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:
A serial killer is on the loose in Punky’s neighborhood and everyone – including Punky – is terrified. Punky in particular is worried that Henry will be murdered.
After ignoring Punky’s fear for most of the episode, she nearly has a panic attack one night when Henry has to work, and Henry has a conversation with her about how she needs to trust him to be careful. The killer remains at large when the episode ends.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
Henry, Punky, and Cherie are playing a board game called “Kiddie IQ.” Henry notes that despite the name the questions are very difficult.
Punky: Name Big Bird’s best friend.
Henry: Kermit the frog.
Cherie: [laughs] Sorry Henry, wrong again.
Punky: The correct answer is Mr. Snuffleupagus.
Henry insists that no adult would know this. Just then, Mrs. Betty Johnson comes quickly into the apartment and asks if she can turn on the news. As she is hurriedly getting the television ready, Henry asks her to name Big Bird’s best friend and she is familiar with Snuffy.
Mrs. Johnson is concerned about something else, though.
Mrs. Johnson: Henry, he struck again.
Mrs. Johnson: The Northside stalker.
We (the audience) watch along with everyone in Henry’s apartment as the news details what has occurred. The camera shows us the north side apartment where the body of the stalker’s seventh victim was discovered. Henry abruptly turns off the TV and sends the girls to their room, noting that what they are watching is not appropriate for children.
Punky: But you let me watch old war movies with you.
Henry: That was make-believe. This is real.
Punky: World War 2 is make-believe?
The girls run out of the room and Henry turns the TV back on. The newscast shows a sketch of the stalker based on eyewitness descriptions.
Mrs. Johnson: Why he looks just like David Letterman!
[Note: The killer does not in fact look like David Letterman.]
Newscaster: Speaking of killers, Wally, how about that killer snowstorm headed our way?
Mrs. Johnson turns off the TV and she confesses to Henry that this stalker thing scares her to death because it is right in their neighborhood. Henry believes that the news is sensationalizing the killings to attract viewers and he tells Mrs. Johnson that she is overreacting.
Mrs. J: Henry, what is this world coming to when you can’t even feel safe in your own home?
Henry: Well, I’ll give you that much.
Mrs. J: Why don’t you put an alarm system in this building?
Henry tells her that he thinks alarm systems advertise to would-be burglars that there are good things worth stealing inside. Mrs. Johnson then asks Henry about putting new locks on the building. He replies that the locks in place now are adequate.
Mrs. J: How would you know? You never use them. I walked right in through your unlocked door. For all you know I could have been a mass murderer.
Henry: Well, you do have the mass for it.
Mrs. J: You’ve got to be real careful cause this guy is CRAZY. He doesn’t just break in to steal your TV or your stereo, he comes in to kill you dead!
Henry advises Mrs. Johnson to keep her voice down so that the girls do not hear and she tells him that the girls already know. She says everybody in Chicago is running scared. Henry tells her, though, that if the whole city is scared, that is all the more reason that the two of them should remain calm. Mrs. Johnson does not seem convinced but she reluctantly agrees.
[Let me just take a break here… this show has a serial killer this week? I mean, one week Punky fights a literal demon, in a cave, in hand to hand combat, another week she learns that her friend is a kidnapping victim, another week her dog is almost killed pushing her out of the way of a moving car, another week she walks in on a home invasion in progress… you know what? Sure. Why not? Serial killer week for a show aimed at small children!
Let’s get our guesses in now. Henry fights off the killer by the episode’s end? Brandon fights the killer? Punky chops him with her magical tomahawk? Blade is the serial killer? Mr. Pieces from the cave demon episode is the serial killer? The maintenance guy from season one is the serial killer? Punky’s mom did not abandon her – she was murdered by this guy? I’m betting on Henry taking the killer out and in the process, unknowingly avenging Punky’s mother.]
The girls are looking at the killer’s sketch. Punky thinks he looks like a monster from outer space and Cherie thinks he looks like David Letterman. The two girls talk about the killer. Punky notes that he has killed six people already. Cherie tells her that someone that know at recess, knows someone, who knows a piano tuner. The piano tuner tuned the piano of victim number four… and never got paid.
Punky: You know what’s really scary? He could break into any house.
Cherie: Yeah, even in here.
