport, and I'd love to know the things he said no to doing on the show. Ridiculous costume after ridiculous costume, Gary would walk into a scene as Henry knowing that he being a strict, stern older man wearing a costume would delight the live audience as well as those of us watching from home.
This was such a great character. Cherie (pronounced 'Cherry' - we have a hard time not calling her 'Share-ee') was usually the impulsive and glutenous one of the group - always down to eat too much or jump into a bad decision with her BFF Punky.
Cherie had her own style that rivaled that of Punky, with her trademark headbands and rad, er... I guess 'radical' outfits.
While usually acting as the id of the group, she was also often looked to as the grounded friend that would pull Punky back into reality any time a far-out idea seemed like it would get her in trouble with her grandma.
Cherie and her grandmother Betty Johnson stayed in the same building as Punky and Henry one floor above them on the third floor. This made it easy for all four of these characters to be in the same place at the same time and for Cherie and Punky's friendship to grow throughout the series. Cherie stayed with her grandmother because BOTH of her parents died in a car accident one day when on their way to pick up Cherie. She obviously blamed herself for their death, and moped around about it for exactly one episode. But that's the kind of person Cherie was, never to let anything get her down for too long, a strong and upbeat spirit.
I'm not certain why, but this show was QUITE mean to Betty, mostly in the form of fat jokes slung from the otherwise timid Henry. I know it was just the culture at the time that insults were a way to get a quick laugh, but now it's pretty cringy having to watch jokes that seem out of place amidst the otherwise caring, heartwarming show.
But Betty (played by Susie Garrett) could give it as much as she could take it. While she dealt with an onslaught of fat jokes from Henry, she fired back with jokes about his cheapness and his intelligence.
Besides being on the show to take the brunt of the unneeded insults, Betty was often the voice of reason when anyone else was freaking out on the show. Rarely did she cause panic, other than when she learned how to drive, from a very insulting teacher (Henry), usually calming everyone down and surprisingly would be very open-minded about things the girls were doing, especially given the time. Ultimately the show tried to be pretty forward-thinking, though it had some weird mixed messages here and there, but when a progressive view was put forth, it was usually Betty making that statement. It should be noted that Garrett was actually Cherie's real life grandmother. Which might have made for a pretty easy role for both of them.
Mike Fulton made his first appearance in the season 1 finale two-parter 'Fenster Hall' where he works in the orphanage that Punky did a stint in. The two episode arc was meant to be a spinoff, but apparently when that didn't pan out, the character of Mike made his way onto the cast of Punky for most of the second season. This time he was all of a sudden a grade school teacher that just so happened to be teaching Punky's class with her and all of her friends. Mike was there as a sounding board for Punky when the situation needed someone other than her friends or Henry to confide in. Mike quietly disappeared near the end of the second season, and in the third season no more scenes were done in the school, avoiding any need to mention what happened to Mike.
Allen, oooh annoying Allen. Allen appeared in an early episode along with another young boy that was known for what most young boys are known for; shaving cats. Somehow he beat out the cat-shaver to be the show's token boy, and from time to time was Cherie's love interest. Allen was the class clown and often the only one laughing at his own jokes. Allen left early in season 3 and in his first appearance of the season it's revealed that his parents are getting a divorce and he's moving to Kansas City. The actor that played Allen, Casey Ellison, apparently left the show in order to maintain a role as Miles Knobnoster, Wesley's friend on Mr. Belvedere.
And then the character that absolutely no one needed or remembered; Eddie the Handyman. Apparently even though Henry managed the building, he needed help and hired on Eddie to do all the dirty work. A couple jokes about Eddie being a horrible handyman and apparently that's all it took for him to get let go. Eddie, played by Eddie Deezen, left during season one after only a few episodes.
After about a season or so of hearing this theme song, I would begin to sing the 'Cheers' theme song after the beginning notes of the Punky intro, right when the correct lyrics to the Punky song started. At first I figured it was just because it was the 80s and most of the theme songs followed a pretty similar sound and formula. But after digging a little deeper, we found that 'Every Time I Turn Around' was written and performed by Gary Portnoy, who had written songs for Air Supply, Dolly Parton and a bunch of other television theme songs - including 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name' for Cheers.
