Punky Brewster (Season 2, Ep 35): Christmas Shoplifting

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.]


Punky wants to buy Henry a cashmere scarf for Christmas but cannot afford it. While at the mall, she decides to shoplift the item, having recently heard from a classmate that stores make money from shoplifting via insurance money. After Punky leaves, she runs into Mike. They talk for a minute and then get their bags mixed up – unbeknownst to either of them.

Not long after, Mike is arrested for shoplifting the blue scarf in Punky’s bag. He calls Henry to bail him out. When Henry and Punky arrive, Punky confesses everything. Mike is cleared and Punky is punished Punky is forced to work as a mall gift-wrapper, for free.


The episode begins with Punky writing something at the kitchen table. As we look around we see that the kitchen has Christmas decorations everywhere. Henry enters the room and says that they have enough trim to decorate The Black Forest. Henry asks Punky what she is doing and she replies that she is going over her Christmas gift list. Henry picks it up, causing it to extend to the floor like an expanding accordion. Henry asks how many people are on the list and she says that she cut it down to seventy-four.

He starts asking about the people on the list as he realizes he does not know them. We learn that Punky plans to give gifts to the garbage man, a good friend of the local butcher, and others. Henry asks her how she knows all of those people. She replies that they are her friends.

Henry: I’ve been going to that market for years and I do not know the checker from the box boy.

Punky: That would be Madge and Larry.

Henry asks her what presents she is planning for all of these people. Punky lists of items like a mink coat and a new Porsche before Henry tells her that so far he is looking at about a $94,000 expense and she has not got to the good friend of the butcher, yet. When he asks how much she has to spend, she says that she has $3.94. Henry tells her that when it comes to giving gifts it is the thought that counts.

Henry: You’re going to have to come up with some cheaper thoughts.

Henry gives her money to buy five dollar presents for six people before telling her that she can send Christmas Cards to everyone else. She covers Brandon’s ears and says that she will get him a personalized dog dish. Then she asks Henry what he wants for Christmas. Henry tells Punky that whatever she decides to give him, he will treasure. Punky points out that Henry said the same thing last year before she gave him a glow-in-the-dark tie. Henry tells her that he treasures it.

Punky: Then why don’t you ever take it out of your closet?
Henry: Because that’s where it glows the best.

She tells Henry that this year she wants to give him something he will like more and treasure less. Punky adds that with five whole dollars she can probably get Henry something that glows in the light.

Sometime later, Henry, Mrs. Johnson, Cherie, and Punky arrive at Mid-Town Mall. As Henry and Mrs. Johnson leave the girls alone to look at a sale on Wise Men, Cherie and Punky look at at a “Comrade Natasha” doll. This is a baby doll from Russia. Punky reads that the doll comes with two outfits – a red leotard for international gymnastics and a long trench coat for when she defects to the purchaser’s house. Cherie hugs the box.

Cherie: I sure would love this. Hint, hint, hint.

Punky tells her friends that she better hint hint hint to her grandmother before explaining that she has already spent almost all of the money Henry gave her. Cherie asks to see the purchases. Punky pulls from her shopping bag gifts for Mrs. Johnson and Mike. She bemoans that she is almost out of money.

Punky: I promised Henry that I’d get him something that he wants. Now I can’t even get him something he doesn’t want.

Their discussion is interrupted by an announcement on the mall’s intercom asking children over seventy pounds to writer Santa a letter rather than sit on his lap at the mall. The girls both laugh.

Elsewhere we see Mrs. Johnson and Henry complaining about the Wise Men sale. Mrs. Johnson says that The Three Wise Men figures looked more like The Three Stooges. As Henry and Mrs. Johnson agree that these types of sales are a come on and that they should have known better, the mall intercom announces a sale on Mother of Pearl pins. Both Henry and Mrs. Johnson hurry off.

The girls are now shopping for Henry. Cherie finds a Mr. T wig and puts it on. Punky laughs but says that she wants to find Henry something special, not something on special. Just then, a boy from their school named Richmond walks by. Punky asks if he has any ideas for gifts for under three dollars. He responds by telling Punky that she is a cheapskate before showing her the fifty dollar leather bag he purchased for his own mother. She asks where he got the money and he tells her that he used the Matzie Method. Punky asks what that is so he demonstrates by taking a model airplane from a shelf and putting it into his purchased items bag.

