Punky Brewster (Season 1, Ep 6): Take Me Out to the Ballgame

We start this episode with Cherie and Punky modeling their Halloween costumes for Mrs. Johnson. Cherie is Cleopatra. Punky is the Indiana Jones adjacent, “Indiana Punky.” And Brandon is dressed as “Merlin the Magician.”

Henry walks in. Since this is a show set in 1984 Chicago, Henry was trying to get Cubs’ playoff tickets. Unfortunately for him, while he got to the box office 17 hours early to be near the front of the line, there were thousands of people who got there sooner. According to the ruffled and dejected Mr. Warnimont, the person in front of him in line got the last available tickets. And then, the unhappy crowd behind him used him as a battering ram to break into the box office.

When Mrs. Johnson suggests that the best seats in the house are at home in front of the TV, Henry is outraged. Apparently he’s a serious fan. At the time the episode aired, it had been 39 years since the Cubs last had a chance to play in the World Series.

In a weird twist of fate, George Gaynes (the actor who plays Henry) passed away about 31 and a half years after this episode aired, on February 15, 2016. He passed away only a few months shy of the Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908. George Gaynes was 98 years old when he died. The Cubs never won a championship in that entire span of time.

As a single man, living alone, with no family, he had been a season ticket holder for 38 losing Cubs seasons. When he finally gives the tickets up, to save himself the money and the aggravation, they finally make the playoffs. Sports, bruh.

Apparently the thing that sold Henry on baseball was that he once had Babe Ruth hit a homerun that bounced off his head, during a World Series game, as an 8 year old. He probably could have made a better sales pitch to Punky. Soleil Moon Frye’s reaction to that line is legitimately funny.

Henry suddenly gets the idea to call “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks to get tickets. “We’re buddies.” Apparently Henry considers himself to be buddies with Ernie Banks because Henry photographed the wedding of Ernie’s second cousin, 22 years ago, and he had a very brief interaction with Mr. Cub at the reception regarding the location of dip.

Punky realizes that Henry is out of his mind. She tries to suggest that this endeavor is “a long shot.” But Henry rifles through a phone book and says “no, it’s a sure thing!”

It was not a sure thing. He somehow *did* just call Ernie Banks by looking him up in the phone book. Ernie did not remember Henry. Ernie hung up on Henry.

I should take a minute and explain to younger readers that a long time ago, in the 1980s, all telephones were attached to cords – usually to walls inside your own home. And in that early telecommunications epoch, before Al Gore graciously shared his internet with the plebs, if you did not know someone’s phone number, you had to look them up in a book. Fortunately, your telephone company would send you a telephone book, once per year, that included the phone number for everyone in your area.

Anyway. Henry is pretty deflated. I’m not sure how an emotionally fragile Punky Brewster will react. But my guess is that her reaction will be excessive.

Her first effort to help Henry is to direct him to a ticket giveaway on the radio. (Did she know about sports radio before this incident? Who did she talk to? How many hours did she listen to sports radio alone in her room before she heard about this specific ticket giveaways?)

“If you are our 13th caller, and you can answer our trivia question, you get two tickets to tomorrow’s playoff game!” Is the ___th caller giveaway still something that happens on the radio? I know that our local sports radio station gives tickets away. But do they track how many callers phone in?

Henry calls in twice. The number is busy twice. Punky offers to call. “Let me try, I’ve got PUNKY POWER!” Wouldn’t you know it, she gets through, and she is the 13th caller. Henry takes the phone from Punky. The radio guy asks Henry which city is the windiest city in America? Henry wrongly answers Chicago. Punky and the radio guy say that the answer is “Great Falls, Montana.” And how did Punky know that?

Side note 1: Great Falls, Montana, lost its top ranking in 2015 to either Amarillo, Texas (average daily wind speed) or Dodge City, Kansas (average annual wind speed)
Side note 2: Great Falls’ nickname is “The Electric City.” For obvious reasons.

Adding insult to Henry’s injury, Eddie the Building Maintenance Man pokes his head into the apartment, Cubs’ hat on his head, and says “I thought everyone knew about Great Falls, Montana.” Henry grabbed and hurled a trident from off the wall, speared Eddie, and then stabbed a motionless Eddie repeatedly for the remaining 15 minutes of the episode.

