Punky Brewster (Season 1, Ep 3): Punky Finds a Home – Part 3

This is the episode that completes our pilot trilogy. How does a lonely unmarried childless old man get to take possession of a little girl to whom he is not related? Let’s find out!

We start this episode with an argument between Henry and Randi the social worker.

“I don’t understand! Why can’t I be Punky’s foster parent? Give me one good reason?!”
“You’ve never raised a child, you’re not married, and you’re too old.”
“I only asked for one!”

This is probably the 3rd or 4th time in two meetings that Henry has lost his temper in front of the social worker. But Henry finally, reluctantly, agrees with Randi when pinned down about whether he honestly thinks a motherless living situation is in Punky’s best interest. “Oh, I never thought of it from that perspective.”

As they are having this conversation, Punky completes her breakout from Fenster Hall and enters Henry’s apartment. I wonder how an 8 year old managed to get across the busy streets of Chicago and find her way back? I guess that’s not relevant. Moving on…

This Punky and Henry reunion creates an opportunity for Henry to tell Punky that he cannot keep her and that he thinks she would be better off with someone else. Punky asks him why nobody wants her. Henry tells her that’s not true, that they do not know what happened to her mother, that she “woke him up” inside, and that whoever gets to keep her will be very lucky.

[The social worker is watching this whole interaction from the kitchen doorway, her own eyes filling up with tears.]

And at this moment, Henry changes his mind and decides that he wants to fight to get custody of Punky.

A bit later we see Punky sitting with her Fenster Hall roommates talking about what happened. Punky is happy that she might get to stay with Henry after all. And at that moment, Randi the social worker decides to introduce Punky to some potential foster parents, the Petersons. I guess this is Randi’s one last chance to try to do the right thing.

Punky tells the Petersons that they will not want her. “I’m at the age where I’m starting to lose my teeth. Milk dribbles down my mouth and across my chin. It’s grossaroo!” But they are not put off. Punky then tries to sell them on Mute Mary as a better option and actually gets Mary to start talking. So we get the impression that she sold them on the switch.

Next we cut to Punky’s custody hearing.

Quite adorably, our little orphan has the Bailiff pick her up and place her on the judge’s bench. From there, she points out Henry as “the guy who looks like he’d be a great father.” Randi, the social worker, comes through and makes a pitch for Henry, too, saying that it’s the opinion of the county that she would be better off with Henry than staying in a county facility.” In this instance, I have to agree, given that they let an 8 year old girl escape their facility and cross the city of Chicago on her own.

Despite the social worker’s recommendation, Henry is still cross-examined by… someone? An antagonistic counsel? She appears to be representing the state of Illinois. We find out through this cross-examination that Henry is 60 years old, that Henry has only known Punky a total of 3 days, and that the social worker has only been at the department for three months.

[This is the scene in the episode where they frame the rational argument as a negative so that the audience gets on board with the absurd premise of this entire show.]

The judge rules that Punky should return to Fenster Hall until a better home can be found. Because… duh. Randi the social worker protests and asks the judge to “take back his ruling.” Then she requests that Punky read a letter that Punky had written to give to Henry, to thank Henry for taking her in – just in case Henry is denied custody. The judge is moved by Punky’s reading of the letter, changes his mind, and remands Punky to Henry’s custody on the condition that he go through the licensing requirements to become a foster parent.

When they return to Henry’s apartment together, we see that Brandon the puppy had been chewing up furniture. Punky starts giving Henry a list of things they will need now that they are staying together. And the look on Henry’s face says “oh no, what have I done?”

Reaction:

To be honest, this episode actually convinced me that this absurd premise could happen. I mean, if an 8 year old girl wanted to live with an old man she’d only known for three days (less than that really because she spent most of that time in Fenster Hall) and if he really wanted to keep her, OF COURSE they could, nay, should be togeth-

No. Absolutely not. This is awful. One conversation, observed covertly from a kitchen doorway, does not make him a competent caregiver. He responded like any human being would, when an 8 year old little girl was crying to him about how nobody, including her own mother, wanted her. What was he supposed to say there… “your mother probably didn’t want you because of your stupid mismatched shoes”? So what are we doing here… should we pin a medal on his lapel? Ignore the MANY red flags and just give him a child?

Oh, well. I guess that is what we are doing.

Cast notes:

Apparently the teenage girl in Fenster Hall, “Lisa,” was played by an actress named Robyn Lively. Robyn is the older half-sister of Blake Lively.

The social worker, Randi, was played by Talia Balsam. Talia is probably most well-known for playing Mona Sterling on “Mad Men.” She is currently playing the role of Dallas on the HBO comedy series “Divorce.” And she was also once married to George Clooney!

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