The girls tells Richmond that he is stealing and he looks around before telling them that shoplifting is not really stealing because stores make money from it from their insurance companies. Cherie sternly tells him that this does not sound right to her so he leaves and tells both of them that they can shop their way and that he will shop his own way. As he leaves, he sings “Deck the Halls.”

Punky finds Henry and Mrs. Johnson looking at a cashmere scarf. As she spies on them, she hears Mrs. Johnson telling him that it brings out the blue in his eyes. Henry replies saying that cashmere scarves make him feel like a million bucks.

Mrs. Johnson: Then why don’t you buy it?
Henry: Because it costs that much.
Mrs. Johnson: I swear if air wasn’t free you’d buy it by the lung full.

Mrs. Johnson asks him why he does not just treat himself, for once, and Henry thinks hard about it before telling her no. He tells her, as Punky listens, that he is saving his money for a special present for Punky. Mrs. Johnson tells him that she understand and that the kids always come first. They leave to go look for the girls. After they are gone, Punky comes out of her hiding spot and puts the cashmere scarf in her bag. She then runs out of the store. As she is running, her teacher Mike Fulton calls out her name. She screams before returning to talk to him and poorly pretending that nothing is wrong.

Punky sits her bag down beside Mike’s bags. Mike peaks down at Punky’s bag and asks if she is okay. She replies nervously that she has never been better and asks if she looks guilty or something. Just then, Henry walks up. He tells Punky that they need to go. Henry greets and says goodbye quickly to Mike as Punky grabs a bag and leaves.

Mike enters the store from which Punky fled and also looks at scarves. As he is trying them on, a store attendant takes notice of him. Mike tells himself, eventually, to save his money and leaves. Just then, the store attendant checks the scarf rack. Ominous music begins to play. The employee follows after Mike. After they round a corner, we hear from around the corner Mike asking the employee what he is doing and then we hear Mike say that he did not steal anything. The man brings Mike back into the store and pulls the blue scarf from Mike’s bag.

commercial break

Mike is in jail. He is insisting that the shopping bag did not belong to him. The jail’s guard asks why the bag had a belt with his name on it and Mike replies that “Mike” is the most popular name in the country. The guard smiles and says he will have to remember that if he is ever on Jeopardy!

As the studio audience laughs, Mike turns and finds a man in a Santa costume. The costumed man pats his knee and tells Mike to come over to tell Santa what he is in for. Mike tells Santa that he will stand and then explains the situation. After he is done, the man dressed as Santa takes off his beard and loudly says “oh ho ho!” A man in the cell, sleeping on the top bed of a bunk bed, wakes up.

Jailed man: Shut up, Fatso.
Santa: Sorry, Lou, we’ll try to keep it down.

Mike asks “Santa” what he is in for and he explains that he was arrested for breaking and entering. “Santa” is a career criminal and explains that during the holidays, people expect someone in a Santa costume to break into their house. He continues, saying that usually he knows what he is stealing, but during the holidays he does not know what he has taken until he gets home and unwarps his presents.

Mike: You oughta be ashamed of yourself, stealing people’s gifts.
Santa: Look who’s talking Mr. Shop-Now-Pay-Never.

Punky and Henry arrive home. Brandon jumps off his chair and puts his head into Punky’s bag. Henry tells the good dog that he cannot peak and that he must wait until Christmas. Brandon pulls his head out of the bag and returns to his chair. Henry asks Punky if something is wrong and points out that she was very quiet all the way home. She tells Henry that she is just very tired from all the shopping. Henry asks what Punky bought Mrs. Johnson and she pulls a box of cigars from her bag. She says that she did not buy any cigars and Henry suggests that perhaps they got the wrong bag.

Punky: Oh no, I wonder who got my bag?

Just then the phone rings. Mike is on the other end of the line. He tells Henry that he is in jail. Henry says loudly that there must be a mistake and vows to come down there right away. Punky asks what is going on and Henry tells her that Mike is in jail for shoplifting. Punky is shocked that he is in jail. Henry tells her that he was arrested for shoplifting a cashmere scarf.

Punky: Mike didn’t steal that scarf!

Henry agrees saying that this must be a terrible mix-up. He promises Punky that they will get to the bottom of this.

Punky: [hesitantly] We will?
Henry: Come on, Punky, we’re going to jail.

Punky follows Henry out. At the door, she tells Brandon goodbye and promises to see him in twenty years.