Punky suddenly decides she has nothing to worry about. She has “Bloodfang.” Cherie does not know who Bloodfang is and Punky explains that she knows him as Brandon.
Punky: But when I or one of my close personal friends are in trouble he becomes Bloodfang.
Cherie: [looks over and lying down Brandon] Come on, that dog’s a pussy cat!
Punky walks over to “Bloodfang” and tells him to assume the attack position. Brandon the GOOD BOY rolls over on his back, paws up. Cherie notes that he assumed the “rub my belly” position. Mrs. Johnson tells Cherie it is time to go. Punky advises Cherie to be careful going upstairs and Cherie reminds her that the third floor is a lot safer than the second floor.
[I don’t remember Cherie being so sassy before but I dig it.]
Punky tells Brandon that if he cannot protect them, she will have to come up with a way to protect both of them.
That night, Henry enters her room. He walks across a trip wire that rings a bell. Punky sits up in her bed and yells “who’s there, sick ’em Bloodfang!”
Henry: It’s me!
Punky: You scared me!
Henry: I scared you? [Henry takes a few more steps forward and pops balloons strategically placed on the floor.]
Henry tells her that if this is a joke, he is not amused. She tells him it is not a joke, it is her security system. Henry asks why she needs a security system and she replies that this will let her know if “he” comes to get her.
Punky: The stalker!
Henry tries to comfort her by telling her the stalker does not bother children. He tells her that the killer is only after grown ups. Punky offers to send Brandon to Henry’s room at bedtime and he refuses on account of Brandon’s snoring. Henry tells Punky that the police will catch the stalker and that they have three hundred detectives assigned to the case.
Punky: Henry, why does the stalker act like this? Why does he break into houses and kill people?
Henry: He can’t help himself. His mind is very sick.
Punky: I bet he’s never gonna stop. He’s gonna keep killing isn’t he?
Henry tries to encourage her to think about other things. He tells her to think about good people and points out that this killer is only one bad person in a world filled with good people. He sets off several more parts of Punky’s security system on his way back out of the room.
At school, Henry visits Mike while he is grading papers. We learn that Mike asked to meet with Henry because he is worried about Punky. She made a drawing depicting Henry’s murder.
Henry is surprised and says that this is “that stalker business.” He explains to Mike that he told her to put it out of her mind. Mike replies that telling her that will not work.
Mike: Punky’s afraid. Her fear won’t go away by ignoring it.
Henry suggests staying at home with her for a few day sand Mike tells her that will not work, either, because it will only be giving into her fears.
Henry: What should I do?
Mike: Henry, I want you to talk to her, reassure her, tell her that it’s natural to feel afraid, but she shouldn’t let her fear rule her life or yours.
Henry thanks Mike for the advice. After a long pause, he admits that ignoring the stalker is his way of dealing with his own fears.
At home, Punky is watching Lassie. She asks Brandon if they can watch The Brady Bunch instead but Brandon barks and apparently tells her no. Henry calls to her from the kitchen and tells her it is dinner time. She asks why they are eating so early and he tells her that he has to go to work after dinner. Punky tells him that he cannot go to work at night.
Henry: Punky, this is not the first time I have had to work at night.
Punky: It’s the first time since the stalker!
She asks to go with him and he tells her that she is staying here and that Mrs. Johnson is coming down to stay with her. She pleads with Henry not to go and he tells her that he will be perfectly fine.
From Punky’s expression, she is not happy with this decision. After sitting down to eat, she puts her hand on her head and begins to feel ill. He clearly does not believe her but gets up to fetch their thermometer. While he is out of the kitchen, she grabs a marker and puts dots on her arm. As Henry returns, Punky informs him that while he was gone, she broke out into a terrible rash. Henry wipes her rash off with a napkin.
Henry: When a rash smears, it isn’t too serious.
Henry tells her that she is pretending to be sick so that he does not go to work. The two of them walk out into the living room. At that moment, the newscaster breaks into Brandon’s episode of Lassie and informs the residents of Chicago that the Northside Stalker has claimed victim number eight.
Punky is now nearly to the point of tears, pleading with him not to leave, lest the stalker get him. Suddenly it dawns on Henry that he did not heed Mike’s advice form earlier. He asks Punky to sit next to him so that they can talk. Henry talks to her about fear. He says that everyone in the city is locking their doors and windows and being more careful of their safety.
