We here at the Verdict sort of wish Judge Lacey Worrell had told us what she really thinks about television's primary Punky Power delivery system...
There is no other way to put this: This show is bad. Really, really bad. Saved by the Bell was bad in a so-bad-it's-good way. Punky Brewster: Season Two is just bad. There is just no other word for it. The scary thing is, I have very fond memories of watching this show as a little kid; I was about the same age as the title character back when this show was popular. Usually, it's fun to take a trip down memory lane by watching a series new to DVD. In the case of Punky Brewster it's akin to being hung from the ceiling by one's thumbs and being painfully tickled to death. It's just that bad, my friends.
Facts of the Case
In the tradition of '80s series such as Webster and Diff'rent Strokes, Punky (is it a coincidence that her name rhymes with "spunky"?) has been taken in by a kindly bachelor (George Gaynes, Police Academy) in an urban neighborhood. Punky (Soleil Moon Frye, The Proud Family) has a unique fashion sense; it has been argued by pop-culture pundits that she was the original hip-hop chick. She also has a loveable golden retriever, Brandon, and a loyal best friend, Cherie (Cherie Johnson, Family Matters). There is also Punky's nemesis, the prissy, blond Margeaux (Ami Foster, Troop Beverly Hills), and gawky Allen (Casey Ellison, The Ryan White Story.
Each episode from this 1985-86 season features Punky and her friends solving a problem that crops up in their lives. Some are benign, like Punky feeling left out when her friends exclude her from taking tap dancing lessons, or Punky and Cherie starting a babysitting service. In another, the kids all try to build a tree house. Others are clearly "message" episodes, with topics such as cheating on a test in school, shoplifting, fear of crime, and even the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Frequently the adults, including Cherie's mother, Henry, and their schoolteacher (T.K. Carter), come to the aid of the children.
As in Full House, which came later and was equally reviled by critics, the conflicts faced by the central characters on Punky Brewster are neatly wrapped up in time for the end of the episode…with the exception of five of the final episodes of this season. There, George's status as a foster parent is threatened because of his ill health, and Punky has to live temporarily with new, supremely wealthy foster parents.
Oh, where to begin? This is such a bad show, and there are so many glaring problems with it. Let's begin with the acting. The child actors, around whom the majority of the scenes are focused, sound as though they are reading their lines from a script for a badly written school play. The acting is, in a word, terrible. The stories are abysmal. The sets are cheaply constructed, and during the numerous treehouse scenes, a distinct, unpleasant echo can be heard as the actors speak their lines. And how do you squeeze so much out of such insipid plot lines, anyway? This show makes The Brady Bunch look like Shakespeare.
The other glaring problem with Punky Brewster is the amount of lecturing that goes on. And on. And on. The adults are only too happy to drop everything they're doing to either help the kids or give them a long, long talking-to when they do something wrong. The lecture part is probably more true to life, but come on. Of all the kids I knew growing up, I can't think of one who had parents who would be thrilled to help them with things; most kids I knew had to come up with projects to do because their parents locked them out of the house early in the morning and refused to let them back in until dinnertime.
The strength of quality children's programming is the willingness of the creators to allow the characters to come up with their own solutions, instead of constantly relying on adults to bail them out. In Punky Brewster, the adults are given far too much screen time, and the lectures they give are obviously geared to teach the young audience a lesson. Thanks, but no thanks.
Soleil Moon Frye was a really cute kid who has grown into a beautiful woman. She carries the show quite well—but with the terrible scripts, she wasn't give much to work with. Cherie Johnson makes for a cute sidekick, but Margeaux and Allen are such one-dimensional, flat characters that they are incredibly annoying. Like "fingernails on the chalkboard" annoying.
T.K. Carter, who coincidentally played a school teacher on the early episodes of Saved By the Bell, went on to do stellar, career-defining work as a heroin addict in the HBO dramatization of The Corner. Gaynes was hysterically funny as a police officer in the Police Academy films; he had far more to work with there. Which isn't saying much, if you really think about it.
Guest stars on this season's episodes include a pint-sized Candace Cameron (Full House), Happy Days' Cathy Silvers, Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story, as well as special appearances by boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hardcore fans of the show may enjoy the fact that among the extra features are three hours' worth of episodes from the spin-off Punky Brewster cartoon show. That goes over and above what would normally be expected as a special feature. There is also an interview with George Gaynes; it is a nice touch.
The theme song and opening credits are really cute, and many adults have fond memories of watching this show as kids. Whether they will admit it or not is another story altogether. Personally, after slogging through all of the Season Two episodes, I would have preferred that this show stayed a memory. A distant, very fuzzy memory.
Bad writing and bad acting are an insult to the viewer's intelligence. And the paper-thin plotlines are barely enough to hold anyone's attention.
For hardcore Punky fans only.
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Scales of Justice
• "It's Punky Brewster" Cartoon
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