Punky Brewster (Season 2, Ep 18): The K.o. Kid

Hi. Welcome back to my re-watch of Punky Brewster. If you want to read my prior reviews, you can check them out HERE.

I am watching this show on the NBC App. For some reason, not all of the original run episodes are on the NBC app. As a result, I will only review the ones I can see. If I find the missing episodes, I will blog about them, re-number my episodes, etc.

I will provide a short episode summary here at the top, then a long and detailed summary just below that. There’s a sub-section near the bottom (scroll down) labeled “reaction” if you just want to get right to my thoughts about the episode.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

On the same day that boxing champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler visits her school, Punky is beaten up by a school bully. Punky turns to Hagler for help so that she can win the next confrontation with the older girl named Moose McGirt.

The boxing lessons do not work out. However, Punky manages to convince everyone in her school to stand up to the bully, together, and together they take down the lunch-stealing giant.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:

[Oh boy. Here we go again. I am resuming my re-watch of the most emotionally abusive show in television history. Punky Brewster is the story of how an unmarried, poor, cantankerous, and family-less sixty year old man, Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes), improbably gets custody of a small little girl, Penelope “Punky” Brewster. Punky is a little girl who has been abandoned separately by first her father and then recently her mother Susan, while they were inside a grocery store. After a couple of weeks on her own, Henry finds Punky living alone, with only her puppy Brandon as company, inside an apartment in the building of which Henry is a manager.

Season 1 brought us Punky’s abandonment by her mother Susan, her trip to the orphanage Fenster Hall, her custody hearing, her panic attack when she mistakenly thought Henry was abandoning her in a grocery store just as her mother had a few weeks earlier, a car wreck that nearly killed her dog, an almost trip to an overseas boarding school, her attempt at running away from home that nearly ended in her death courtesy of the Chicago winter elements, and a home invasion, among other zany misadventures. I also have a theory that Punky has supernatural powers.

Dear Readers: Never forget to be angry that this show was targeted at small children in the mid 1980s. God help you and restore your souls to health, Gen X and Old Millennial kids, who grew up watching this show.

Just hearing this theme song puts my physical body into a fight or flight mode.]

The theme intro is somewhat the same as in Season 1 but with a couple of new bits. T.K. Carter (a/k/a Mike from the “Fenster Hall” season finale episodes) is now listed as a regular cast member. In addition, the animation sequence to end the theme song, with Punky forcing a smile onto Henry’s face with her fingers, has improved and is now much less frightening.

It appears that Mike has left Fenster Hall and is now Punky’s grade school teacher. He asks her class how many of them read chapter four in their health books the previous night and everyone raises their hand. He asks who wants to answer questions first and every student drops his or her hand down to their desk with a thud. Mike walks by Allen’s desk and raises his hand back up. He thanks Allen.

Mike asks him if he knows what the biggest organ of the body is and Allen guesses the wurlizter. The class laughs. Mike prompts that it’s the only organ that gets goose bumps and Punky raises her hand and says he is talking about skin. Suddenly there is a knock on the classroom door. Mike tells them that a world-famous celebrity is at the door.

Mike says “tell us who it is Howard” and then begins himself doing a Howard Cosell impersonation. As Howard Cosell, Mike introduces the class to “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, a world-champion professional boxer. Marvin Hagler enters the room and the kids, in unison, say “Hello Mr. Hagler.” He asks them to address him as Marvelous, so they say “Hello Mr. Marvelous.”

Mike tells Marvelous that they are glad to have him in their classroom and Hagler replies that he is glad to be there and that he is glad to be anywhere that nobody is throwing punches at him The classroom laughs. Mike tells the class that Hagler is in town training for his next major fight. The boxer takes questions from the class.

Cherie asks him what his toughest fight was and he replies that it was when he told his mother than he wanted to become a boxer. Punky asks where his championship belt is and Hagler unbuttons his suit jacket and reveals that he is currently wearing it.

Hagler: I never leave home without it.
[Classroom laughs]

One of the kids says that he wants to be a boxer just like him and Hagler replies that if one wants to become a boxer, it is important to train the mind just as much as it is important to train the body. He tells the kids to stay in school and to get a good education.

Mike: Marvelous, would you say that you’re the greatest boxer in history.
Hagler: Well, my mother told me never to tell a lie. So, yes. I am.

Mike launches into a Muhammad Ali impersonation wherein he gives the “I am the greatest” line that Ali made famous. Hagler replies by mimicking talking from his right hand. When Mike is done, Hagler puts his arm around Mike’s head and gives him a noogie. This of course causes the classroom to laugh again.

When class is over, Mike invites Hagler to lunch in the cafeteria.

Hagler: That sounds like a threat.

A group of kids are standing together in the hallway. Allen mimics boxing and asks if they think he could make it as a boxer. Margaux tells him “only in a supermarket.” As they walk together down the hall, another older student – probably about 12 years old compared to their 9 year old age – rounds the corner. Punky and her friends watch she the older girl takes a younger girl’s lunch from her.