Episodes of note
What's obvious is that after the show switches from it's primetime Sunday night slot and moved into syndication (daily weekdays most likely in that sweet spot between afternoon cartoons and the news), that they change focus from a traditional sitcom aimed at families including adults and children, to mainly jokes, lessons, and scenarios aimed at just a younger audience. This is also apparent in the amount of children you can hear in the live audience during the episode's taping.
One of the best things to happen was during an episode when a new character exclaims that they're leaving the apartment because they're allergic to children, you hear the normal amount of laughter that a joke like that warranted, but then you also hear a lady cackling at the joke. And it just made my day thinking about this lady sitting in an audience of mainly young children, most likely annoyed because children are annoying, and letting it all out when someone poked fun at kids. Just to see if any kids around her were self aware after that.
Obviously the first (or in this case the first three) episode(s) is worth checking out. This is where Punky is first discovered by Henry as she's doing her best Chris Farley future-impression, dancing to herself singing 'Maniac' in an empty apartment across the hall from his. There's turmoil as Child Services get involved and scare the crap out of everyone saying that she can't stay with Henry. I'll spoil this right now and let you know that everything works out and Henry gets to be her foster parent.
Mentioning these specific episodes as these are actually half episodes (so six episodes total) because Punky Brewster originally aired on Sunday nights on NBC after football games. And since so much of the Punky audience were young viewers, they made these shorter episodes to air, instead of cutting into an episode halfway through, pissing of some idiot kids.
A two-parter called 'Henry Falls in Love' wherein Henry sparks up a long-lost romance and when Punky gets wind of the two of theirs' plans to get married, she does what any decent foster child would do; packs her shit and gets out. When Henry realizes that Punky has run away it's an all out manhunt to bring her to justice. Henry doesn't decide to get married because it would mean putting Punky in a boarding school or something else stupid that they couldn't figure out how to make it work, so he ditches the love of his life for, you guessed it - the master manipulator.
This one is a gem for a couple reasons. First, it's a valentines episode and everyone at school is obviously pairing up because love is in the air. Everyone except Punky - who early in the show was making it clear that she didn't need or want the attention of boys. When one ends up sneaking in a kiss on her cheek, she decides to give him a black eye. The episode should have ended there and that should have been the lesson, but unfortunately it goes on and she learns through a nightmare that she needs to open up more and let love in. (We told you, this show has mixed messages.) The dream she has is the main reason we're mentioning this episode. In it, Punky sees EIGHTY years into the future and is still a single lady, living with her 150 year old guardian, Henry and her obviously not deceased but very long-bearded dog, Brandon. Her friends Cherie and Allen come for a visit and these two 80 years from the correct time, are a friggin delight. Cherie's appetite finally caught up with her and we see her as a very plump elderly woman. Seeing the actor get to play around in a fat suit and just knowing she was having a lot of fun bouncing around it in, makes the whole thing even better. And since earlier in the episode Allen was currently her love interest, he's there as her husband, in the best acting he's ever done. He plays an elderly gentleman that's hard of hearing, and he does it very well.
This one gets mentioned because if we were into betting and didn't know that Brandon was in the rest of the series, we would have bet that he was a goner here. They pull out all the emotional stops for having a dog being put to sleep, including a very young child crying at it's bedside.
He makes it though, don't worry.
As we mentioned before, Fenster Hall was the season 1 finale and was meant to eventually be its own spin-off show with the character Mike as the lead counselor at the children's home. That didn't come to be, so Mike joined the cast of Punky Brewster in season 2.
These two episodes centered around a kid T.C. that climbed in Punky's window at the beginning of the first episode and stole from her and she followed him to his thug mentor's hideout where she confronted him and somehow got him to come to her house to eat dinner. From there he is tricked into staying at Fenster Hall and eventually becomes a good boy or something. I dunno.
What really stuck with me personally for years was T.C.'s bad guy boss, Blade. When I saw him on the screen this time I had a flash of how scared I was of him the first time I saw him.
This is the ultimate episode where we get to see Punky manipulate people. In fact, she even gets help tricking folks into building her treehouse for her from her teacher Mike. Through the power of master manipulation, a treehouse is born. The set for the backyard with the treehouse so high up must have been massive and that got us wondering how they film sitcoms in general, with different sets. Like, do they move the audience from set to set, or do they move the sets around in front of a seated audience?
First episode; the four kids (Punky, Cherie, Margaux, and Allen) and Brandon get lost in the woods during a camping trip and find refuge in a cave where they wait to be rescued.
