Punky Brewster (Season 1, Ep 8a): Go to Sleep

On the NBC app, episode 8’s two parts are listed out of order. Despite “A Visit to the Doctor” being listed first, “Go to Sleep” plays first.

“Come on, Punky. Hit the hay. You need to get some sleep if you’re going to grow up big and tall.”
“I’m willing to stay short for one more day.”
“You’ve got to get your beauty rest, young lady. Don’t you want to be beautiful?”
“At my age I can get by just being cute.”

And so begins another half episode of Punky Brewster. She’s resisting sleep. Henry keeps peering at his watch. Why is he impatient for her to be asleep?

When Henry sneaks out of her room, he pulls down the blinds, grabs a bowl of popcorn, and tells Brandon to shhh. Very fishy, Mr. Henry Warnimont.

Speed sleeper Punky gets back out of bed. After a back and forth about why grown-ups need less sleep than children, he threatens to kill her (well, he says “if you go to sleep, I’ll let you live to be a grown up.”) Undeterred, Punky notices that the blinds are closed, the phone is off the hook (a phrase that will undoubtedly baffle anyone in their 20s) and she asks him to level with her. He says there’s a program on television he wants to watch, for adults only, to which she replies “must be cable.” [DustyReviews does not approve of 8 year old Punky’s awareness of 1980s late night cable television – though we admit that when both of your parents have abandoned you, separately, perhaps a certain loss of innocence is sadly to be expected.]

It turns out that Henry wants to watch opera on TV. As one does. But he wants to watch it ALONE! He becomes slightly unhinged and explain-yells at Punky that he even buy 3 tickets when he goes to the opera, in person, so that nobody will sit next to him on either side. After he comes unglued, Punky verbally knifes Henry on her way to bed with the line, “you know Henry, you’re not alone anymore. It would be nice if I could sit in one of those empty seats.”

Predictably, Henry folds immediately. But he does warn her that she will be sent to bed if there is any foolishness. He’s watching “Die Fledermaus.” In an effort to teach Punky, he sings some of Act 1 to her auf deutch. Punky and Brandon make the faces you would expect an 8 year old and a pupper to make if someone started singing opera loudly in German. And when asked to sing the opera, Punky sings a lot of loud gibberish with hand motions. Brandon lays his head down and closes his eyes.

Henry: “Alfredo’s performance tonight is a bit… lackluster.”
Punky: [asleep on the couch next to an also sleeping Brandon]
Henry: “I see you agree.”

Reaction:

This actually felt like a real interaction between a hermit and a sly manipulative child alien girl. Henry the Hermit has the kind of weird quirky interests that one acquires when one lives his entire life by himself. And he’s extremely resistant to change. Punky, however, knows exactly which of Henry’s strings to pull to get what she wants from him. Henry is too out of practice, socially, to know when his strings are being pulled and how to resist it when that happens.

I continue to be concerned about Henry’s temper. This guy blows up regularly – at children, at his neighbor, at the building maintenance man, at a social worker. This was the first time we see him blow up at Punky. She handled the confrontation well, and Henry reigned in his temper once his ridiculousness was pointed out to him, but this subsurface anger seems… unresolved in him. This a somewhat realistic problem to find in an older man making a dramatic late life change in circumstances. But it’s also a reason to question whether he is a good fit as Punky’s caretaker.

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