Punky Brewster (Season 1, Eps 16 and 17): Fenster Hall Parts 1 and 2

Note: I am aware that some episodes from this season have been skipped. Unfortunately, a few episodes from Season 1 are missing from the NBC App. If and when I sign up for Peacock, I will look for the missing episodes there and I will review them, too.

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THE QUICK & CLEAN SUMMARY:

Punky meets a hard luck and hardhearted young thief, T.C., as he is burglarizing her bedroom. T.C. has no family and is living with a dangerous criminal named Blade. T.C. is being forced to steal on behalf of Blade. Henry takes the boy to Fenster Hall where the young administrator there, Mike Fulton, helps him to find a place where he can belong.

Unfortunately, Blade has a bit of a hold on T.C. The young thief is told by his criminal mentor that he has to rob Fenster Hall of its recently raised auction money… or else. After being positively influenced by Mike, T.C. opts not to steal the money. This enrages the switchblade wielding Blade, but Mike protects him from harm. Ultimately, Blade makes off with Fenster Hall’s cash box. However, T.C. has hidden the cash inside in his jacket pocket so the robbery was averted.

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THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

Here comes the Punky Brewster Season 1 finale – a two-parter. Obviously the episode title does not bode well for Punky and Henry. Will we get Punky being physically pulled away from Henry? Slow mo shot of their fingers being ripped apart?

Well, this is an auspicious start. Someone in a red ski mask opens Punky’s bedroom window. Good grief, Henry. You live in Chicago, not Mayberry. Get a lock on that window.

The thief takes a jewelry box from Punky’s bag. As this invader is set to pilfer the rest of Henry’s place, he/she opens the door between Punky’s room and the rest of the apartment and finds Punky standing there. They both scream. The thief runs back to the open window and flees. Punky yells after him/her that it’s her jewelry box, that she got from her mother, and…

You’re not gonna get away with this Buster! I’ve got PUNKY POWER!

Punky gets a jacket to pursue the thief on foot. She tells Brandon to call the police. The VERY GOOD BOY runs back into the living room and at least picks up the phone.

In the next scene, we see an extremely run-down building or shed, complete with a broken dripping pipe, and a knife stabbed into either a wall or a large piece of wood. Carved onto that wall is “Blade’s Place Love Live Me.” The musical scoring tells us that we are most likely dealing with a gang member – but probably the type of gang member that dances and snaps in a Michael Jackson music video.

Punky’s thief darts into this ominous place and quickly takes off his mask.

You know T.C., the way you just ran into this place, it was like you were being followed.

So our thief is a young teenager named T.C. And he lives with a guy who looks like one of The Lost Boys – named Blade. We see Punky listening to the two of them talk from outside the window.

Blade and T.C. apparently have a deal. T.C. gets food and a place to live. In exchange, T.C. is supposed to steal stuff and bring it to Blade. This whole scene is really disturbing and it’s made all the more disturbing by the laugh track.

Blade: [menacingly] I give you this fantastic place to live..
Audience: [laughs uproariously]

Blade opens the jewelry box from Punky. There is nothing in it of value. Blade is, uh, angry. However, after telling T.C. that nobody will ever be as good to him as he is, Blade thankfully leaves.

A moment later, Punky enters the room wearing a red ski mask. She grabs her jewelry box and the stuff that was inside it. T.C. rips off her ski mask and tells her that she is worse at stealing than he is. She says “no one is that bad” before he aggressively tells her to “beat it.” ♪  Just beat it. You better run you better do what you can. Don’t wanna see no blood don’t be a macho man.♪ ♪

Well, I made that musical part up. Anyway, Punky tells T.C. that he should come home with her because Henry loves stray kids.

We see T.C. eating in Henry’s kitchen, with our two stars, and he is shoveling food into his mouth as though he has not had food recently. Henry seems unexcited about his new son. As a result, he decides to enforce table manners on the obviously starving young boy in his kitchen.