Henry: That’s healthy fear.
Punky: So it’s good to be afraid!
Henry: Up to a point. If you’re so scared that you won’t go out of your house, or you spend all your time worried, that’s an unhealthy fear.
Punky: [angry] I don’t care! I still don’t want you to go!
Henry: Why not?
Punky: [yelling] Because you’ll never come back!
He asks her how she knows that and she tells him that always happens.
Punky: My father left and never came back. My mother left and she never came back either.
She tells Henry she could not stand it if she lost him. Henry confesses that he worries about losing her, too. He tells her that every time she crosses the street by herself, he worries, and wishes he were with her. But, he says, he knows that he has to trust her to be careful crossing the street by herself. She tells him that she always looks both ways before crossing the street. Henry tells her that he knows and that is why he trusts her.
Then, Henry tells her that she needs to trust him, too. He promises to be very careful when he goes out so that he can come home to her safe and sound. He promises to be extra careful.
Mrs. Johnson and Cherie arrive. She asks him to be careful and Punky tells her that Henry will.
What in the childhood trauma was going on with this show? It aired right after football games. Did the announcers give little plot summaries?
“Tonight, after the game, tune in to Punky Brewster, where a serial killer is on the loose in Chicago… in Punky’s neighborhood! Following that, Silver Spoons!”
For most of season 2, Henry has been a pretty good parent. This episode felt like a relapse into the Season 1 version of Henry. Even after Mike called him in and showed him the drawing, even after Punky was lying to him about being sick to convince him to stay at home, Henry was STILL preparing to just ignore Punky’s fears about the serial killer. It should not have taken a near panic attack to get his attention. His perspective and advice were relatively good advice for adults. He sometimes forgets that his nine year old has suffered some pretty unbelievable trauma. But that lesson to be attentive should have been learned by now. In this instance, he was just informed of it specifically by a teacher. I would say Punky should be placed with someone else but by now the trauma of moving her to a more suitable home would be as bad as the trauma of her staying where she is.
I just cannot get over the fact that this show was for SMALL children. How many Gen Xers should be in therapy attributable to this show?
The episode ends with the killer still out there and still killing?! What in the world?!
Were there any bright spots in this terror fest? A few. I enjoyed Brandon’s love of Lassie. I enjoyed Punky’s introduction of “Bloodfang.” Soleil even got her voice down deep and scary. I also enjoyed the introduction of sassy Cherie. For the most part, Punky’s best friend is not given enough dialogue to have much of her personality shine through. However, in this episode, we see a side of Cherie that’s willing to tell her best friend that Punky is more likely to be murdered than she is because Punky is on the second floor and she is on the third floor. Wait… is that a bright spot? Was there just a hint of fire-eyes like she had when she was possessed by the cave owl demon? I’m not sure.
Let’s just move on from this episode altogether.
One thought on “Punky Brewster (Season 2, Ep 36): Urban Fear”
The producers of the show used it to address issues that affect kids. Like when they had the episode about the space shuttle exploding. And the Just Say No episode.
It’s a fact that some children live in places with high crime. One of the few memories I have of first grade is when a man tried to abduct a kid right in front of my elementary school. I got so scared, I forgot I was supposed to take the bus to the YMCA and ran home (I lived across the street from my school) and panicked when no one was home. My neighbor wasn’t home and my brother’s godparents weren’t home. I was a teary mess by the time my mom got home.
Children see or hear things on the news and get scared. Henry thought the best way to handle her fear was to pretend it’s unwarranted so that it will pass, and so she stays a kid and only worries about the things kids should be worrying about. He also admits that ignoring it was also because he was dealing with his own fears. It’s a difficult thing. How do you ease their fears so they retain their innocence without making it seem like we don’t live in a world where bad things happen. If this were done now, it would probably be an episode about school shootings. When I was a freshman in college, at home my parents were dealing with the DC Sniper. My mom had actually just left a gas station when one of the victims was shot. I was scared that anytime I turned in the news, I would see that someone I knew was dead.
One of the reasons I love this show is that it doesn’t shy away from the hard topics. This was my favorite show as a kid. I even dressed up as Punky for Halloween and had the Punky doll. I’ve been watching the show again in preparation of the reboot starting this week.
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