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:
Punky gets a radio controlled race car by accident from a toy raffle when the toy company mistakenly believes “Punky” is a boy name. To Henry and Allen’s surprise, she wants to keep the car, she successfully puts it together, and the car runs really well. She wants to race it against some neighborhood boys on their private backyard track. They tell her “no girls allowed.”
At first, Henry agrees with the boys’ right to exclude her from their private race. Punky and Cherie dress up as boys to sneak Punky’s car into the race, anyway. Just before the race starts, Punky accidentally reveals herself to be a girl. Henry – who sneaked into watch the race – finally stands up for Punky to the boys and their father. The boys give in. Punky wins the race.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
As the episode starts, Mrs. Johnson, Punky, and Cherie are attempting to crochet on the couch. Their goal? An afghan. Unfortunately, Punky and Cherie are having some trouble. Mrs. Johnson tells them that they can just buy an electric blanket instead.
Henry enters the apartment wearing a hat that looks like a buffalo and carrying a very large package. Mrs. Johnson, while laughing, tells the girls to run for cover from a stampede. Henry says that his hat represents fifteen years of loyal membership in The Benevolent Order of the Buffalo.
Henry: It’s a dignified and responsible organization.
Mrs. J: It’s certainly responsible for the biggest belly laugh I’ve ever had. [laughs uproariously]
Henry: Let’s leave your big belly out of this.
Henry asks Punky if she thinks that he looks ridiculous.
Henry: Let me put it this way. Do you want this package I picked up for you or shall I return it to the post office.
Punky: Henry! I love that hat. What package?
Punky put her name in a fishbowl to win a prize – and apparently she won. However, while she was expecting to receive a tea set, she instead receives a radio controlled toy race car. Henry laughs that the toy company thought “Punky” was a boy’s name and then admonishes her not to open it. He believes that if she opens it they will not take the toy back.
Punky: But how will I know if I want to keep it or not?
Henry: Punky, you don’t want to keep it, it’s for boys.
Punky: Why? It doesn’t say “boys only” on the box.
Henry: This car has to be assembled. There are more than one hundred pieces in there. You’d never be able to put it together.
Punky: You mean… cause I’m a girl?
Henry: Well… yes. In a manner of speaking.
Mrs. J: BUFFALO BULL! That’s Punky’s car! Let her build it!
Punky tells Henry that she really believes she can build the car. Henry, still wearing the buffalo hat, tells her gravely that it is a wise buffalo who walks carefully in unknown pastures.
Some days later, Henry is in the yard reading a book. Allen walks up and asks him where to find Punky. He tells Allen that Punky is in her room working on the model car and that she has been doing so for days.
Henry: I’m just hoping that she’ll emerge before it’s too late for her to find a husband.
Allen tells Henry that he offered to build it for Punky and that she told him it wouldn’t be the same if she did not do it herself.
Allen: Of course it wouldn’t. If I built it, it would run! [Allen and Henry laugh]
A moment later, Punky’s colorful car peels through the yard followed a moment later by Punky. Allen and Henry express their amazement that the car runs.
Punky: Of course it does Henry. That’s what it’s supposed to do.
Henry: This is extraordinary Punky. I’m very proud of you. I’ve got to get my camera. I must have a picture of my little grease monkey.
Allen: Compared to this, my car looks like a tin can on retreads. Great job, Punky.
Allen asks if he can borrow her car to race at Mr. Matzie’s. Punky asks who that is and Allen tells him he is Richard’s dad and that he built a great track for the guys – complete with a mud jump, sand pit, and hairpin curves. Punky tells Allen she wants to race her car there, herself. Allen informs her that there are no girls allowed at this track.
Punky is not having that. She tells her friend that she built the car with girl hands and a girl brain.
Punky: Kick it in gear, Allen. We’re going to that track. Right. Now.
Allen: [shaking his head] Women.
We see a montage of racing radio controlled toy cars around a dirt track. We see a few moments later that the racers here are a few years older than Punky and Allen. It’s not that anything specific is said to make us think this, but the impression from this montage is that Punky will have a hard time being accepted as a racer by this group. A few moments later, she and Allen arrive.
Mr. Matzie: Hello little lady, what you got there, a sewing kit?
Punky: No, this is my car. I built it myself and I’d like to race it.
Mr. Matzie: That’s real nice honey and I’m sure it’s a monster machine… [the boys laugh]… but we don’t have any powder puff events here.
Punky looks hurt. One of the older boys asks Allen if he’s nuts and then asks if he can go anywhere without his little girlfriend. Allen says he didn’t want her to come.
Allen: But you know women. Nag, nag, nag.