H: I must admit, this is the first time my cooking’s been enhald with such gusto.
P; Does that mean you wouldn’t mind if T.C. came to dinner again?
H: I don’t see why not.
P; Um, could he come, say, once a month?
H: I don’t see why not.
P: Well, since he’s coming so often, can we adopt him?
H: WHAT?!

Punky pulls Henry into the living room. T.C., still starving and still eating as though he is starving, barely notices that they leave.

Punky tells Henry that T.C. is all alone and has no family. She probably lays it on too thick by insisting he can be the son Henry always wanted and that T.C. has Henry’s eyes. Eventually Punky is forced to admit that she met him, by catching him in her room, attempting to steal her jewelry box.

You want me to adopt a thief!

T.C. is now listening to their conversation through the door into the kitchen. Punky lobbies for keeping T.C. as though he is a pet. Henry insists that he does not want to “harbor a half pint hoodlum.” At that point, T.C. comes into the living room and says, “who asked you, pops?”

Henry finds out that T.C. lives with “a Blade” and he will not in good conscience allow him to return. T.C. says “in your ear, Gramps.” The sixty year old Henry tells T.C. he can go to Fenster Hall willingly, or he can go kicking and screaming. We do not quite see “kicking and screaming” on camera but Henry has him by the shirt, orders Punky to grab his hat, the music swells dramatically, we hear T.C. yell “NO! NO!” and Punky tells Brandon to “call Fenster.” Of course, we now head to commercial break. And as we head to said commercial break, Brandon once again has the phone in his mouth… because he is a VERY GOOD BOY.

Welcome home, Punky Brewster fans. We are back at The Fenster Hall Home for Abandoned and Neglected Children Estb. 1936. The funky electric beat in the music tells us that we are in the vicinity of some troubled urban kids from the 1980s. Let’s meet some of those kids.

We are now in a room filled with boys. One of them is small with big round glasses. He is sitting at a small table and appears to be doing homework. A black kid is wearing a head band and doing jump rope by himself in the back of the room. Now he’s air boxing. We have a lone wolf alpha back there, I think. Another small kid is wearing a kangol hat with a t-shirt and is standing by the small table. He appears to be buddies with the room’s tough guy. Speaking of? A very large white kid, sitting at the table, with huge hair and an ear ring (a *classic* 1980s tough guy look – see example below) is shelling peanuts loudly with his fist.

In the ’80s, this was one of the toughest looks out there.

An adult, played by T.K. Carter, enters the room to find out which of them put another Fenster Hall resident’s pet goldfish into the previous day’s vegetable soup. If you are 35 or older, and American, you will 100% recognize T.K. Carter even if you do not remember his name. His character’s name is Michael Fulton. After telling the boys not to pull a stunt like that again, and that they are all expected to attend Glub Glub’s funeral the following day, he is called away by his boss over the intercom.

We meet his boss, Rita. She comes down on Mike for some stunt involving an elephant and for putting together an unsanctioned auction. We find out from the exchange that Michael cares about his kids, goes out of his way to let them know they are allowed to have fun, but is not a big fan of paperwork or following the rules. Ladies and gentleman, we have a “Cool Guy Teacher”TM on our hands.

Henry and Punky arrive with T.C. and Blade’s former roommate is not happy to be there. Instead of calling Mr. Fulton, Mike, he calls him Muck. This is not Muck Fulton’s first rodeo with a hostile kid. While T.C. sits silently, he kind of… does.. a stand-up routine? With impressions? We meet Mike Fulton’s versions of Michael Jackson, Mr. T., Bill Cosby, and others. T.C. thaws out a little and begins to talk.

T.C.’s last name is Finestra. He tells Mike that his birthday is March 5, 1974. I guess my age estimate earlier of T.C. as being a teenager was too high. Based on when this episode aired, T.C. is 11 years old. (The actor was playing three years younger than his actual age.)

Mike takes T.C. to the room with the boys we met earlier. T.C. announces

This place is overcrowded. Five to a cell.

T.C. finds out that Fenster Hall operates on the “honor system” and that the doors and windows are not locked. He leaves through the window.