Second episode; the four kids end up having to battle an ancient evil spirit that the native indigenous people have kept at bay for ages - they end up dying one by one and become part of the evil cave trying to bring the others down. They battle a giant spider, meet a guy that's now part of the cave, and eventually find One Eyed Willy's treasure. Okay, maybe not that last one - but this two-parter came out in October of 1985, and The Goonies had just been released in June of the same year. Despite having been heavily influenced by The Goonies, these two episodes are so weird.
Guess what this one is about. Okay so obviously Punky is faced with doing drugs. Obviously she says no. But what's great about this episode is the pile of drugs that these older girls dump out onto the ground. Cocaine, uppers, downers, zippers, scoopers, wacky tabacky, and of course angel dust. How could anyone say no to that!?
This one had us guessing at the beginning, because anytime a new parent and child move into the building, they're there to be the example of something bad or weird that we needed to learn about. This time the kid (played by a very tiny and very adorable Candace Cameron) was real weird about doing anything dangerous, such as going up in the treehouse. So we assumed this would have been the child abuse episode. But instead it turns out Cherie and Punky notice that the new little girl Julie, is listed as missing on their milk carton. Turns out her dad ran away with her like a year ago and has to keep moving for some weird reason.
I had this one mixed up in my head with the one early in season 1 where Punky gets scared that Henry also left her behind at a grocery store - but what really happens is that Punky really wants to buy Henry a scarf for Christmas, but doesn't have enough money to do so. After running into a friend at the mall (played by the little blonde dude that stars in 'A Christmas Story') that shows her how easy it is to steal - she does so, but mixes her bag up with her teacher Mike's when they bump into one another. So of course HE gets busted and arrested and taken to jail where he is in a cell with a Santa (played by Al Molinaro) until Punky comes and confesses.
This is THE episode. In fact, as much as we all remember this episode, the show itself references this particular episode at least two other times in later seasons. This episode taught us TWO lessons; obviously the first one was to not throw out refrigerators with their doors still attached, because hungry young girls like Cherie will get stuck in there looking for food left behind (shut up, you already know they were playing hide and seek, I don't have to say that), but also that if you don't pay attention in class, you friend might die. Because at the beginning of the episode when the kids were all in school, Allen was being disruptive in class when they were all being taught CPR on a dummy by Mike. Mike gets so annoyed that he gives Allen enough warnings and sends him to the principal's office. So when Allen and Henry finally find Cherie in the fridge and she's unconscious, Allen is zero fucking help and is sent to call 911 as heroic Punky and Margaux run out and perform perfect CPR on Cherie, bringing her back to her food-loving life.
So I guess like maybe it was three lessons. The third one being, you should learn CPR. I do not know CPR. Well kinda, after seeing this and The Office.
This is a DOOZIE of an episode. So much so that they made it five episodes.
Henry's photography studio burns down to the ground.
He has no insurance.
He suffers a bleeding ulcer and has to be hospitalized.
Then Child Services shows up and sees how Henry is no longer fit to take care of Punky, so she's put BACK into Fenster Hall before being sent to live with an uber rich couple.
It all works out in the end, though. You can relax.
The five parter before this episode was obviously meant to be the season finale, but Punky and the cast were called back into action as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster left a lot of kids frightened and unsure of how to feel about what happened. We learn here (and it continues on throughout the entire series) that Punky wanted to be an astronaut and keeps the courage up to continue wanting to be an astronaut even after the Challenger explodes.
This episode is important because the father and son return later on in another episode. But it's also important because we learn that driving while drunk or buzzed is dangerous. One of Henry's Buffalo lodge brothers offers to take everyone to Six Flags and everyone bails on it including his son because he's obviously drunk at like 9am. Drunk on beer. At 9am. That's a lot of beers he downed. Also why is someone hitting rock bottom with drinking, doing so with BEER?
He decides to ultimately leave his car at Henry and Punky's home and walk home with his son so he can sober up.
Punky dreams that she switches places with Brandon, so her body is running around barking and acting like a dog, and Brandon is kinda just acting normal, cause he always acts like a human.
