‘Holy Macanoli!’

The pitifully warmed-over reboot of ‘Punky Brewster’, on Peacock

Back in the 80s, young Penelope Brewster found herself abandoned at a Chicago grocery store with only her dog Brandon, the mismatched shoes on her feet, and the quirky nickname Punky to see her through. Lonely old photographer Henry discovered her squatting in an abandoned apartment, and her upbeat vibe and positive outlook captivated him, but not in a lecherous way. For some reason, elderly single men adopting young’uns didn’t eek us out back in the 80s. Now, in this age of revivals, Punky Brewster returns in a new series on Peacock, aiming to charm us all over again.

Newly divorced photographer Punky strives to amicably raise three children with her cliché manchild ex-husband. Despite her chaotic life, an encounter with foster kid Izzy reminds her of her own stint in the system, so she opens her heart and home to the girl. Now the whole family must adapt, from her generic all-knowing teen daughter, her blandly oblivious teen son, and the youngest child, an overly fastidious wee adult son.  Imaginations flexed very little to create these papery shells of ideas of characters. Who is this “old self” Punky longs to find? Why did she divorce a man she clearly still loves, when he comes over every day and accidentally makes out with her sometimes? These things never matter, because Punky Brewster is a legit grown-up now, and that is enough.

In spite of an enthusiastic cast, and a laugh track that never (ever, ever) stops, the show offers little beyond weak attempts to trigger nostalgia. Almost forty years on, Punky still lives in the apartment of her childhood, and her vintage treehouse somehow remains intact. In excitement, she exclaims, “Holy macanoli!” and “Punky power!” as the occasion warrants, and continues to dance worse than Elaine Benes. Her forever bestie Cherie now works at Fenster Hall, Punky’s onetime home. The family dog is even a golden retriever named Brandy, in a nod to the show’s original pooch.

We know dark things happened to Punky back in the day—aside from total parental abandonment, she saw the Challenger explode, her friend almost died in an old fridge, and she had a stalker. You know, the totally normal components of any light family comedy. Maybe, as evidenced by her emotional time freeze, those events mired her in some bizarre trauma loop that locked her off from truly new experiences. Even the uninspiringly winsome foster kid barely serves as a watered down Punky-esque waif, brought in to live through parallel, albeit modern equivalent adventures. It feels exceptionally generous to call this reboot lazy.

The cash-grab angle doesn’t stop with the story. Abundant product integrations that never even bother to aim for subtlety, but not in an endearing way. One episode features an eerily empty Chicago where the family spends a goodly chunk of the episode in Punky’s brand new Subaru, and they all fit nicely due to that lovely third row seating. Another showcases women of the WWE for no reason. It’s like an entire season of the 30 Rock “I Heart Connecticut” episode, and Punky Brewster regards its audience with the same calculating disdain as Jack Donaghy, which is a total bummer. I tuned in to have my heart warmed, and instead, was served something pitifully warmed over.

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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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