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 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.
[NOTE: This episode is one of the episodes that was not included on the NBC App. It *is* on the Peacock app, which I now have. I’ll review this episode and the other episodes I missed and re-number my episode guide.]
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
Punky signs up for a tap dancing class from the famous Braodway star, Jersey Janet. She is so terrible that she wants to quit altogether. However, Henry encourages her to continue trying. Despite not getting better, Punky is permitted to be a non-dancing participant at her class’s big show. The positive experience from the big show leaves her open to continuing to learn.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
The episode begins with Henry and Mrs. Johnson working on their outdoor garden. Henry asks her how much money she thinks that they have saved by growing their own vegetables. She tallies up the soil, plants, and equipment and guesses that they are one hundred and fifty dollars in the hole.
Up in Punky’s treehouse, the kids are discussing how to play air traffic controllers.
Margaux: How do we play that?
Punky: I think first we go on strike and then we get replaced.
Margaux suggests instead that they play Broadway Musical and she decides, predictably, that she herself should be the star. Punky asks Margaux why she should get to be the star. Margaux answers her by tap dancing before answering.
Margaux: That’s why.
We soon learn that someone named Jersey Janet will be giving tap lessons to Margaux, Cherie, and even Allen starting next week. Punky asks Cherie why she did not tell her. Cherie tells her that she wanted to tell her but that Margaux said telling Punky would hurt her feelings. Punky replies that it hurts her feelings more than they did not tell her. Margaux pulls Punky aside.
Margaux: Punky, this is a dance class. You have to dance in it.
Margaux: Punky you have lots of wonderful qualities and goodness knows we love you. But a tree stump has more rhythm than you.
Punky protests that she has a lot more rhythm than a tree stump. Allen chimes in that they were afraid if she took Jersey Janet’s class that she would really embarrass herself. Punky vows to her friends that this is a risk she will have to take.
Some time later, all of the kids are at a dance studio in tap dancing attire. Punky’s attire is characteristically colorful. A few moments later Jersey Janet tap dances her way into the room as the children cheer.
Jersey Janet: Ah, come on kids, that was nothing. But the time Jersey Janet is through with you, you will all be making grand entrances.
Punky asks her new teacher if she can teach anyone to dance. Janet replies that she can and that she once taught a cat to dance. Punky is confused but before she can process the reply the energetic Jersey Janet tells the class to bow their heads in a moment of silence for the dancers of the past. They bow their heads for all of about 2 seconds before she energetically continues.
Janet: That oughta do it!
She introduces the class to Mac – the music director for what she says will be their big show six weeks hence at the Fleebo Theater. As the kids are murmuring she tells them to get in their places. The kids soon begin to “brush, brush, back.” Most of the class picks this up quickly – except for Punky. Jersey Janet grabs her by the head and whispers to her.
Janet: Don’t worry honey, you’ll get it.
The class continues on and begins to cover other things. Punky continues to struggle but she does so enthusiastically. Janet again assures her privately not to worry and that she will get it. Punky continues on poorly and gets reassured a third time with Punky chiming in that she knows, she knows, she will get it. Margaux is asked to do a time step and executes it flawlessly. Allen goes next. He performs better than Punky has, however, he tells Jersey Janet that he feels as though he has two left feet. She points out that he has his shoes on wrong. Cherie tries next.
Janet: It’s coming, honey. You know you’re lucky, honey. You’ve got a dancer’s body.
Cherie claims that she will remember this moment for the rest of her life. When it’s Punky’s turn to try, she fails pretty miserably at her attempt. The entire class laughs. Janet tells them to stop and that they can learn a lot from Punky.
Margaux: How not to do it?
The class erupts in laughter again. Punky is beginning to look dejected but Janet says that they can learn from Punky how to give it their all.
Janet: You know Punky you’ve got a lot of personality and you’ve got a lot of pizzazz. What we’ve got to do is get that pizzazz down to your toes where you’ll do some good. Don’t worry honey, you’ll get it. The cat did.
After the class session breaks up, Margaux tells Punky that she has nerve and that she wouldn’t be able to stand being in a class where everyone was making fun of her. Punky reminds Margaux that Janet said she has pizzazz.
Margaux: That’s just a nice way of saying you have the rhythm of a tree stump.
The class resumes after a break and a more visibly dejected Punky continues to try but the aforementioned pizzazz is gone. She eventually walks over to grab her jacket – while the other kids are still dancing – and leaves the room.
Elsewhere we find Henry in his photo studio. A man rushes in and asks if Henry takes passport photos. Henry says that he does. The man asks how long it will take and Henry tells him about ten minutes. As Henry readies the studio to take a passport photo, the man puts on a fake mustache, glasses, a hat, and Henry tells him to get out. He pleads with Henry as Henry gently but firmly pushes him out of the photo studio.
As the door swings back open, Henry shouts “out!” only to immediately retract the yell when he sees that it is Punky. He apologizes and tells her that he did not expect to see her back so soon. Henry tells Punky that he is so glad she is taking tap lessons from a star like Jersey Janet. He adds that he thinks he might be her biggest fan. Henry asks how she liked the class.
Punky: Henry! Did you know tap dancing can be bad for your heath?
Punky: Yeah! It gives you great big muscles in your legs. Then when you get old all that muscle turns to fat. Then you get varicose veins and your feet turn green and a doctor has to cut them off and none of your shoes fit anymore. I asks you is it worth it? I say no.
Henry asks if the class went badly. She tells him that she was awful. Henry warns her that quitting can become a habit. Punky tells him that he does not know what it’s like having all of his friends laughing at him. He tells her that he knows exactly how that feels.