Boy: Yeah, well this ain’t no tea party. So get her out of here before she hurts herself.
Allen: She just wants to show you her car. You ought to see it. It really cooks. [Punky smiles enthusiastically]
Mr. Matzie: So does Betty Crocker but you don’t see her here.
Punky: Listen, if you’d just give me a chance…
Mr. Matzie: Nothing personal, honey, but maybe you should go home and play with your dolls.
Mr. Matzie and the other boys all walk away from Punky. She asks Allen to do something. He suggests that she loan him her car so that he can win the race. Punky storms off.
At home, Punky tells Henry all about what happpened. Henry concedes that Mr. Matzie did not have a very diplomatic approach. She is ready to go back to the track, this time with Henry, when he tells her instead to sit down. He decides to tell her about the Minerva Underwood story. Henry cites her as the first, last, and only female ever admitted into his lodge.
Punky: Oh. It’s a buffalo story.
Henry: We bison tried to explain no cows allowed. Minerva was determined.
He explains that after a petition, letters, and a lawsuit, they eventually admitted her into their lodge. However, Henry says that after the second meeting, she never returned. Punky asks Henry to drive her back to the track.
Henry: The point is Punky, you can drive that infernal car anywhere. Why must you go to the one place you’re not wanted?
Punky: Because it’s wrong of them to keep me out. And I want you to tell them that.
Henry: I can’t tell them that, Punky. I think they’re right.
Punky now looks hurt and betrayed. She backs away from Henry and sits on the couch.
Sometime later, Mike knocks on Henry’s door. Henry is making spaghetti bow-ties, Punky’s favorite, and Mike says that it smells good. Mike asks Henry where Punky is and Henry tells him that she is sulking in her room. Mike tells Henry that she asked him to speak with Henry about the car.
Henry: That child can be so stubborn. Typical female.
Mike: Really. I didn’t know that there was such a thing.
Henry: She cannot resist a challenge. She only wants to be there because she can’t.
Mike: She put a lot of hard work into making that car. She just wants to race it on a regulation track.
Henry: That’s not the point. She’s a little girl. I don’t want her hanging out with a bunch of ruffians at a race track.
Mike: These are boys her own age, Henry, not the Hell’s Angels.
Henry says that he was a nine year old boy once and remembers what it was like. Mike tells him little boys don’t wear knickers anymore and that things have change. Henry says, that’s another thing, and that he wants Punky to start dressing like a little girl instead of a tomboy.
Mike: Now hold on, Henry. What if Sally Ride’s father felt the same way? There would be no women in space. Or what about Joan of Arc’s dad?
Henry insists that Punky will forget about the whole thing in a week or two and Mike disagrees, arguing that Punky wants Henry to stand up for her rights.
Henry: And I happen to believe that it’s a boy’s right to pursue his activities without girls.
Mike asks Henry if he would be standing up for Punky, if she was a boy, and Henry tells Mike that she is not a boy and that she will not be hanging around the race track, and that his decision is final.
Henry: [angrily] Now sit down and let’s enjoy this delicious dinner!
The two men sit down together and eat in an uncomfortable silence. Finally Mike breaks the silence by saying that it does not seem fair to be having so much fun without Punky. He stands up and calls for her. The two talk in the living room. Mike tells her the good news is that she is eating spaghetti bowties for dinner with fudge for dessert. Punky intuits that the bad news is that they are eating with a buffalo who will not take her to the race track. He tells her to wash up so that they can go eat. On his way back to the kitchen, he finds Brandon the GOOD BOY chewing on a sock.
Mike: Brandon, Braondon, don’t chew on Punky’s sock! [Takes it from his mouth and replaces it with a different sock] Here, chew on Henry’s.
Some time later, Punky and Cherie show up to Mr. Matzie’s race track dressed as boys. Punky announces that the track doesn’t look so hot and that they will have time to blow their doors off and be home in time for the hockey game. Cherie spits on the ground and says “yeah, man.”
Punky introduces herself to Mr. Matzie as Bucky Warnimont and she introduces Cherie as Charlie Johnson. Mr. Matzie asks how they heard about the track and Punky replies that she doesn’t know, maybe it was the locker room or the pool hall or one of those other guy places that they hang out in.
Punky: Right Chuck?
Cherie: [spits] Yeah, Buck.
Mr. Matzie introduces them to the other boys. One of the older boys punches Punky in the shoulder and says “nice car.” Punky says thanks. Then she turns to Cherie mouth agape in a silent agony. Mr. Matzie reveals the trophy that they will be racing for and says it’s the reward for the thrill of victory. Just then, Allen runs into the yard, too. One of the older boys, upon seeing Allen, says “and here comes the agony of defeat.”