Margaux: Uh oh, there’s Moose McGirt!
Punky: She’s an awful bully.
Margaux: Here she comes!

Moose approaches them and calls them hot warts. She demands a lunch inspection. She is not impressed by Allen’s peanut butter and pickle sandwich. After he calls her Moose, she gets him to repeat it “Miss Moose” and then she sends him on his way. Margaux is next up for lunch inspection. The young blonde haired girl has brought a quiche and a cup of chocolate mousse.

Margaux: It’s mousse, Moose.
Moose: What are you some kind of twosy good shoes?
Margaux: Don’t you mean goody two shoes?

Moose shouts at her to beat it and she runs away. Next up is Cherie and her lunch bag is empty. She ate it on the way to school because she was hungry. Last up for Moose? “Plunky.” Punky corrects Moose about her name and tells her that she only has a plain old boring bologna and cheese. Moose says that’s her favorite.

The two girls have words. Punky offers to share the sandwich. Moose is uninterested. Punky tells her that taking lunches is not nice. Moose does not seem to care. Punky pushes Moose away from her.

Moose: You just made the biggest mistake of your life… Gunky.

Moose shoves Punky into the girl’s bathroom and we (the audience) hear her beating Punky up from outside the room.

Back at Henry’s apartment, Brandon is watching a soap opera. We hear a woman on the TV tell someone that since getting her memories back, she does not love someone anymore because she has forgotten how to love. When Brandon hears Mrs. Johnson in the hallway, he hopes off the couch and turns off the TV. He gets on his chair just as Mrs. Johnson enters. She is dressed for playing golf. A moment later, Henry enters the apartment carrying the golf bag. Henry chastise Mrs. Johnson’s unwillingness to take a senior citizen’s discount. She says she will not tell anyone her age for a lousy three dollars.

Mike rushes into the apartment and tells them that there has been a little incident. He tells Henry that Punky has been in a little fight. Punky wanders into the apartment behind Mike with a big black eye and an ice pack wrapped to the top of her head.

Henry: A little fight?!
Punky: If you think I look bad, get a load of my sandwich. [Punky holds up her sandwich bag which looks to now be in very poor shape.]

Brandon the good boy immediately begins licking her face. Henry asks if she is alright and she replies that she has had better days. Henry asks who did this to her and Punky replies “Moose.”

Henry: You were attacked by a moose?
Mike: Moose McGirt. Her real name is Melanie but her friends call her Moose.
Punky: What friends?

Mike tells Henry that Moose has been taking the kids’ lunches. He tried to call the bully’s mother but her parents are currently in Alaska for survival training.

Punky: I’ve seen her mother. She looks like Rambo.

Mike tells Henry that he will talk to the principal to see what steps they can take and that he will not work at a school that allows fighting. At least not without combat pay.

Mrs. Johnson looks at Punky’s face and grimaces. Henry asks her what it is and she tells him a black eye. She tells Henry to relax and that all three of her children had “schoolyard scrapes” while in school. Henry tells Punky he does not approve of fighting.

Punky: But Moose started it!
Henry: Still, you didn’t have to go along with it.
Punky: I couldn’t help it! She took my sandwich and threw it in the trash can.
Henry: Why didn’t you just walk away?
Punky: ’cause I was still holding the sandwich.

Henry notes that this Moose person sounds like an animal. Punky tells Henry that Moose challenged her to another fight on Saturday. Punky tells Henry that she can’t back down and Henry raises his voice and forbids her to fight again. Mrs. Johnson sends Punky into the kitchen to get some fresh ice.

Once alone, Mrs. Johnson tells Henry that Punky is standing up for something that she believes in. She warns Henry that if he forbids her to fight that the 9 year old girl might lose her self-esteem.

Henry: If she fights she may lose her teeth.
Mrs. J: What good is having all your teeth if you’re ashamed to show your face?

That night, Punky is looking at her black eye in a mirror. She asks Brandon how she is going to hide it and he fetches her a pair of sunglasses. Henry knocks on the door and asks if her eye hurts. She tells him that her eye is fine but the black and blue part around it is killing her.

Henry: I panicked this afternoon when I saw you were hurt.
Punky: That’s funny because I panicked while I was getting hurt.

Henry tells her that the thought of anything bad happening to her scares him to death. Then he recounts a story from his own childhood where he had to confront a school bully named Norbert “No Neck” Noodleman. Henry tells Punky that the boy used to call him “Henry Wormymouth” – which causes Punky to burst out laughing. Henry tells her that he realized that the only way to stop the bullying was to square up with the bully. Young Henry sent away for the Charles Atlas guide to body building and then he explains to her that Charles Atlas was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his generation. He tells her that within two weeks he bulked up from a ninety pound weakling to a ninety-two pound tower of determination. He tells Punky that he punched his bully in the nose and his bully ran away.

When Punky notes that Henry must have felt great after, he tells her that he did. Then he tells her that he felt sad. Henry learned that no matter how justified, it never feels good to hurt another person. Punky tells Henry that Moose seems to get a kick out of hurting other people. Henry tells her that he wishes she were not tasked with standing up to the girl.

