Punky Brewster (Season 2, Ep 30): Just Say No

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 and Cherie join a club with some older girls who call themselves “the Chiclets.” Shortly after joining, they learn that the girls want to use Punky’s Treehouse as a place to use illegal drugs. Not only that, the girls want Punky and Cherie to use the drugs, too.

After talking to her teacher Mike Fulton, Punky and Cherie decide to tell the girls that they do not want to be in their group anymore. The subsequently decide to start a local chapter of the “Just Say No” Club. The episode ends with scenes from a real life “Just Say No” really in Atlanta, Georgia, led by Soleil Moon Frye.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:

This episodes airs immediately following the two part “Perils of Punky” saga wherein she fights an actual demon, so this episode should be lighter. HOWEVER… that episode title leads me to believe otherwise.

Mrs. Johnson and Cherie ring Henry’s apartment doorbell and come inside. Punky greets them but seems depressed. Mrs. Johnson tells her that if her face gets any longer, her chin will be scraping the sidewalk.

Henry explains that Punky is upset that she has outgrown her skates. Cherie suggests that they can go to Skata-a-rama where they can rent skates. Punky says that this is a great idea and that they need a wonderful adult to drive them there. Both girls turn to look at Mrs. Johnson. She tells them that she cannot because she has to work today. They then turn to Henry who also apologizes saying that he has a client coming by today. When the girls suggest riding the bus, Mrs. Johnson vehemently tells them that they are too young to ride the bus across town by themselves. Henry agrees and suggests that they go outside and enjoy the wonderful backyard. The girls simultaneously and dejectedly say “wonderful” as they go.

Outside the girls are attempting to share Cherie’s roller skates. They have Cherie’s right skate on Punky’s right foot, Cherie is wearing the left skate on her left foot, and the two feet in the middle are in shoes, tied together. They quickly fall on their bottoms. Punky suggests that they go up in her treehouse instead. Before they start their climb a group of older teenage girls (with giant 1980s hair) walk into the backyard which is open to the street. Punky addresses one of them as Emily. She pretends to be surprised that Punky knows who she is but Punky enthusiastically tells her that everyone knows who she is. A moment later, Emily reveals that she knows who Punky is, too. Emily exclaims that Punky has a great name and the three girls with her agree. Brandon the good boy does not seem impressed by these girls. However, Punky next introduces the girls to her best friend Cherie.

The older girls give their own names and tell Punky and Cherie that they are in a cool and exclusive club called the Chiclets. Cherie asks if this means that they all chew the same kind of gum. The older girls all laugh and comment on how adorable Punky and Cherie are. Cherie asks them what the Chiclets do and their leader, Emily, tells them that they hang together at the mall after school and mostly just stick together. Punky says that is what she and Cherie do. However, Emily rebuffs her and says that they are not in a club. The older girls – sounding like “valley girls” – tell the two nine year olds that if they are not in a club by the time they reach sixth grade they will be no one. The Chiclets start to praise Punky’s treehouse.

Emily: Hey, head’s up. Take it in. Is that treehouse unbelievable or what?
Girl #2: Like, unbelievable.
Girl #3: Outrageous!
Girl #4: Rrrad!

Punky asks if they like her treehouse. Emily tells her that the entire school is talking about her treehouse and she says that they had to come see it with their own eyes. Punky invites them up into the treehouse. Once there, Emily repeatedly says that she cannot believe it and suggests that the treehouse gives her an unbelievable idea.

Emily: How you you two, like, be interested in becoming Chiclets?

Punky answers by adopting Emily’s manner of speaking, sayin repeatedly that she hears it but she cannot believe it. Emily tells Punky and Cherie that they will have her initiation at tomorrow’s meeting. Punky asks where the meeting will be and Emily tells her they will meet in her treehouse.

Later, Mrs. Johnson rings Henry’s doorbell before letting herself in. She asks Henry who is sitting on the couch if her little monster is still playing with his little monster. Henry responds by saying that his child is not a monster and neither is hers. Mrs. Johnson tells him not to get his trousers twisted and points out that she is only joking. Then she yells for Cherie.