Back at Blade’s place, the fingerless gloves wearing homeowner is sitting on the floor and peeling an apples with a switchblade. His technique is a little bit… stabby. T.C. returns and tells Blade where he has been.

Blade is a man about town. He is aware of the Fenster Hall auction. He sends T.C. back to Fenster Hall because he wants T.C. to steal the money they make from their auction.

Blade, you’re a genius! *secret handshake ensues*

We are back at Fenster Hall. The boys are gathered around a table for “Gripe Night.” If one of them has a complaint, or thoughts generally about how things are going, this is where they share those thoughts.

The jump roping, air boxing kid from earlier, Sugar, is an aspiring boxer. His gripe is that T.C. has not started any projects for the auction. Mike reminds him and the rest of the boys that this is all voluntary. Mike’s gripe was next. He was unhappy that someone brought a cat to Glub Glub’s funeral. Guess who did it? T.C. again. “She shouldn’t have had an open casket.” The nerdy kid, Lyle, complains about T.C., too. Mike asks them what they want to do about T.C.? Dash – the kid who wore the kangol hat earlier – suggests running his underwear up the flagpole. Mike suggests, as an alternative, that T.C. be put in the “hot box.”

The “hot box” is when a kid has to tell the group what’s on his mind. Mike challenges his T.C.’s tough guy act by saying that “tough is having enough guts to tell the truth about yourself.” Dash says, “it’s okay T.C. Don’t be scared.”

T.C. tells the group that Mike is conning them. T.C. thinks Mike does his job so that he can brag to his friends about how much he is helping “those poor kids.” The kids all push back. “Why should I believe that? [that Mike loves Fenster Hall]”

M: Because I’ve been here since I was seven years old.

Mike asks T.C. some more personal questions and T.C., stunned by Mike’s earlier answer, responds. He responds initially, at least. T.C.’s mom is dead. He most recently saw his dad a few months ago just before his dad abandoned him. Mike pushes for a little more and T.C. shouts

Will you get off my back!

Mike pushes a little more, again. T.C. and his dad lived in a trailer. One day when T.C. came home from school, the trailer was gone.

*Just a second. Gonna sob. Then I’m gonna go hug my kid. BRB.*

And I am back. T.C. thinks his dad left because he couldn’t get a job, was drinking too much, and because his dad did not want him.

My mother died when I was four. And he never let me forget it. I wish it could have been me who died instead of her.

Mike tries to put a hand on his shoulder. T.C. jumps back. “You may have tricked me into spilling my guts but hands off.” Mike sends the boys to bed. They leave one by one. The last boy to leave is the smallest, Dash. He tells T.C. good night, that he’s glad he is here, and that he has always wanted a big brother. T.C. lets Dash give him a hug.

That night, all the boys are sleeping except for T.C. Suddenly, a hand is covering his face. It’s the fingerless gloved hand of Blade. That Fenster Hall open window strikes again. T.C. tries to talk Blade out of stealing the auction money. Blade, threateningly, tells T.C. not to go soft on him.

Remember… soft things have a way of getting bruised. ::Blade pulls out a switch blade, pops it open, stabs an apple lying on the counter, and then bites that apples.::

The Fenster Hall auction has arrived. Punky, Cherie, Henry, and Mrs. Betty Johnson are all there. Punky, Cherie, T.C., and Sugar meet each other. When Sugar says hi to Cherie, she goes googly eyed. We find out that T.C. did eventually contribute to the auction. He built a bird house. Cherie says privately to Punky, twice, that Sugar is “so gorgeous.” When the two girls leave the boys, Punky tells her that she is a sick person.

Yeah, I’m in Sugar shock. ::smiles dreamily with her chin in her hands::

The auction starts. When T.C.’s birdhouse goes up for auction, Henry and Mrs. Johnson get into a bidding war. The bids start at $20 and climb, back and forth, until Henry wins the bird house with a $175 bid.

The rest of the auction goes that well, too, if a 1980s montage sequence can be believed.