Henry tells Punky that he wanted to be a sailor for his entire life. He says that when he joined the Merchant Marines, he got sea sick walking up the gang plank.
Henry: From then on, whenever the captain yelled “heave-ho” the entire crew looked at me.
He goes on to tell her that he thought of quitting at the first port. She asks if he did and he says no. He adds that one day, after endless trips to the rail of the ship, he developed his sea legs and never got sick again. She asks if he thinks she can develop her tap legs.
Henry: Punky, if you try your hardest you can do anything.
Just then, the man from earlier returns in a woman’s dress and asks if Henry takes passport photos. Henry again shouts for him to get out and again shoves him backward through the door.
Sometime later, Henry is sitting at his kitchen table with Brandon. They are both working on the newspaper’s crossword puzzle. Punky taps her way through the room. Henry asks her where she is going and Punky tells him that today is the day Jersey Janet is giving out the parts for their big show. Henry tells her to break a leg. When she look s at him confused, he tells her that it means good luck.
When Punky returns home, she is angry. Upon arriving home, she takes off her tap shoes and puts them in the building’s trash drop. She then yells down at the shoes after she drops them.
Punky: And stay away from my feet!
Henry asks what happened and she says that it was even worse than last week.
Henry: All your practicing didn’t help?
Punky: No. I just got really good at being bad.
Henry tells her that you’re not a failure if you do not give up. Punky says that Jersey Janet is not putting her in the show. Henry is surprised but Punky says “how can she, I was the worst dancer in the class.”
Henry drops by Jersey Janet’s studio and ends up singing a song with her to her delight. She asks if he is here to sign up for her swinging seniors class. She tells him that he ought to sign up and she says he remembers the song better than she does. Henry tells her that he saw her sing at the USO.
Janet and Henry flirt with each other while they introduce themselves to one another. She tells him to “put ‘er there, Hank” and shakes his hand.
Henry: Usually I dislike being called “Hank” but coming from you it’s lovely.
Jersey Janet is quite flustered now. Henry pulls her aside and tells her that he is Punky Brewster’s foster father. She says “oh” and Henry asks if she is that bad. Janet tells Henry that Punky is a klutz. When Henry takes offense she tells him that when she was Punky’s age, she was a klutz, too.
Janet: I was a cow on crutches. But I outgrew it.
Henry asks if this means that Punky will have a chance to be in his show. She replies that all of the kids are in the show. When he asks what Punky will do if she cannot dance. Janet, seductively running a finger up and down the lapel of Henry’s coat, tells him that they should make Punky’s role their little surprise. Now it’s Henry’s turn to be flustered.
On the day of the show, we find out that the children are performing “Spring Loose.” When the curtain is pulled back, the children are revealed to be costumed as tap dancing flowers. After a while of not seeing Punky, she finally appears. Punky is in a bee costume, hooked to wires, and she flies around on the stage.
After, Henry runs into Punky’s teacher again.
Henry: Thank you, Jersey.
Janet: It was nothing, Hank. The kid’s got pizzazz. And so do you, sailor.
Mrs. Johnson tells Cherie that she must have a green thumb because she sure has grown a pretty little flower. Henry sees Punky and tells her that she was wonderful. Punky says thank you and adds that maybe next time they will let her keep her feet on the ground. Just then, the wires lift Punky back off the ground as the episode ends.
This episode really resonates with me. Like Punky, I have many wonderful qualities (I presume.) Like Punky, I had at least one glaring flaw as an elementary school aged kid. My flaw was an inability to swim well. Years of lessons as a child did not improve my aquatic skills. I learned to avoid situations where that lack of ability might prove to be a problem for me. Then… years after I gave up the hope of becoming a competent swimmer, my track and field coach decided that our team which competed on our feet, on the solid ground, needed to incorporate swim practice. My request to miss these “cross training” practices in order to run on my own was denied. I was – as a near adult of 17 years – forced to wear flippers on my feet, and floaties around my arms, to ensure that I could complete the swimming drills without drowning. I was a public spectacle to my team of 70 or so peers. Like Margaux with Punky, I even had the experience of a teammate telling me privately that he would quit the team before going through with such a humiliation as the one I was enduring.
I know *exactly* how Punky feels in this episode. I can’t really relate to her in any other way (her life is a circus of unimaginable trauma) but I understand her feelings at least in this episode. I think most people have some task or lack of talent that they struggle with, at some point in their life, and that lack of ability humiliates them. I really appreciate how the writers handle the story.
- The irrepressible and popular Punky is the one dealing with the humiliation
- She does not magically work hard and become competent by the end of the episode.
Any kid watching this episode draws a lot more from the fact that the kid who struggles is Punky rather than the perpetual struggler Allen. If Punky Brewster with all of her try-hard Punky Power can struggle at something… anyone can struggle… and that’s okay! The relatability might have been lost if Punky had figured the tap dancing out after some practice. I am glad she did not figure it out for that reason.
Henry handles Punky’s situation very well. He encourages her to continue trying. He lets her know that getting better might take a long time. He also verifies from Punky’s instructor that she is communicating a similar message to his daughter. Not only does Jersey Janet convey that message to Punky, she allows Punky to take a positive experience (the bee performance) away from what is otherwise a terrible and humiliating ordeal. Punky ends the episode knowing that she is not a good dancer but she has some hope that she might get better someday. She is no longer afraid to continue trying even if she is struggling. That is a great lesson for kids to absorb.
I am reminded of something Kurt Vonnegut once shared: