Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Punky Brewster -- The Hilarious Life of an Abandoned Orphan

I loved Punky Brewster when I was a kid, and I really have no idea why. But given how long it ended up lasting -- 88 episodes over four seasons -- I clearly wasn't alone. Starring precocious youngster Soleil Moon Frye as the title character, Punky was about a little girl who comes from a broken home, is ditched by her mother at a shopping mall, and who ends up finding sanctuary (along with her dog Brandon) with a lonely old man named Henry Warnimont (Police Academy's Commandant Lassard, George Gaynes). As sitcom premises go, that's a pretty dark place to start out, but Punky was all about girl power and day-glo colors. Here's the intro of the show, which began airing on NBC in September of '84, and which I first saw when they showed it in Saudi Arabia the following year:

For the most part, Punky Brewster (named after a childhood chum of then-NBC honcho brandon Tartikoff) contented itself with stories about Punky and her friends getting into wacky hijinks, but my strongest memories are from when it would go down these weird, oddly-serious digressions. For example, one ep had Punky's BFF Cherie (Cherie Johnson) stuck in a fridge during a game of hide-and-seek, and they have to revive her with CPR (which they conveniently learned earlier in the show). In another, Punky excitedly goes to school to watch the launch of the space shuttle Challenger and, well, we all know what happened there. All I remember about that one is that Buzz Aldrin shows up at Punky's house to talk her off the (figurative) ledge. Watch the full ep below:

Airing opposite CBS Sunday night juggernaut 60 Minutes, Punky didn't really do well with general auds, but it apparently did well enough with the kiddie crowd that the following season NBC brought the concept to Saturday mornings with an animated adaptation entitled It's Punky Brewster. While you'd think the show's premise would have made for a pretty uninteresting cartoon, the producers at (at omnipresent '80s animation house Ruby-Spears) solved that problem by adding in a magical gopher-thing called Glomer (voiced by animation vet Frank Welker), who would get Punky and her pals (all voiced by their TV counterparts) into even wackier hijinks. Here's the intro for cartoon Punky:

The animated series lasted for a not-bad twenty-one episodes over two seasons, ending its network run in December of 1986. And while the live action show was cancelled by NBC in '86 after two seasons, it was sold (along with companion series Silver Spoons) into first-run syndication and managed to carry on for two more years before finally winding down in spring of '88. Today, Punky Brewster, hopelessly wedded to the mid-'80s milieu that birthed it, is really only remembered by folks from a specific demographic. The entire live action series (but not the cartoon) is available on DVD and streaming, but if you've been clamoring for new adventures of Punky, then you're in luck! Comic producer Lion Forge began putting out new digital-only Punky Brewster comics aimed at the ten people who care. Check 'em out here.

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