Afterward, Henry and Mrs. Johnson are laughing about their bidding war. The notoriously cheap Henry suggests splitting the cost with her and Mrs. Johnson laughs like she has heard the funniest joke of her life.

We see T.C. grab the money till. Mike notices him and asks him what he is doing. T.C. says he is taking the money to his office. But he does not. Blade comes in through T.C.’s window and takes the money till. T.C. tries again to talk Blade out of stealing the money.

T.C.: These kids don’t have much. They worked real hard for this and they need the money, you know?
Blade: T.C., you better slap a band-aid on your heart. It’s starting to bleed.

As Blade tries to leave with the money, T.C. grabs it from his hands. Blade corners him against a wall. T.C. starts dropping truth bombs about how Blade uses him and lies to him. I just kind of wish this conversation were not happening with a guy carrying around a switchblade. Blade grabs T.C. by the arm and begins dragging him toward the window.

Mike enters the room. “Going somewhere?” Blade pops open his switch blade and literally tells Mike to beat it.

♪  They’re out to get you, better leave while you can
Don’t want to be a boy, you want to be a man
You want to stay alive, better do what you can
So beat it, just beat it. ♪ ♪

Mike tells him he can take the money but says that if he tries to take T.C., too, Blade will have to kill him. Blade takes the cash box and runs.

Mike and T.C. talk. They bond of the shared experience of facing down a switch blade wielding semi-murderous Lost Boy. The rest of the boys come into the room to ask what happens and the story is relayed again. However…

T.C.: Minor correction. Blade did get the cash box. But he didn’t get the cash. ::pulls huge wad of cash from inside his jacket pocket.::

The boys celebrate.

Later, we see Punky relaying the story to Henry. She is wearing a chef’s hat. We find out that when Blade found out the cash box was empty, he threw it down and broke his toe. She then asks if they can invite T.C. to dinner. He agrees. She asks about Mike, too, and Henry again agrees. Punky opens the kitchen door…

Everyone from Fenster Hall is in Henry’s kitchen and they ask him, in unison, “what’s for dinner?”

Roll credits.

REACTION:

That’s a wrap on Season 1 of Punky Brewster. I’ll have a season recap and review post in a few days. First, I will give my thoughts for these finale episodes by themselves.

  • It was a very odd choice to finish the season with Punky and Henry as secondary characters. I guess the writing team knew that they were getting a season 2 and they wanted to lay the groundwork for additional future characters? Or maybe they were working toward a spin-off for the Mike Fulton character? I do not know. The result, though, is that these episodes felt like watching a TV pilot. It was good TV in a familiar and emotionally painful way. It *felt* like a Punky Brewster episode even if it largely was something else.
  • This show – as I mention after every single recap – is just emotional brutality. “I lived in a trailer with my dad. One day I came home from school and the trailer was gone.” I mean… just… wow. Did kids watch this show? Small kids? I know adults who are not emotionally healthy enough to handle the week to week of Punky Brewster. I am writing and recapping Highlander: the Series, in addition to this show. It is about someone who fights endless combats to the death. That show is less harrowing than this one.
  • Billy Lombardo was terrific as T.C. I was genuinely surprised to see that he only has three acting credits – with this being one of them. I’m not sure if he just never caught on or if he did not want to be in the business. He was a talented child actor, though.
  • TK Carter was equally great as Mike Fulton. Based on the round of impressions he delivered when meeting T.C., I was not surprised to read that he started a stand-up career at age 12. Since Punky Brewster, he has been a very busy actor. Most recently, he had a small part in the Ben Affleck film, “The Way Back.”
  • James Le Gros portrayed Blade. He walked the line between threatening, but not too threatening for network TV, successfully. He is most well known for his character Rick in the movie “Drugstore Cowboy.” But he remains a busy actor today. Most recently, he was a regular character on the TV series “Hunters” where he portrayed Chief Grimbsby as well as having a recurring role in “The Passage” where he portrayed Horace Guilder.

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