Richman, the older boy, introduces Allen to Bucky and Charlie. Richman notes that Bucky looks kind of familiar and asks if he knows Bucky from somewhere.
Punky: You ever fight in the golden gloves?
Punky: Your little league make it to the state finals?
Punky: You into karate?
Punky: Then you don’t know me.
Mr. Matzie tells the racers that it’s time to start. Allen looks at Bucky’s car and realizes that he is Punky. Punky warns Allen to be quiet. Allen tells her that if Mr. Matzie finds out he will blow a gasket. Allen looks at Chuck and asks *him* if he knows he is hanging out with a girl.
Just as the race is about to start, Henry wanders into the yard to watch. Punky asks Richman if he is nervous. He takes his hat off and says to “shut up and get ready.” Punky mimics Richman and takes off her hat to say she was born ready. Unfortunately, removing her hat reveals that she is a girl. Richman pulls off Chuck’s hat to reveal that he is “Cherie.”
Richman: It’s another girl! Hey Dad, we are being invaded by women!
Punky tells Mr. Matzie that she just wants a chance. He tells her that she is a gutsy little lady but that she is disqualified. Henry walks over and asks why she is disqualified. Mr. Matzie says that it is because she is a girl.
Henry: Buffalo bull! I’m ashamed to admit it but I used to be just as big a jerk as you.
Henry says she built the car, that it qualifies for the race, and that he is here to stand up for her right to race it. Punky is surprised and elated. Allen asks Richman if he is scared to be beat by a girl. The other boys start making chicken noises at Richman, too. Richman says he wants to race her.
The race starts. Punky and Richman jockey back and forth for the lead while Mr. Matzie does color commentary with a megaphone. Punky passes Richman on the last corner of the race and wins narrowly.
Mr. Matzie reluctantly hands her the trophy and Punky tells him it will look great on her shelf right next to her dolls.
For the most part, I thought Punky Brewster did a pretty solid job with an episode about gender equality. OF COURSE girls can build a car, race it, and even beat the boys. That is true in particular when that girl has PUNKY POWER (a phrase we sadly did not hear as the race neared its conclusion.) I hope that this episode helped to sell a lot of those radio controlled race car toys to girls.
I did have a few problems with the story though. I felt like Henry was more misogynistic than normal – so much so that it felt out of character. Do I believe that Henry would take the side of a “boys only” group being allowed to remain “boys only”? Absolutely. Do I think he would mock his adopted daughter’s ability to build a car with her friend Allen? Absolutely not. Do I think he would privately refer to her as a “typical female” to her school teacher? Also no. The show did not give me a realistic Henry and probably pushed him a little too far onto the villain side of that “girls vs. boys” debate because the story needed him to be a villain. His character was dictated by the plot rather than the other way around.
It’s one thing to defend a private group’s right to remain private. Punky basically walked into someone’s elaborate backyard and demand that they play with her. Henry is probably right, in some sense, to push back on her as to that. Punky is right that a grown man treated her poorly, that this track is the only place where she can legitimately race her car, and right or wrong, she should be able to depend on her father to stand up for her. Henry failed her. If Henry’s reaction had been more nuanced it might have helped. I’m imagining something more like this:
“Look, Punky, it’s their yard. They can play with whomever they want. But I will talk to Mr. Matzie for you, tell him you have a great car, and see if he will make an exception for you at least once. He might not be willing, though, and that is his right.”
Instead, Henry spent the first two thirds of this episode acting as though he does not really even like women. It was strange.
Was it surprising that he changed opinions at the end of the show? No. It’s one thing to believe – in your head – a thing. It’s another thing to see someone else apply that thing against someone you love. Once Henry saw the boys at the track excluding Punky, his heart got involved, overruled his head, and he finally stood up for her.
Allen talking to Punky in a misogynistic way was not totally surprising. He was simply mirroring the way that the other men in his life (other than Mike Fulton, at least) talk to and about women – Punky’s own father included. That said… he did 1) admit her car was better than his once he saw it, 2) defend her to his racing friends (all of whom were older than him) on her first visit to the track when she was openly a girl, 3) defend her again to them even after they made fun of him for it, and 4) defend her yet another time on the second visit when Richman did not want to race a girl. Allen even helped push the older boy into a willingness to race her.
Allen is not perfect but when push comes to shove he is there for Punky Brewster.
Did the Mike and Henry argument get a little too heated? Uh, yeah. Is Mike a little too involved in Punky’s personal life at home? Uh, yeah. I am now assuming in my head canon that Mike has real concerns that Henry is not a completely suitable place for Punky to be living. As any of my Punky Brewster readers might attest… I have had similar concerns.