Mrs. Johnson: Cherie, get your butt out here before I blister it.

Punky and Cherie emerge from Punky’s room dressed like, and speaking like, the girls from the Chiclets. Henry is outraged. Mrs. Johnson asks them what is going on. Cherie and Punky explain that they are in a new and exclusive club called the Chiclets, comprised mostly of sixth graders.

Mrs. Johnson: Why would sixth graders want to hang out with you two?

Cherie asks her why not and tells her that they (she and Punky) are cool. Punky adds that the girls are so cool that they are having their meetings in the treehouse. Henry seems to be catching on now and he asks Punky why the girls did not invite them into the club before the treehouse was built.

Punky: Simple. We were just babies then. We’re much older now.

Mrs. Johnson reiterates that they should be hanging out with girls their own age. Cherie turns to Punky and asks if her grandma is living in the Dark Ages or what. Punky replies ‘for sure.’ Mrs. Johnson calmly tells Cherie that she will not be living at all if she does not take the make-up off of her face. She also tells Cherie that she can forget about being a double-mint (Chiclet.) Henry tells Punky that this also applies to her as well. The girls plead and tell the two grown ups that they will just be in the backyard. Henry asks Mrs. Johnson what she thinks. She relents but says that she wants the two of them dressing like Punky and Cherie, not pint-sized Pointer Sisters.

Later, Punky and Cherie are in the treehouse for their initiation ceremony into their club. The older girls ask each of them to drink a glass filled with raw egg yolks, ketchup, mustard, and horseradish. After each of their glasses are stirred, they are told to drink up.

Punky: Has anybody ever died from this?
Emily: Let’s just say it was never proven in court.

Punky and Cherie drink a glass filled with the concoction (it mysteriously looks like chocolate milk once stirred) before slamming their glasses down. Emily tells them that all they have left to do is to take the pledge. Punky says she will take anything as long as she does not have to swallow it.

Emily: Repeat after me. I, state your names…
Cherie and Punky: I, state your names…
Emily: Promise my most precious promise
Girls: Promise my most precious promise
Emily: To maintain my cool at all times
Girls: To maintain my cool at all times
Emily: To pray every night that Michael J. Fox doesn’t get taller
Girls: To pray every night that Michael J. Fox doesn’t get taller
Emily: And to hang with the Chiclets in good times and in bad.
Girls: And to hang with the Chiclets in good times and in bad.

MICHAEL J. FOX ‘ACTOR’ (1985) 01 May 1985 CT3030 Allstar/Cinetext/

[NOTE 1: I am strongly considering adapting some version of this pledge in the event that I ever start putting content behind a paywall.]

[NOTE 2: Their prayers worked! Michael J. Fox did not get any taller after 1985… he was in his mid 20s at the time but still.]

After hugs all around, Emily says that now they can really have some fun. She dumps some drugs onto Punky’s Treehouse dining table. Punky and Cherie look at each other with some concern. As Emily suggests that the newest Chiclets should get first choice, we cut to a commercial break.

[NOTE 3: In the event I ever adopt a pledge and a paywall for my content, illegal drugs will not follow after… you can rest assured.]

back to the regularly scheduled program

Punky: Are these drugs?
Emily: Just some grass, a few uppers, and a little nose candy.
Punky: Nose candy?
Emily: [cheerfully] Cocaine!

Emily explains that her older brother supplies their group with all kinds of drugs and tells the two younger girls that they do them all the time. Punky says that she does not feel good about this. Emily pushes the drugs and explains how they make you feel better after taking them. When Punky and Cherie tell her that they already feel good, she tells the two younger girls to stop acting like babies and to start acting like Chiclets. One of the Chiclets – not Emily – says that they are just kids and that they do not have to take the drugs if they do not want to. This angers Emily who says that they do. Emily suggests that maybe they should not be Chiclets. Cherie and Punky both says that they should. Emily tries to hand the two girls some marijuana before Punky puts her off by saying that maybe they will next time. Emily is now angry and tells the other girls that they are moving their party to her house. Before she leaves, Emily has some final words.

Emily: I told everyone that you were cool. I put my rep on the line for you two. Don’t make a liar out of me, okay?

After the older girls leave, Punky asks Cherie what they should do and she says that she does not know.

Later, Punky visits her teacher Mike in his classroom. The room is empty and he is the only one who is in there. He is trying and failing to write arithmetic on his chalkboard. Punky tells him the pneumonic device she uses to remember how to spell that word. Mike tells her that she now knows his secret – he is a teacher who cannot spell.

She tells him that he is the best teacher in the school and that she wishes he was not her teacher. He is confused and she explains that she needs advice from someone who is older and wiser. She says all of the older wiser people she knows will get angry with her for getting herself into the trouble she is in. Mike asks her to pretend that he is not her teacher and promises not to get angry. He asks her what her problem is and she tells him “drugs.” She explains to him what happened with the girl club she joined and the demand that she and her friend take drugs upon entering.

Mike explains to Punky that her problem has a name – peer pressure.

Punky: Yeah, that’s me. I’ve got peer pressure up to my eyeballs.

Mike tells her that he was in a similar situation when he was younger. Several of his friends liked riding around in fast cars. Punky says that does not sound so bad but Mike tells her that it is bad when the cars belong to someone else. She asks him what he did and he replies that he found new friends. Mike’s new friends liked staying in school and listening to James Brown. Mike starts singing and dancing to “I Feel Good” (as one does in the middle of a serious conversation about drugs with an impressionable 9 year old.) When he’s done she asks him who James Brown is and he remarks that he is aging faster than he thought. He returns to the subject matter at hand.

Mike: The point is that people want to fit in. The trick is to find people you fit with.

Punky says that’s the tricky part. Mike goes to his desk and pulls a book about a club which hosts kids from all across the country. He tells her that he believes she would be more comfortable in this group. Then he gives her the book and tells her to take it home, check it out, and tell him tomorrow what she thinks. On Punky’s way out of the room, she tells Mike that turnips help all new kids sing. Mike writes THANKS on his chalkboard.

Sometime later, in the treehouse, Punky and Cherie tell Emily that they do not want her drugs. Emily calls them wimps and Punky replies that wimps do whatever other people tell them to do. The same member of the Chiclets who said previously that they did not have to take drugs says again this time that Punky has a point. Emily again rebuffs her friend for taking their side. Emily then tells the two of them that they are kicked out of the Chiclets. In response Punky tells her that they are kicked out of her treehouse. Punky tells Emily that they are going to start a fun club without drugs. Emily’s friend asks what the club is called.

Emily: Oh, who cares!
Friend: Me, okay!

After Emily backs down, Punky tells the other older girl that it’s called The Just Say No Club. They tell her that Mike Fulton is going to be their sponsor. The older girl smiles and exclaims that Mike is so cool.

Emily: Kate, maintain.
Kate: Oh shut up, Emily.

Kate tells Punky that her club sounds fun and asks how she can join. Punky says it’s easy and that all you have to do is just say no.

A music montage begins featuring a song called “Just Say No.” Cherie and Punky hang “just say no” signs all over their school and invite kids to join. Eventually Henry, Mrs. Johnson, and Brandon join the girls in carrying signs with the slogan, too.

The show next breaks the fourth wall with Mike narrating that Cherie Johnson led a Just Say No Rally in Oakland, California in 1985. He says Soleil Moon Frye led another rally on the same day in Atlanta, Georgia. The episode ends as he asks the audience at home to join them and just say no.

The episode ends as we see Soleil Moon Frye leading a parade wearing a “Just Say No” shirt. At one point she even leads the crowd to say a “Just Say No” chant.

REACTION:

For those of you who do not know – though the end of this episode made the real world campaign pretty obvious – “Just Say No” was a significant advertising campaign in the United States encouraging people, especially children, to reject drugs. This episode is essentially a long format advertisement for that campaign.

The “Just Say No” slogan was the creation of Robert Cox and David Cantor, advertising executives at the New York office of Needham, Harper & Steers/USA in the early 1980s.

In 1982, the phrase “Just Say No” first emerged when Nancy Reagan was visiting Longfellow Elementary School in Oakland, California. When asked by a schoolgirl what to do if she was offered drugs by her peers, the First Lady responded, “Just say ‘no’.” Just Say No club organizations within schools and school-run anti-drug programs soon became common, in which young people were making pacts not to use drugs.

When asked about her efforts in the campaign, Nancy Reagan said: “If you can save just one child, it’s worth it.” She traveled throughout the United States and several other nations, totaling over 250,000 miles (400,000 km). Nancy Reagan visited drug rehabilitation centers and abuse prevention programs; with the media attention that the first lady receives, she appeared on television talk shows, recorded public service announcements, and wrote guest articles. By the autumn of 1985, she had appeared on 23 talk shows, co-hosted an October 1983 episode of Good Morning America, and starred in a two-hour PBS documentary on drug abuse.

The campaign and the phrase “Just Say No” made their way into popular American culture when television series such as Diff’rent Strokes and Punky Brewster produced episodes centered on the campaign. In 1983, Nancy Reagan appeared as herself in the television programs Dynasty and Diff’rent Strokes to garner support for the anti-drug campaign. She participated in a 1985 rock music video “Stop the Madness” as well. La Toya Jackson became spokesperson for the campaign in 1987 and recorded a song titled “Just Say No” with British hit producers Stock/Aitken/Waterman.

In 1985, Nancy Reagan expanded the campaign internationally. She invited the First Ladies of 30 nations to the White House in Washington, DC, for a conference entitled the “First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse”. She later became the first First Lady invited to address the United Nations.

She enlisted the help of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, Kiwanis Club International, and the National Federation of Parents for a Drug-Free Youth to promote the cause; the Kiwanis put up over 2000 billboards with Nancy Reagan’s likeness and the slogan. Over 5000 Just Say No clubs were founded in schools and youth organizations in the United States and abroad. Many clubs and organizations remain in operation around the country, where they aim to educate children and teenagers about the effects of drugs.

Just Say No crossed over to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, where it was popularized by the BBC‘s 1986 “Drugwatch” campaign, which revolved around a heroinaddiction storyline in the popular children’s TV drama serial Grange Hill. The cast’s cover of the original US campaign song, with an added rap, reached the UK top ten. The death of Anna Wood in SydneyAustralia and British teen Leah Betts from Essex in the mid-1990s sparked a media firestorm across both the UK and Australia over the use of illegal drugs. Wood’s parents even released her school photograph on a badge with the saying “Just say no to drugs” placed on it to warn society on the dangers of illicit drug use. The photograph was widely circulated in the media. A photo of Betts in a coma in her hospital bed was also circulated in British media. Both teenagers died due to water intoxication as they drank too much water after ingesting ecstasy.

On the topic of the show, I thought it was well executed. Do sixth graders use drugs? Yes, unfortunately. Did they use drugs 35 years ago? Also yes. Might sixth graders occasionally push drugs on 3rd or 4th graders? Also yes. Does it make sense that a group of 6th graders would want to be in Punky’s secluded treehouse to take their drugs? Yes, of course.

The Chiclets might have felt like a twenty years too soon version of Mean Girls – with the goofy group name and the “valley girl” way of dressing and speaking – but the presentation of this exposure to drugs was in general pretty authentic. Is it an intrusion on childhood innocence? No doubt. Is childhood innocence intruded upon in real life, too? Yes.

I am old enough that the Chiclets looked like babies to me, too, only slightly older than Punky and Cherie. I think had I watched this as a kid I would have viewed them as villains. As an adult I just feel a great amount of pity for those girls. The whole cycle of drug abuse and addition is tragic.

Which part of this episode do I like the least? I dislike the part of the episode where Henry’s backyard in urban Chicaco is open to the street. This is not a great neighborhood. I’m uneasy at how easily *anyone* can just walk into the yard and find unsupervised children.

The strangest part of this episode for me were the after-credits scenes with Soleil Moon Frye leading the big march and then speaking to the crowd (leading the “Just Say No” chant.) That parade of people was MASSIVE. She was nine years old. I cannot even imagine having that level of fame at such an early age. If any of you happen to know of any places where she has done interviews on this stuff, let me know in the comments. Very specifically I would love to hear her recollections on this event/episode.

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