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 later, 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:
(Guest starring Candace Cameron) Punky and Cherie see the picture of their new friend and neighbor, Julie, on a milk carton. They show her. She realizes that her dad has lied to her about her mother not wanting her anymore and she runs away from home.
We learn that her father was worried that his ex-wife would limit his ability to see Julie (real name Jennifer), by moving to the west coast. He took her in an effort to avoid never seeing her again. Henry points out, now that Julie is missing, he knows how his ex-wife must have been feeling for the last eighteen months. Eventually Brandon finds Julie in Punky’s treehouse and Punky convinces Julie to come inside and talk to her dad. The show ends with Julie’s father calling his ex-wife and placing Julie on the phone.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
The episode begins in the treehouse. Cherie, Punky, and Brandon are cleaning it. Cherie – with a broom – asks why trees have to change their leaves. Punky points out that Brandon missed a spot and the GOOD BOY goes back over the spot he missed and cleans it again.
Suddenly a new girl is standing quietly down at the bottom of the tree. Punky notes that she looks lonely and suggests to Cherie that they invite her up. Punky calls down to Julie and asks if she wants to come up. Julie smiles up excitedly but says she cannot come up because she promised her dad that she would stay in the yard.
[NOTE: JULIE IS BEING PLAYED BY TEENY TINY CANDACE CAMERON!!!]
Punky points out that the treehouse is in the backyard.
Julie: Yeah! At the top of the back yard! Here I come!
Suddenly Julie’s dad emerges and tells her to get down.
Punky: It’s okay Mr. Whitney. We invited her up. She’s not trees-passing.
Julie’s dad tells the girls up in the tree that she has to come inside and eat her lunch. Julie tells him she is not hungry and he tells her she has to come inside anyway. After she goes, Cherie tells Punky that she feels bad for Julie noting that her father never lets her have any fun. Punky wonders what is going on. Cherie offers that her grandmother says you can learn a lot about people from their furniture.
Punky: Their furniture?
Cherie: Yeah, we watched them move in. They had almost nothing.
Punky: What did she learn from that?
Cherie: Almost nothing.
Punky theorizes that Mr. Whitney is a Russian spy. She thinks he came to Chicago to spy on the space shuttle.
Cherie: The space shuttle isn’t in Chicago?
Punky: He’s from Russia. What does he know?
Inside, Henry and Mrs. Johnson are greeting Mr. Whitney. Mrs. Johnson tells him that he will love living in the building and that all of the people who live there are nice – except for Mrs. Holschnider who does nothing but gossip. Mrs. Johnson then relays to Henry that just yesterday their gossipy neighbor told her that the Wasserman’s are going to a marriage counselor.
Henry: Oh. I hope he’s a good one.
Mrs. J: Well how could he be? She met him at a singles bar.
Mrs. Johnson tells him that everyone else in the building minds their own business. Then she asks him what line of work he is in. He tells her sales and she says that with his good looks and personality she believes he is probably a cracker jack salesman. Julie has been listening.
[NOTE: Teeny tiny Candace Cameron is adorbs.]
Julie: [smiling] Daddy, do you sell cracker jacks?
He tells her no and then tries to rush out with her and end their conversation with Henry and Mrs. Johnson. As the two Whitneys are leaving, Henry and Mrs. Johnson invite them over for a group dinner. Mr. Whitney says that he appreciates the invitation but that they cannot make it. Julie says that they can make it and that she is tired of TV dinners. Mr. Whitney reluctantly agrees to attend the dinner. The Whitneys cross the hall and into the apartment (2D) in which that Punky was once a squatter. Mr. Whitney looks regretfully at Henry’s door as they go inside their own apartment.
Later that night, Punky, Cherie, and Julie are in Henry’s kitchen attempting to bake a cake. Mrs. Johnson is in there with them getting them started. She asks Julie if she ever made a cake with her own mother and Julie replies that she does not remember her own mom very well. Cherie asks if they can make the cake by themselves and Mrs. Johnson agrees to leave. Before she goes, she tells them that she remembers the first time she made a cake with her friends growing up and that half of the fun was making a mess of her mother’s kitchen. The girls laugh. Then she says that her mother gave her a whooping she will never forget and advises the girls not to forget it, either. Then she leaves.
Punky: There goes our food fight.
The girls proceed to attempt to bake a cake. Julie reasons that they are at altitude because they are on the second floor. The girls also confuse a giant wooden spoon with a table spoon because it was lying on the table. When the cake is done, the girls debate whether and how to take a bite. They decide to take small bites of the bottom layer and to fill the holes they leave with icing. Punky gets a carton of milk from the fridge so that she and her friends can drink some milk with her cake.
Punky: Hey Cherie, look a this.
Cherie: What is it?
Punky: A picture of a missing girl.
They both turn and slowly look at Julie who seems confused. Julie says that the girl cannot be here because she has white hair. Punky wipes the flour off the pictures and Cherie chimes in that it cannot be Julie because this girl’s name is Jennifer Bates. Julie is suddenly alarmed and says that she has to go home. She takes the milk carton and runs out of the apartment.
The two girls shouting at Julie as she leaves wakes Mrs. Johnson.
As dramatic music swells, we see Julie frantically knocking on her own apartment door. Her dad answers the door and asks her what is the matter.
Julie: Daddy this is me, isn’t it?
Mr. Whitney sighs, ushers her inside, and closes the door.
Back at Henry’s apartment, Mrs. Johnson asks the girls what happened. Punky and Cherie tell her that it was weird and that all they did was show her the picture on the milk carton. Henry apparently has more milk because Punky shows Julie’s picture on another carton to Mrs. Johnson. She tells the girls that they have a problem. She calls Henry.
Later, we see Henry looking at the milk carton. He tells them that it could be Julie – depending on the angle, lighting, shutter speed, etc. Mrs. Johnson tells Henry that the child could be Julie and Henry agrees, noting that Julie Whitney might be a false name.
Mrs. Johnson tells Henry that their gossipy neighbor was unable to get any information from Mr. Whitney at all. Henry says that Mr. Whitney wanted to pay rent by the week, which is odd. Mrs. Johnson states that the weekly payment was so that he can make a fast getaway – which is why she says he also has no furniture. Henry asks Punky if Julie has many friends at school and Punky tells him that she does not go to school. Julie says that her father teaches her at home.
Henry: That’s strange.
Punky: I’ll say. If you go to school at home, where do you go when you go home from school?
Mrs. Johnson tells Henry that they should call the number on the milk carton. Henry says that if they do that, they are accusing Mr. Whitney of a very serious crime. He wants to think it through, first. The girls sit in silence, watching Henry, as he appears to think. Henry decides to call the number.
Just as Henry is about to make the call, he hears a knocking on his door. Mr. Whitney is there. He asks if Julie is there and they tell him no. Mr. Whitney tells everyone that Julie came home a little while ago and went into her room. He went to check on her and found the window open. He is panicking. Henry, the two girls, and Brandon go to look for Julie while Mrs. Johnson remains behind in case the little girl returns.
Cherie: Brandon isn’t a blood hound.
Punky: We’re not looking for blood, Cherie, we’re looking for Julie.
Punky tells Brandon to find Julie and he sits there doing nothing. When she shows him the picture on the carton, though, he barks and runs out the door.
Later, it is dark outside, and we see Mrs. Johnson making phone calls to neighbors to see if anyone has seen Julie. Henry and Mr. Whitney burst through the door to announce that they could not find her. Henry asks if Punky and Cherie are back and Mrs. Johnson says no. Henry tells Mr. Whitney that they have done all they can and that they need to call the police. Mr. Whitney insists, shouting, that they not call the police.
Henry: Because of this? [shows him the milk carton] Maybe you better tell us about it.
Mr. Whitney: My ex-wife tried to take Julie, Jennifer, away from me. She even tried taking away some of my visitation rights. And then one weekend I picked up Julie, and I, I, didn’t take her back.
Henry: You kidnapped her.
Mr. Whitney says it is not like that because she is his child and he did not like her being cut out of his life. Mrs. Johnson reiterates that he stole her. He pleads that it was an act of love and Henry tells him it was pure selfishness. Mr. Whitney says his child is missing and that he cannot stand not knowing where she is.
Henry: Now you know how her mother must feel.
Mr. WHitney leaves.
Later that night, the girls are outside alone, with a flashlight, calling for their friend. Cherie says she does not think Brandon knows what he is doing and says all he has found is every fire hydrant on the block.
Punky: He’s just following his nose.
Cherie: That’s not what it looked like to me.
Suddenly Brandon the GOOD BOY puts his paws on their treehouse tree and barks. Punky decides to climb up and check. She gives Cherie the flashlight and tells her to check in the laundry room.
Inside the treehouse, Punky looks around. She notices a place where Julie is hiding and pretends to go back down. A moment later, Julie comes out of her hiding place and is upset to see her friend. Punky asks her why she ran away. Julie tells her that she does not want to talk about it. Punky asks if that is her on the milk carton and Julie nods her head. She finally tells Punky that her father told her that her mother does not want her anymore.
Julie: If she didn’t want to see me then why would she put me on milk?
Punky: You’re right. She must be trying real hard to find you.
Julie: Why would my dad do this to me?
Punky suggests that she ask her dad and Julie says she is not talking to him.
Julie: Every time I make a friend we have to move. And every time we move I have to change my name.
[Note: Gonna take a short SOBBING break.]
[Alright, I’m back.]
Julie tells Punky that she never wants to see her dad again and that she plans to live in the treehouse for the rest of her life.
Punky: Boy, your mom wants you with her. Your dad wants you with him.
Julie: Yeah, isn’t it rotten?
Punky: I think it’s wonderful.
Sweet little nine year old Punky explains to her new friend that she was ABANDONED by her two parents and that Henry is her foster father. 😭😭😭
Punky: She drove me to a shopping center and never came back.
Julie: Why would she do that?
Punky: I don’t know. What really bothers me is that I may never get the chance to ask her why.
Julie: That would be awful.
Punky tells Julie she can ask her dad why he did what he did. Julie smiles and agrees. She tells Punky that she is a good friend.
Inside, Henry is talking to Mr. Whitney. He tells Henry that they have been on the run for a year and a half. He admits the entire time has been a nightmare of fear and running from town to town. Brandon and the three girls return to Henry’s apartment. Julie’s father is elated. Julie/Jennifer asks him why he took her away from her mommy.
Slightly unhinged, he explains to her that when her mom remarried, she and her new husband we planning on moving to the west coast and that it would mean he hardly ever gets to see her again. He tells her he was deeply afraid that she would forget him.
Julie/Jennifer: That couldn’t happen. You’re my daddy. And you always will be.
They hug. Mr. Whitney asks Henry to use his phone. Henry obliges.
Mr. Whitney: Roberta? It’s Richard. There’s somebody here who wants to talk to you.
Julie/Jennifer: Hello. Mommy?
Oh my goodness. Do all of these Gen X child star know each other? Did they all work together at least once? It seems that way. Candace Cameron Bure – before she was ever DJ Tanner – was ADORABLE.
Brandon was a hero dog yet again. I hope he was given many belly rubs and treats.
I think the notion of missing children having their picture on milk cartons is a bit dated now, but it used to be a tool for finding missing children in the U.S. Punky’s life is pretty fantastical, in a horrifyingly tragic kind of way. However, I am sure there are plenty of kids in the U.S. who saw a friend on a milk carton in a similar type of parental rights dispute situation. I assume many kids learned that they are missing in the same way.
This show is rough for me, obviously. This episode was rough in particular. There is just something horrifying about Punky explaining to Julie that the terrible life she is experiencing means that she is*lucky.* Both of Julie’s parents want her fiercely. Soleil Moon Frye did such a good job in this episode. She expressed her own pain, without dialogue, when Julie pointed out that she knew dad was lying.
Julie: If she didn’t want to see me then why would she put me on milk?
Punky: You’re right. She must be trying real hard to find you.
Punky does not verbalize it, but Soleil’s face showed us that Punky realizes her own mother did not put Punky on any milk cartons. I knew the explanation about being abandoned was coming and it still just obliterated me in the feels, anyway.
I guess it’s good that the episode ends where it ends. Mr. Whitney is going to prison. That probably doesn’t give us an uplifting finish.
Last thought on this one: Don’t get into a life tragedy contest with Punky Brewster.