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Punky Brewster Returns: What's Old is New Again

When Chris was five, the subject of this article was his very first love. He is delighted with the sequel series.

Soleil Moon Frye (middle, center row) plays her iconic Punky Brewster character who juggles being a single mother of three with taking in a young lady who reminds her a lot of her younger self in the new Punky Brewster revival on Peacock.

Soleil Moon Frye (middle, center row) plays her iconic Punky Brewster character who juggles being a single mother of three with taking in a young lady who reminds her a lot of her younger self in the new Punky Brewster revival on Peacock.

The titular free-spirited orphan is all grown-up and ready to delight her old fans as well as new generation

I was born in November 1980. Besides Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, my earliest memories of television include sitting at one, eating apples and various sandwiches, sipping juice boxes and falling in love with a young lady who was abandoned by her mother in a "shopping center" (it was a grocery store but everybody called it a shopping center) named Penelope "Punky" Brewster, who drove me as wild as a five year old could get. Punky and her dog Brandon were taken in by a grumpy elderly photographer named Henry Warnimont, played by the late George Gaynes of Police Academy fame. Along the way, Punky makes fast friends with her upstairs neighbor Cherie Johnson (played by actress Cherie Johnson. Said character was named after her by her uncle David Duclon who wrote the pilot for the show) and her Grandma, Betty (the late Susie Garrett) and over four seasons, we saw her and her friends get into mischief, learn valuable lessons and become interested in boys and typical young girl stuff. Being that 80s kids didn't have the Disney Channel, we didn't come across sitcoms for us back then very often so having Punky was a breath of fresh air for us with her brightly colored clothes and her ponytails and her different-colored tennis shoes.

I can't explain exactly what made me fall so head over heels for Punky that made me pretend to call her on one of those wooden play phones and invite her to a movie in my kindergarten class. However, every article about the show I've read in the intervening years begins with a male writer saying he had a huge crush on her or a female writer saying she wanted to be her, so I can take comfort in knowing I'm not by myself in this.

Naturally, I follow Punky's performer, Soleil Moon Frye, on Twitter. One day in June 2019, after I got off of work, I got notification that she tweeted for the first time in a while. "She's a wife and mother now, she probably wrote a book or something." I thought. But I was curious anyhow. When I followed the link, the tweet read, "She's back!" With a link. To which I thought, "Who's back?" Then I slapped my forehead and thought, "Who do you think?"

Wouldn't I know it, the link in the tweet confirmed that she and creator of the original David Duclon were working on a revival series in which single parent Punky would take in a plucky little orphan girl who reminded her of her younger self.

I had almost been waiting to hear that considering they revive every show you could think of in the 21st century. I had even told a friend I go to to get my hair cut whom I knew was also a fan since childhood they should have revived Punky before they revived Full House. But I was elated at the news. I must have raved about the news on Facebook twenty times from the time I heard about it in 2019 until a week and a half ago when it finally hit NBC Universal's new streaming service Peacock. Which reminds me, if not for it it just may have premiered in September 2020 so the coronavirus can lick my nose. But I digress.

Anyway, the new series begins as grown-up Punky is a professional photographer, much like her late foster father Henry (whom her children call Grandpa) has just gotten divorced from her ex-husband, Travis (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), a musician who still shows up quite a bit throughout the season, and is forced to raise her three children alone. They include Hannah (Lauren Lindsay Donzis), her oldest and only biological child who prides herself in being more mature than her Mom, so much so that she came off as rather unlikable at first despite growing on me later, Diego (Noah Cottrell), a typical teenage kid wrestling with emotional issues over his parents' divorce and Daniel (Oliver De Los Santos), a cute little kid who struggles with gender stereotypes. Punky is barely holding it together, as she puts it. But then her old pal Cherie, who is of course still her very best friend, is a social worker and asks her to look after a young lady from Fenster Hall (Punky's old foster care establishment) named Izzy McCollister (Quinn Copeland) who reminds Cherie a lot of Punky when they were kids. Seeing Izzy's free-spiritedness reminds Punky of whom she used to be and Punky agrees to take her in for a while, hoping to reclaim her "Punky Power".

The kids are initially opposed to the idea being that they're all crammed into their Grandpa's old apartment but they quickly grow attached to Izzy and start to look upon her as a sister, and to be quite honest I did not blame them watching the show because if the show is a hit, I'll be very surprised within the year if I don't see little boys wanting to marry Izzy when they grow up and little girls wanting to be Izzy. Even Travis forms a close bond with Izzy, as when she first meets him she quickly deduces that even though Travis is divorced from Punky, the love between the two is still there.

Izzy has lots of misadventures on the show similar to Punky's thirty years before and they're just as endearing as Punky's were. Punky is portrayed as despite not being as confident as she was when she was a child to somewhat of a degree. She is very immature which comes with being a free spirit. Izzy on the other hand really has moments on the show where she teaches the grown-ups something herself and that's why she's such a good fit for Punky.

Before the show premiered, I read a few reviews that said they didn't know who the audience was for the show except pure nostalgists (you just answered your own question, dude!) and that it was a cheesy sitcom stuck in the past. Folks, the original Punky Brewster was a sitcom for children about an orphan girl and an elderly man, what did you expect? As far as being stuck in the past, that just means it's true to the spirit of the original, and it is. Even with all the modern references--and no COVID, thank God!--, sometimes Izzy's misadventures mirror Punky's in the 80s. There are several references to old episodes between Punky and Cherie and other characters, and even a moment where Izzy discovers Punky's signature childhood jacket, jeans and mismatched shoes and dresses just like her and during that moment, I concurred when Cherie remarked, "If she says 'Punky Power' I'm gonna straight-up lose it!" It's a show mothers and fathers who were children in 1985 can sit their own children down and watch with them, as the kids on the show are very easy for modern children to relate to. I absolutely disagree with the professional critics who panned the show.

I wish the series much success and a few more seasons so kids can fall in love with Punky and Izzy all over again. And I must address something. When I heard Freddie Prinze, Jr. was playing Punky's "ex" husband, I scoffed. Not because I have anything against him, I don't, but being as biased as I am, I could not fathom the idea of someone divorcing Punky Brewster. Though to be fair, Travis didn't initiate the divorce, Punky did. But having seen the show, Travis is actually an okay fellow. I am even somewhat rooting for he and Punky to get back together in a future season.

I commend Soleil Moon Frye, Cherie Johnson and everybody involved with this reboot. Punky Power forever!

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