Rebel, the show—just like the character—comes with plenty of baggage.
They say we turn into our parents eventually. And I suppose you could argue that Punky Brewster both debunks and confirms this little truism.
Back in the 1980s (and chronicled by a popular NBC/syndicated sitcom of the same name), Punky was a rascally little waif who was discovered in a vacant apartment building. Her dad walked out on Punky and her mother. Mom took off shortly after—abandoning the little girl in a shopping center parking lot.
Thankfully, the building’s owner, Henry Warnimont, took Punky in and fought to adopt her, giving her the love and support she needed (even if he never successfully got her to wear matching shoes).
Now, nearly 40 years later, Punky’s the parent—to a biological daughter named Hanna, adopted brothers Diego and Daniel and new foster addition Izzy, who reminds Punky a lot of herself at the spritely age of 7. And she’d never dream of walking out on any of them.
Nope, Punky’s nothing like her biological mom. But her adopted dad? Absolutely—and her kids can be grateful for that.
Punky’s household is a little different than the one she grew up in, though. Following Henry’s example, she’s become a successful photographer, mainly working weddings and the like to stay close to her family.
And boy, does she need to stay close. Her teen daughter, Hannah, is in her prime boy-crush years. Diego is a born athlete, but Daniel digs eyeliner and nail polish. And Izzy is just as much of a handful as Punky was, which means keeping up with her is a full-time job in itself.
A few other adults tend to traipse through the Brewster apartment as well. Cheri, Punky’s childhood best friend, is now her adulthood best friend. And Cheri always seems to have a hug and a wine glass handy. Punky’s ex-husband, Travis, hangs out more than most ex-husbands usually do, cooking pancakes, watching kids and occasionally making risqué references to the past. Could they get back together? Hannah would like to think so. And perhaps Punky and Travis have their moments, too. But given that Travis has started dating women half his age, remarriage doesn’t look likely any time soon.
The new Punky Brewster, now streaming on Peacock, feels a little like a good-news, bad-news scenario.
The new show offers plenty of nostalgic nods to the old one, which should please long-time fans. Punky still doesn’t like to match shoes, and the two-camera format feels like a throwback to a kinder, gentler sitcom era. It’s a continuation, not a reboot, much like Fuller House on Netflix was of its own original show.
And, of course, Punky’s own welcoming home offers a wonderful illustration of the importance of family and the beauty—and necessity—of foster-parenting and adoption. In the show’s opening episode, Punky tells Izzy a story about a mother and child trapped in a burning building. In desperation, the mom drops her baby into the arms of a waiting fireman. Punky says that that mother must’ve concluded: “The only way to save her baby was to let her go.” And that’s often what the gift of adoption comes down to.
But while Punky’s home is a loving one, it unreservedly embraces secular values that can sometimes run counter to those of the Bible. And it can get pretty judge-y for families that might fall outside what Punky et al. find appropriate. In the opener, Punky casts some serious shade at parents who might (gasp) send their child to private school that requires (double gasp) uniforms.
While a sign inside an orphanage tells us proudly that “All Are Welcome Here” (emblazoned over a nice rainbow of colors), in practice it feels like some might not be welcome.
And while Punky’s home certainly has some rules, she runs a looser ship than perhaps many of her would-be viewers. Certainly, Daniel’s experimentation with makeup might set off of alarm bells among many a family.
I’m not sure how many people actually missed Punky Brewster. But for those who have fond memories of the old show, they’ll find much to like here—and much that might raise an eyebrow or two.
As newly divorced Punky contemplates getting out into the dating scene again, she receives another, unexpected wrinkle in the tablecloth of life: A kid named Izzy. Abandoned by her mother, Izzy reminds Punky a lot of herself. And when Punky’s friend and social worker Cheri begs Punky to watch Izzy for just a couple of days while the background checks of her real foster parents are finalized, Punky reluctantly agrees. But after a couple days with the precocious Izzy, Punky and her kids wonder whether a more full-time arrangement with them might be in order.
Punky’s adopted 10-year-old son, Daniel, sports eyeliner—telling his mom that he’s just trying it out. “I like it,” Punky says. “Makes your eyes pop.” Later, we see him in his sister’s room as they both paint their nails. (He seems to be wearing lipstick, too.) When their brother, Diego, comes in, he and Daniel discuss whether it’s weird that he likes painted nails. (“Kind of, but who cares?” Diego says.) Punky also talks with her ex-husband, Travis, about Daniel’s experimentation—suggesting that it might not be the phase that Travis thinks it is. If it’s not just a phase, Travis suggests, he’ll pull out his old David Bowie albums.
Travis and Punky banter a bit about old, possibly sexy, times, and Cheri is skeptical when Punky insists the two didn’t sleep together. (They do kiss a couple of times—part of their old habits, it’s suggested.) When Punky quizzes Travis about his 27-year-old girlfriend, Travis says they’re not really dating: “It’s more just sex and emojis.” As part of her diving back into dating, Punky talks about tending “to my personal garden,” suggesting some shaving is needed in places. Hannah has a crush on a boy, and Izzy introduces her to him as “this hottie.” Punky tells Hannah that she’s not buying her a crop top.
Punky and Cheri drink wine and beer. Cheri mentions that Punky texted her the night before asking for “a hug and a box of wine.” Travis retrieves a beer. Punky drinks orange juice from the bottle, then spits it out into the bottle again when called on it. She says that while she was on a parachuting photo assignment, she “landed 10 seconds before my puke.” Travis (a musician) says his dirty clothes have “three weeks of tour bus stink,” and he holds some of his dirty boxers in his hand. A character misuses God’s name, but outside that, the closest thing to profanity we hear is “butt” and “Holy Mackinoli.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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