Punky: Henry, are you un-forbidding me to fight?
Henry: I’m giving you the latitude to make your own decision. If you can avoid a fight, please do. But if you can’t, please give it your best shot.
Punky: Thanks, Henry.

After Henry leaves, Punky puts her sunglasses back on. She has an epiphany.

Pnnky: Brandon! Who needs Charles Atlas when you’re personal friends with Marvelous Marvin Hagler?

In the next scene, we see Punky and Brandon entering a gym where Hagler and others training. She looks around wide-eyes. She sees him and shouts at him. He tells her he is kind of busy. She continues on by telling him that she met him the day before in her classroom. He looks over and tells her to let him wrap this up. A few punches later his sparring partner is on the ground. He walks over to where Punky is standing, takes a knee to talk with her, and tells his partner to take a break.

Punky explains to Hagler that she was beaten up. He invites her into his office (i.e. the ring) and she climbs up. Her fight with Moose is in three hours. Hagler tells her that by the time they’re finished with her, she will be known as The K.o. Kid.

Punky goes through a training montage with Marvin Hagler and the other guys in his gym while a Rocky Theme knockoff plays in the show’s musical score.

After the montage, we cut to Allen – with his hair styled to look like Don King – promoting the fight and selling tickets for $1. Punky arrives and Cherie asks where she has been. Punky tells her that she was taking boxing lessons from Marvin Hagler. Cherie asks what she learned and Punky replies “that I can’t box.” Cherie tries to talk Punky out of fighting. Moose arrives. Margaux now advises Punky to call this off and Punky tells them that she has to go through with it or else they will all continue to be picked on by Moose. Punky rolls up her sleeves and puts up her dukes.

Cherie: Punky’s so brave.
Margaux: Yeah. I’m really gonna miss her.

As the fight begins, Moose shoves Punky to the ground and advises her to stay down.

Punky: No way. Every time you push me down, I’m gonna get back up. And I’m gonna keep getting back up until you stop picking on people. Every time you take somebody’s lunch you’re gonna have to go through me to get it. Now, are you willing to do that every day for the rest of your life?
Moose: Sure.

Cherie runs out next to Punky and tells Moose that after she goes through Punky, she will be next. Margaux jumps in and says that after she goes through Cherie she will have to go through Allen. Eventually all of the kids join the group in standing up to the bully.

Moose says that it’s unfair to ask her to fight all of them. Punky says that’s what she will have to do.

Punky: What do you say, Moose?
Moose: [pointing at the sky] Look! A duck! [she runs away]

The kids cheer. Allen shouts that Punky is the little weight champion of the fourth grade.

The kids carry Punky away as the Rocky knockoff music plays.

Roll credits.

REACTION:

Welcome back to Punky Brewster, kids, where our plucky protagonist is beaten to a pulp by the much older school bully during the season premiere and where every adult seems content to let it happen again.

The degree to which Punky rolled with the literal punches in this episode gave me a strange impression that it was not the first time she’s been beaten up. Let me again implore Henry Warnimont to AT LEAST set up Punky with regular visits to the school counselor. My goodness. We still do not really know what trauma lies in this poor little girl’s past. The stuff we do know about needs THERAPY.

So what do you do when confronted by a bully that you cannot and/or will not avoid? You learn to fight. When you cannot learn well enough to fight, on your own, what do you do? You raise an army. And an army of little people brought down the giant of Punky’s school.

The true hero of this episode was Cherie. Punky being Punky is expected. Cherie joining her in that fight at the end is what gave everyone else the courage to do the same.

Brandon the good boy was the other hero of this episode. Head pats and treats for the pupper who watches soap operas, licks faces, and fetches sunglasses.

Margaux seems to be less awful this season. That’s good. Allen is still the brightest ray of sunshine on the show. I am happy to see T.K. Carter’s Mike in the main cast. I assume that means the show will be spending more time at Punky’s school this season.

Substantively, it is an absolutely bizarre plot to have Hagler come talk to a classroom of 4th grade kids. If you were going to get a celeb at your school, he was in the big auditorium! Duh! They did not even play this as though Hagler was an old friend of Mike the teacher. He just randomly visited the classroom and then left.

I do not suppose that Marvelous Marvin Hagler won an Emmy for his guest-starring role in this episode. However, it was a crazy throwback to see a professional boxer featured in a show targeting YOUNG children. (The target demo for Punky Brewster was ages 2-11.) In the mid 80s, Hagler was a bona fide celebrity. The sport of boxing has lost a lot of its star power in just a generation. An episode of television like this one would not be made today, and if someone wanted to attempt it, I have no idea who the guest star would be. Conor McGregor, maybe? Ronda Rousey?

All in all, this was a typical feel good Punky Brewster episode. Something truly terrible happened and then we all felt good when the source of that pain was stopped. Alas, we know that the next episode will bring with it a new torment.

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