PUNKY BREWSTER (2021) - Season 1
The Punky Brewster reboot starts out with the same bones as the original. Punky chooses to foster a little girl named Izzy, whose mom abandoned her close to the way Punky was left by her mom as a little girl. The difference between the 1984 show and the 2021 continuation is that the role of Punky is now split between a child she attaches herself to and her childlike adult self. Henry and Punky were an odd couple which made their dynamic the height of the older show’s interest. Viewers came back each week to see how the unlikely pairing played out. But now, Punky is already a mom with three other kids, welcoming a foster child much like Punky’s child self, so the angle is a little different. It more so focuses on Punky navigating motherhood while still struggling with her mother’s abandonment. It has the sentimental drive of the original, but it doesn’t fully outweigh the clunky dialogue and stale laugh track.
For instance, Punky’s fifteen year old daughter Hannah is a Gen-Z caricature that is incredibly painful to watch. It’s like they’re trying to write a teenager from 2001 and not 2021. Travis, Punky’s ex husband is the cringey dad trope you see made fun of on comedy sketches, whose main purpose seems to be only to remind us he can’t decipher his twenty-five year old girlfriend’s emoji texts. Most of the personalities of the characters feel forced and over the top. That’s not a jab at the acting per say, but it’s definitely a jab at the direction. I’m glad they brought back Cherie and even Margo for a brief episode. I also really like seeing Punky as an adult, but it feels like she’s a hundred percent on all the time which was exhausting by episode five. The character with the best lines is Izzy, since she is technically the new Punky in this sense. But Izzy isn’t the sole focus of the show, so her one-liners don’t feel as impactful as they probably should. In turn, it’s split between both Izzy and Punky, which creates this weird balance that gets better over time, but could ultimately kill the vibe of the show if the writers don’t give Izzy her own personality apart from Punky’s as she ages.
The pilot struggles with its comedic footing. As the season goes on, the jokes get a little better, but there are so many times where the laugh track just kills a joke instead of letting it breathe on its own. I don’t know why modern sitcoms don't bother to improve this issue. It's apparent to me that the show really wants to cash in on the current thirst for our childhood TV character’s adult lives, much like Raven’s Home, Fuller House, Girl Meets World, etc. However, at the same time I do believe in the showrunner’s interest in paying honest tribute to a beloved show. It’s not trying to be the funniest thing on Earth, but rather focusing on bringing back the power of Punky. For as cringy as it is, it has moments of real emotional effect. This is brought on by mentions of Punky’s memories that frequently reference older episodes, the production design, and even a nice little montage of her with Henry and Cherie as a kid.
All in all I wasn’t totally bored by the show. In an age where many sitcoms are hard to sit through even the first season, I really grew to like these characters and I am interested to see what the next season does, if one happens at all. It’s obvious through Soleil’s portrayal and her energy towards the show that she would love to keep it going.
If you were a Punky fan back in the day and you can look past the corporate sitcom formula, Punky Brewster has a lot of heart underneath. You can watch the first full season now exclusively on Peacock.