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 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’s classroom is traumatized by the explosion of The Challenger space shuttle. Punky is particularly hurt by what happened because she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up.
Her teacher Mike arranges for Buzz Aldrin to speak with Punky. He helps her to deal with her feelings an encourages her not to give up on her dreams – even if they might seem dangerous or crazy to her friends.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
The episode begins with Punky lying in her bed, at night, while Brandon listens to music (“How Much is that Doggy in the Window”) on his headphones.
Punky is writing in her diary. She tells the diary that Henry advised her to write her feelings in a journal, but since she does not know what a journal is, she is writing in her diary instead. She says a few weeks ago something occurred that made her sad. The sad thing that happened was that the Space Shuttle blew up. She says that it bothered her especially a lot because… then she decides that maybe she should start from the beginning.
She flashes back to a few days before it happened. She was home after school showing Brandon a card trick. She lets him pick a card. She then puts it back in the deck. She shows him the three of spades and asks if that was his card and he barks a yes. She tells him she knew it was his because it was the only card with doggie slobber on it.
She tells Brandon he should learn the trick because it might help him get together with the lady Beagle he is always barking about. He perks up at that mention. Punky winks at him and he winks back.
Henry comes in through the living room door. Punky runs into the living room from the kitchen and excitedly tells Henry that Friday is career day at school. Henry says that on this occasion, he will give her a present he has been wanting to give her for a long time. Punky cannot decide whether she wants Henry to tell her what the present is, or to show her, so Henry decides to tell her what it is and to show her simultaneously. He got Punky her very own camera. It is… large and box-like. She is not excited.
Henry: It’s the first camera I ever used.
Punky: It looks like the first camera anybody ever used.
Punky tells Henry that she knows he wants her to follow in his foot shoes but states that she has no interest in photography. Henry and Punky go back and forth clarifying that she has no interesting at all in photography before she tells him that she has always known what she wants to be when she grows up. Shen then says she needs to start working on her outfit for career day. She leaves Henry on the couch with the comedically aged camera to go work on said outfit.
Henry tells Punky that he is sure there are a lot of children who would jump at the chance to take over a thriving business. She says he is probably right and she offers to ask around at school to provide him with a list of names.
Just then, Brandon runs out from the kitchen with a mouth full of cards. Punky tells him to try the trick on Henry. Henry pulls a Queen of Diamonds from Brandon’s mouth before putting the card back from where he got it. Brandon runs around behind the couch with all the cards. When eh emerges from the couch, he has the Queen of Diamonds in his mouth.
Henry: That’s amazing! Good boy! Brandon, would you be interested in photography? [Brandon runs away through the doggie door into the kitchen]
At school, the children are dressed up for career day – each in costumes/outfits representing what they will look like on the job. We see a ballerina, a police officer, and even a black-clad jewel thief. Mike asks Cherie to stand in front of the class and explain her career first. She starts by saying that she wants to be an architect – and has wanted to be an architect since last night at 10:30 when she could not come up with another occupation. She then shows a drawing of an apartment building she calls “Cherievale” and she describes it as a place where people of all races and religions can live together and pay her high rents. The class laughs and Mike has them cheer for the Frank Lloyd Wright of the fourth grade.
Allen is next. He comes to the front of his classroom, rips off his coat, and reveals a Rambo costume was on beneath. Mike tells Allen that Rambo is not a career and Allen replies that it is for Sylvester Stallone. Mike tells Allen, to his surprise, that Stallone also played Rambo. Allen is notably impressed by the actor’s range and returns to his seat. Margaux announces that she is next. She is wearing a sparkly pink dress, with her hair up. Mike guesses that she wants to be a heavy machinery operator. She tells him and the class that she wants to be the lady who shows off the prizes on gameshows. Mike is bewildered.
Margaux: My idol is Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. No one points like Vanna.
She hands Mike some cards to read and walks over to his desk to sit on it. Mike begins describing a four poster bed, by Sleepaway, while Margaux smiles and points at the top of the desk as though it is the bed. She goes on to demonstrate Mike-described diamond rings and a ski boat. When the class laughs at her miming of riding a ski boat, though, Margaux is not amused. She hops off the desk and calls her classmates “peasants.”
Next up is Punky. She and Brandon come into the classroom in space suits she has designed. She says that she and Brandon want to be like Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon, and Sally Ride, the first woman in space. She tells the class that Brandon wants to be the first dog on Mars and that she hopes they have fire hydrants there. Punky says she has always wanted to be an astronaut and says that someday she wants to touch the other side of the sky. Abruptly Cherie tells Mike that she wants to be an astronaut, too. The rest of the class echoes her. Mike tells the class that when the space shuttles goes up again the following week and that he has a special interest in this launch because a teacher will be going up this time – becoming the first teacher in space. He asks the class if they would like for him to bring his television to class so that they can watch the launch together and everyone enthusiastically says yes.
Sometime later, we see Punky come through Henry’s living room door with tears in her eyes. Henry asks why she is not in school and she says that the school sent them home. Henry asks her what is the matter and she tells him that they were watching the space shuttle take off when it exploded. Henry is surprised and asks if she is sure. She nods yes. Henry picks up the television remote but she asks him not to turn on the TV because she does not want to see the explosion again. Henry agrees but says that he thinks they should talk about it.