This episode matters because throughout all three seasons there has been a Care Bears cookie jar sitting on the edge of the counter in the kitchen in plain sight. When Punky is trying to maneuver around in a dog body, we see the cookie jar even further on the edge of the counter and of course her dumb butt knocks it onto the ground. There's even an aerial shot of it shattering on the ground. This broke our hearts when we watched it slam onto the ground. To rub it in, some of the later season 3 episodes that were filmed before this one, show the cookie jar still sitting back there. But for the most part, it's disappeared after they broke the dang thing.
The boobs episode! This is another one that stuck in our heads from the original airing, most likely because they were tackling such a taboo topic that most shows for kids never touched on.
From the girls' ideas on how to get their breasts to grow quicker (cheeseballs!), to Punky's first exclamation to Henry of what was going on, to the two of them and their adventure visiting a bra store for the first time.
Seeing Punky's eyes go big and grab a sequence corset while exclaiming "LOOK AT THIS!!" because it was so fitting with Punky's style. This episode seriously is super funny and apparently helpful answering some questions for kids that usually don't get to talk about this stuff.
Another whirlwind episode for Henry. Since losing his original storefront location to his photography studio, Henry sets up shop in the mall and business is doing well. All of a sudden a larger photography chain company comes in and buys him out for ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!! Wtf?? That's not even the craziest part - he stays on to work at this photography studio chain and takes orders from the man that bought him out. EVEN THOUGH HE HAS ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!! That's not even the craziest part - Henry eventually gets fed up with how he's being treated, how his customers are being treated, and finally realizes he can quit. But in doing so - OPENS A RESTAURANT called 'Punky's Place'!! WTF?? Did any of you remember Punky's Place?? It's actually only in a few more episodes in season 3 and quietly phased out and never mentioned again by the end of season 4.
Brandon runs away after Cherie leaves the front door open (they do this all the time, so she shouldn't have felt so bad), and Brandon hooks up with another family that is actually in the process of moving to California where the dad just accepted a new job. The mom is played by Alley Mills (the mom from The Wonder Years) and the dad and son are played by THE TWO ACTORS THAT KNEW PUNKY AND HENRY FROM THE DRUNK DRIVING EPISODE!!! Yet no one knows one another. There's no way this two-parter was meant to take place before the drunk driving episode, so it baffles us as to why they wouldn't have known each other. They're even the same characters - Joey and his dad Mr Deaton. So weird.
The girls are off to summer camp, and the whole point of the episode is how much all the other girls want to meet up and smooch with boys from the camp across the lake but Punky doesn't care about that or boys in general. There's some really weird messages in this one, including their version of a panty raid, and one of the girls being called their version of a tramp even though she refused to do anything when she met up with the boy she paired up with.
What's most interesting about this episode is that it's the first of two episodes that Henry isn't actually in, and we only see Punky talking to him over the phone at the beginning.
This isn't that interesting of an episode, other than another appearance of an actor from The Wonder Years; Jason Hervey (the older brother, Wayne Arnold) is someone competing against Punky's crew in a radio contest.
Brandon is barking like crazy, and guess what... there's a new mom and daughter in the building that are going to be the people that our episode's lesson focuses on.
It turns out that Brandon had been acting erratically (barking, and eventually biting the mom's hand) because the mom was beating her daughter. After a complaint from the woman, and before anyone knew that she was abusing her daughter, she was insistent that Brandon be put down for biting her. SHE WAS GOING TO KILL A DOG TO HIDE THE FACT THAT SHE WAS BEATING HER CHILD. Everything works out in the end.
Punky gets a tutor because she's a moron and can't math well.
That tutor is Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
In this episode we see the girls' in their version of the Girl Scouts 'the Fireflies' and a new girl and her mom come to town... guess who's there to teach us a lesson?
In an interview Cherie Johnson mentions that this wasn't filmed as the season/series finale. Not sure what other episode would have been the season 4 finale (and ultimately the series finale if not this one), but it kind of makes sense as the ender because there's quite a bit of flashbacks throughout this episode.
Since starting this entry we've actually finished the 1st season of the new Punky Brewster show and really loved it. Getting to see characters we knew and see how they've grown was amazing. They've also done a really good job at keeping the spirit of the original show; focusing on diversity, understanding, and empathy. If our culture continues to consume as much television as it always has, we definitely need shows like this to teach people to have heart and be accepting of one another, despite our flaws.
Also, since our favorite thing is pointing out trivia, it should be noted that Punky's family has a golden retriever and it's name on the show is Brandy. (Brandon + Sandy = Brandy)
We see what you did there, and we approve!