Punky Brewster (Season 1, Ep 5a): Walk Pool

This is another two-part episode. Was the two-part episode a thing in the 80s? This is something like 24 minutes of combined TV air time. But I’ll just do 5a here.

The opening credits are different again with this episode. The theme song remains unchanged. We still see the scenes leading up to Punky and Henry meeting. But rather than the entire second half of the opening credits becoming animation, we instead get clips of Punky and Henry having fun moments together. Only at the very end with “what’s gonna be, guess we’ll just wait and see” do we get a quick transition to an animated Punky using her fingers to force a smile on an animated Henry. This is an improvement. The credits give us a spoiler. It appears that Punky and Henry will be going to a Cubs game at some point in the not too distant future.

“Walk Pool” begins with Henry, alone in his apartment, singing opera to himself. As one does. Other than the inexcusably wild mistake of being a single old man who, through the sheer failure of American society as a whole, becomes the caretaker of an 8 year old to whom he is not related… Henry is really “life goals” for me. I’d probably watch and review this show if it were just Henry milling around his living room singing to himself and generally being curmudgeonly. But alas. Punky and Cherie burst into the apartment, and interrupt our opera, freshly returned from school. They hop into the apartment having just learned about frogs at school.

Henry the vicious troll tells them they’ll be having frog legs for dinner. “Grossaroo!”

Cherie’s grandmother, Mrs. Johnson, follows the girls inside a minute or two later. She’s the adult in their “walk pool.” For anyone reading who did not grow up with such a group, a walk pool is something like a carpool – except that the destination is to and from school instead of work. And the journey is made on foot instead of in a car.

Mrs. Johnson and the girls tell us about one of the kids from the walk pool – Scotty. He is apparently responsible for shaving cats, gluing a teacher’s dress to a chair at school, and placing a “Kick Me” sign on Mrs. Johnson. Henry decides that he does not approve of Punky associating with “that hoodlum.”

We find out that Henry was once in the Merchant Marines. That background gives him the belief that he could do a better job of leading the walk pool to school than Mrs. Johnson. So he takes on the job. If sitcoms have taught me anything, it is that Henry’s implementation of “organization and discipline” will go smoothly.

In the next scene we cut to Henry leading/marching Punky’s crew to school. The kids are marching and doing a bang up job with Henry’s marching cadence. But wouldn’t ya know it… things go sideways. Margeaux hits Scotty in the head with her umbrella after she believes he stepped on her shoes, on purpose. “You’re the worst Scotty Lotabucci.”

I’ll digress here for just a minute. In the 1980s, unless I am misremembering badly, it was all but a sitcom trope to have a little Italian trouble-maker in a crew of kids. Scotty is our trope here. They keep emphasizing his last name. But since this is Punky Brewster, I fully expect him to have a horrifying tragic backstory dropped on us any minute.

At any rate, when Henry is sorting out the umbrella attack, Scotty and Allen run off. Henry does not pay attention to them running off because he is trying to prevent a fight between Cherie and Margeaux. Cherie teases pale, blonde-haired, Margeaux about getting freckles. Margeaux tells Punky and Cherie they are jealous of the fact that she is beautiful and they are but mere peasants. Honestly, I like Margeaux.

[Good news – it appears I’ll eventually see this actress (Ami Foster) in an episode of Quantum Leap.]

Henry realizes finally that Scotty and Allen have run off. He finds them a somewhat short distance away with some shaving cream, a razor, and a cat who is about to have less fur. Henry appears to save the cat just in time.

The rest of the walk does not go much better. They come across a guy washing his car with a garden hose. Scotty kinks the hose. As Henry wrestles the hose away and unkinks the hose, the car-washer sprays himself in the face and sees Henry holding the hose. Before Henry and the kids arrive at school, the same guy chases and catches up with the kids in his car and throws a bucket of water on Henry. As one does.

Henry, soaked, sits down on the curb. He is defeated. When Punky reminds him that he will be walking them home, too, his defeated eyes become horror struck. His expression says something like “taking in this girl will cost me my life.”

We next see the girls, after school, running into the building where they live. Mrs. Johnson greets them. Henry walks in shortly after and tells her that the walk pool went fine. Then he confesses that he feels lucky to be alive. “Anzio was a picnic compared to this.” As he turns to enter he apartment, we see a “Kick Me” sign on his back. Mrs. Johnson advises him that he should keep the sign as a souvenir.

Henry apologizes to Mrs. Johnson and she joyfully says “I told you so!”

As the episode ends, Henry stumbles sadly toward his couch. As he finally sits, Punky bursts in to let him know that the kids want Henry to lead their walk pool every day.

An old man with significant anger issues. Daily stress involving small children on a walk through the busy streets of Chicago. What could go wrong?

Reaction:

This show is billed as a sitcom / comedy but upon review it still feels like a tragedy.

This episode, like “Lost and Found,” is a reminder that Henry probably bit off more than he can chew in taking in an 8 year old. Particularly 8 year old Punky Brewster. It’s also interesting as the viewer to see the pacing of these 12 minute episodes. In this format, a walk to school – like a trip to the grocery store – can be its own self-contained story.

I kind of assume that the real purpose of this episode is to expand the cast. We’ll probably see several of these other kids in future episodes.

I enjoyed the interaction between Henry and Mrs. Johnson a lot more in this episode than in the pilot. They bantered in both episodes but it seemed toned down a bit here.

QUOTE:

“Scotty, Margeaux, Allen… these sound like horrible people. Why do you want to walk with them to school?”
“Because they’re our best friends!”

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