Punky tells Henry about watching the launch, about the flash and smoke from the craft, how Mike turned off the television, and how the kids in her classroom – including herself – began to cry. Punky tells Henry that Mike cried, too, and asked them all to hold hands and to say a prayer for the astronauts.
Punky: Why did it happen, Henry?
Henry: I don’t know honey, it’s hard to understand. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
The next day at school, Mike talks to his class about what happened. Margaux says that she kept thinking that what they watched was not real. Allen agrees and he says that he kept hoping that it would go to commercial and that when they came back, the astronauts would be saved by Mr. T. Mike points out that it didn’t happen and the class says no. He asks the students what they think about the astronauts and Punky offers that she thinks they were really brave.
Mike: They didn’t get to finish their mission, did they?
Mike: But they did get started on their way. Now is that a good thing?
Mike: Should we be proud of them?
Allen asks Mike if he thinks this will stop the space program and Mike replies that he does not think so. Allen says that his father things they should stop it. Margaux says that they may keep the program going, but she says she is not sure if a teacher will want to go on another mission. Mike says that he would go.
Margaux: What about you, Punky.
Punky: Well, it’s always been my dream.
Margaux: But Punky it’s dangerous!
Cherie, Allen, and Margaux all says that they do not want to be an astronaut but Punky says that she does.
Allen: After what happened to the shuttle? Punky, you’re crazy.
Later, we see Henry wearing a dress. Mrs. Johnson is working on it. He asks her why she did not use a dummy and she says she is using a dummy. She accidentally sticks him with a pin. When he tells her how much it hurt, she tells him to be a man. He looks down at himself in the dress. Just then, the doorbell rings and Henry says “oh no.” He flees his living room into the kitchen as Mrs. Johnson opens the door.
Mike enters Henry’s apartment with Buzz Aldrin. She is initially stunned into silence upon seeing Buzz Aldrin. When she pulls herself together…
Mrs. Johnson: Buzz Aldrin? The astronaut?
Buzz: That’s right.
Mrs. Johnson: Get out of here! The guy who walked on the moon?
Buzz: That’s right.
Mrs. Johnson: Get out of here!
Mike asks Betty where Punky is and she tells him that Punky is upstairs with Cherie. She leaves to go get her. Henry calls out to Betty to ask who is at the door. Mike replies and goes to see Henry in the kitchen. Mike starts laughing at the sight of Henry in a dress.
Mike: I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m looking for Henry Warnimont.
Mike tells Henry that Buzz Aldrin was in the city for a lecture and that he got in touch with him regarding Punky. Mike says he came right over. Henry asks if Buzz Aldrin is here, in his apartment, and Mike tells him yes. Henry is so excited to meet Buzz that he runs out into the living room, forgetful that he is wearing a dress. Henry runs out and begins shaking his hand. He asks to have a picture taken with him. Mike does the honors.
Instead of saying “cheese” Mike tells Henry to say “dress.” Suddenly Henry is horrified at what he is wearing. Henry apologizes to Buzz Aldrin and yells at Mike for not stopping him. They leave for the kitchen as Punky enters the living room. She recognizes him and is stunned. She tells him that she did not recognize him without his space suit.
Buzz: Well, I would have brought it but it’s at the dry cleans. I spilled Tang on it.
He talks to her about her desire to be an astronaut. He tells her that astronauts are explorers and that all throughout history, people have thought explorers are off their rocker. He shows her a gift that he brought for her. It’s a t-shirt with a “young astronauts” logo. He asks her if she would like to join the young astronaut program. She says she would. He gives her a form to fill out. Brandon barks and Punky asks for a second form for him.
We flash forward to where the episode started, with Punky writing in her diary. Punky says she still wants to be an astronaut no matter how scary it might be. She says – to her diary – that Henry has told her one must take risks when doing something no one has ever done before.
Punky: And here’s something I realized all by myself. “If” is a word smack in the middle of life. Isn’t that deeeeep?
As the episode ends, she takes Brandon’s headphones off of him and goes over to sit in her windowsill staring out at the sky. She tells Brandon that someday the two of them will go to the stars.
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. That was 35 years ago today. Punky Brewster did this episode in response to the accident.
The Challenger explosion is one of those “I remember where I was when it happened’ events for people who are old enough to remember it. This was still during the era when Americans – and the world – were entranced by space travel. This particular mission had drawn extra attention due to the presence of teacher Christa McAuliffe. Given Punky’s overt interest in space travel – established well before this episode – it made a lot of sense for this show to be the one to discuss the trauma with its audience.
I think the episode did a pretty good job handling the subject matter. The seriousness of what happened was not downplayed and the adults gave good responses to the questioning children. Buzz Aldrin dropping by Henry’s apartment was, uh, improbable, but once Punky established a friendship with Marvin Hagler early in season 2, famous astronauts dropping by no longer strain my ability to suspend my disbelief.
I actually found Buzz Aldrin stopping by more realistic than Henry Warnimont wearing a dress.
My favorite reaction to meeting Buzz Aldrin was from the scene stealing Susie Garrett. Mrs. Johnson’s “get out of here” and her very realistic blushing were fun to watch.
The other highlight from this episode, for me, was Allen’s Rambo costume on career day. It was both unexpected and hilarious.