No, actually, Henry tries to make Eddie leave but we find out that Punky reached out to Eddie to figure out a way to get tickets. And Eddie reached out to a scalper. And there is apparently a ticket scalper sitting outside Henry’s building with tickets to the following night’s game.

At that moment, Lenny the Loop walks in. He pulls back his jacket to reveal numerous pockets sewn into the inside of his coat jacket, with all kinds of tickets for various events placed carefully in said pockets. It’s pretty clear that we are not supposed to trust this guy. But Henry buys from him anyway. Lenny initially tries to sell them for $950. Punky talks him down to $700 by saying they don’t have the money. Then she tries to talk him down more by pretending Henry can pass on buying her medicine for that month “I don’t have long to live, anyway.” The ticket shark is impressed by her acting, at which point Punky abruptly shouts “we’ll give you $100 for each ticket and that’s our final offer” sealing the deal.

The next day, Punky and Henry arrive at Wrigley Field and find a pair of nuns sitting in their seats. When the four of them compare their tickets, we see that Henry’s are for a game to be played in 1884. So Lenny the Loop sold them fake tickets. Henry tries to convince the nuns that attending this game was Punky’s “dream of a lifetime.” So one of them offers to let Punky sit in her lap for the game. Henry looks, creepily, at the other nun and is disabused.

So Henry and Punky wander back up the aisle. Punky promptly disappears. Henry starts looking for her in something of a panic when she suddenly returns. She has somehow acquired a couple of seats… in the dugout with the players.

The show plays a lot of highlights from the actual Cubs-Padres series. The episode ends with Punky directing a stoic gaze out onto the field, with what looks like smokeless tobacco tucked away in her right cheek (though it’s probably something like Bazooka bubble gum.)

Reaction:

The Cubs actually lost this series to the Padres, 3 games to 2. But Punky and Henry saw a win that day as the Cubs won both games in Chicago.

In this episode, Punky saw her stable caretaker spiraling into some form of depression / psychosis. So, offscreen, she – an 8 year old – put together a plan to solve Henry’s problems. Her first plan worked perfectly right up until the moment that Henry did not give her a chance to answer a trivia question for him. Think about that for a second. She had to devote herself to figuring out a way to get tickets. She reached out to people. She listened to probably hours of sports radio. She *miraculously* got through the phone lines at the radio station. She even knew the trivia answer!

Her back-up plan was a little messier, but it also worked. Even though the tickets she and Henry bought were scalped, 1) she took over negotiations from Henry and got them a very discounted deal, 2) the two scalped tickets were enough to get them into the stadium, and 3) once inside the stadium, she mysteriously figured out a way to get them seats on the Cubs’ bench. I strongly speculate Punky Power was involved.

What… what exactly is “Punky Power?” What are we dealing with? Did she escape from a secret government lab? Is some shadowy group looking for her? Is that why she’s so desperate to live with the first person who found her? Did she ever really even have parents? Looking back on it, she’s been frighteningly self-sufficient and socially adept for an 8 year old. Is she an escaped alien or something?

Off the top of my head, other TV child prodigies from this era include Chicago’s Steve Urkel and Indianapolis’ (Good Morning Miss Bliss) Zack Morris. All three are similar ages. Neighboring states. Soleil appears on Saved by the Bell at one point! And Cherie Johnson – going by the name “Maxine” Johnson – ended up on Family Matters! Maybe Maxine is Cherie’s middle name and this is all within the same universe. Cherie Johnson might be a link between the TV universe and our real life universe… there’s something here. We’ll continue connecting dots as the rewatch continues.

My only other reaction to this episode is that I do not like Eddie. Whether she’s an alien or not, putting 8 year old Punky in a foster home with an unrelated 60 year old man is one (terrible) thing. That girl having a seemingly Henry-free relationship with the creepy maintenance guy, too, is too much.

QUOTES:

“Come on, Cleo, let’s go upstairs. I hate to see a grown man cry.”
“I don’t. Can I stay and watch?”

“Punky, the Cubs are in the playoffs. There’s no way they can lose to the Padres, that means they’ll go to the World Series. That’s history in the making!” (D.R. Editor’s comment: Bruh.)

“See that bump? That’s where the ball bounced right off my skull. I was hoping you’d experience the same thrill this year.”

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