Back at the jail, Santa marks “17” on the wall. Mike asks if that means he has been in here seventeen days. Santa tells him no. He explains that it means there are only seventeen more stealing days until Christmas. Just as Mike wonders aloud what is taking Henry so long, the jailer arrives and tells Mike that he has a visitor. Punky enters the jail. Mike asks where Henry is. She tells him that Henry is getting him bailed and that she has to tell him something first. She closes her eyes and tells him that she has a confession to make. She says that it is her fault that he is in jail. Her voice quivers and she explains that she ran out of money before seeing the scarf. She says that she knew Henry always wanted that scarf, so she put it in her bag. She tells Mike that her bag then became his bag and his bag became her bag.

Punky: I left you holding the bag.
Mike: Punky, you stole that scarf?
Punky: Yes.
Mike: And I’m taking the rap for it?
Punky: Yes.
Mike: Just calm down. Just calm down.
Punky: Okay.
Mike: I was talking to myself!

Mike tells her that he cannot believe that she would steal. Punky tells him that it was not stealing, it was shoplifting. When Mike asks what the difference is, she says that she heard stores get a lot of insurance money from shoplifting so she thought that she would help them out. Mike almost laughs before explaining that is not how it works. He tells her that shoplifting hurts stores and that to make up for their losses, stores have to charge higher prices.

Punky: They do?
Mike: Yes! And I’m paying a high price for it, too.

He explains that getting arrested could cost him his job. She tells him that she is really sorry and that she knew all along that she knew what she was doing was wrong but that she never thought she would get him into trouble. Punky tells Mike that she is going to go tell the police what really happened. She says that he cannot lose his job because he is too good a teacher. Mike thanks her and she runs to tell the police.

Later at Henry’s apartment, Mike is eavesdropping as Henry scolds Punky in her room. She apologizes but he tells her that “I’m sorry” is not enough. He tells her that she is to stay in her room except for call of nature or call of Henry. When Henry leaves her room, Mike scurries over to the couch to pretend he was not listening. Henry apologizes that he went through that ordeal and Mike admits that he has had better Saturdays. They go into the kitchen and Henry pours them some tea. Henry tells Mike that he has not done a good job as a parent. Mike argues.

Mike: Henry, you’re a wonderful parent.
Henry: Wonderful parents don’t raise scarf-stealers.
Mike: Henry, you never stole anything when you were a little boy?
Henry: Never! [pause] Well, once…

Henry tells Mike that when he was seven, his Uncle Hiram came to visit. He tells Mike that his uncle always had candy in his pockets and gave one to each of the children. Henry, referring to himself as Henry the Hog, says that he stole an extra cherry gumball. Brandon barks at this confession.

Mike: Is that it?
Henry: I felt guilty about that gumball ever since. I’m convinced that’s why Uncle Hiram cut me out of his will.

Mike points out that Henry stole once and never did it again. He says he is sure that Punky will never do it either. Henry tells him that he hopes he is right. Mike asks what her punishment will be and Henry tells him that Punky is grounded for a month, will have no television for two weeks, and he adds that the store owner and himself have devised one additional way of driving the pint home.

Sometime later, at the store, we see Punky working as a gift wrapper at the store. Just then, we hear an announcement from the mall intercom that Punky’s store is offering free gift wrapping for all mall patrons. As the intercom announcement says “come one, come all” Punky suddenly looks alarmed. The episode ends as scores of people descend on Punky’s booth throwing presents for wrapping toward her.


Oh man, shopping malls. We are about 15 more years from teenagers being confused about what they were. The idea of celebrities doing shopping mall tours will be unfathomable.

As for the episode… let that be a lesson to you. If you steal, you could get your angelic teacher sent to jail.

My initial reaction to this episode is that I did not believe Punky would actually steal… anything. But the more I think about it, I now believe that under these circumstances she might. She is such a people-pleaser that she could justify theft for what she feels is a higher cause. Pleasing Henry with the perfect gift is more important than the hurt to the store or the risk of getting into trouble. She obviously learns her lesson.

I liked that the episode addresses one of the most common justifications for stealing that a child will ever hear – that stores make up their losses with the insurance money. I think if any children watched this episode, and then hear that justification in real life, they will remember what happened to Mike and then to Punky and hopefully they will remember that this explanation is not true. I assume confidently that this episode led to a decline in shoplifting for the kids who watched this episode in the 1980s.

As Punky episodes go, this is a good one even if it deals with a tough issue. Childhood shoplifting is at least a relatable and real issue. Good job writers. I even applaud planting the seeds of distrust between kids watching this episode and the “mall Santa” types. That entire “come sit on my lap and tell me what you want for Christmas” industry has always felt a little bit sketchy than magical to me.