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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Morning: Punky Brewster

This is an entry that begins in the present day, and it starts off with a rather interesting story.

I would think that it would be a fair assessment to say that I do not like cyberbullying at all. I think it's a really cheap way to try and insult someone else's feelings online, and in some cases, a bit cowardly. Especially if one hides behind a screenname, as most of us online tend to do.

I believe that there is a major difference between constructive criticism, and simply being mean because you want to get glee from ruining someone else's day. The first one, I can handle. The second option, not so much.

I'm going to talk about an instance in which cyberbullying kind of lead to a personal story, which looking back on now, I find kind of silly that it even spawned such foolishness. And the only reason why I bring this up is because it is linked to today's Saturday topic.

About a year ago, I was on an internet forum which, like this blog, was a forum where people could talk about all things pop culture. I would like to say that we were mostly a tight knit group, and as we reminisced about things while walking down memory lane, there were times in which we sometimes clashed, or had differing opinions of a certain topic than someone else did. But, that was fine. What kind of boring world would it be if we all looked, acted, and liked the same things every hour of every day? Pretty dull.

The key thing is that for the most part, we hashed out our differences as maturely as we could, and most of the time, the resolution was met in a calm and rational manner. I mean, nine out of ten of us were all over the age of eighteen, so it should be a fair assumption that all of us would handle conflict resolution in a timely and practical manner.

Until one day when a member posted this picture.

I know what some of you are thinking. Some of you might not even know who this is. Well, this picture happens to be of actress Soleil Moon Frye, current age, 35. This was a picture that she snapped and posted online in a Punky Brewster outfit, the character that she played on television. The caption read 'Punky Brewster All Grown Up'.

Now, my personal opinion was that I thought it was awesome that she had done this. In a world where so many established actors and actresses act as though their past work was beneath them, and are almost embarrassed to admit where they got their big breaks, Soleil wasn't that sort of person. No, she may not be as well-known as A-list actresses like Julia Roberts, or Jennifer Aniston, or Cameron Diaz, but at least she's not afraid to revisit her past. Soleil really seemed to embrace her past as Punky, and I applaud her for it. I'm sure that any fan of Punky Brewster probably appreciates the fact that Soleil Moon Frye could be a great sport about dressing up as Punky once again, and probably got a kick out of it.

Now, here's where the cyberbullying aspect comes in. And, yeah, I'll readily admit that I may have got the ball rolling in some manner, but one thing that I won't apologize for is standing up for something that I believe in.

For the most part, the comments in the picture were harmless, and most people commented on it politely. There were a few jeers and thumbs down comments mixed in, but hardly anything worth getting stressed out about.

But then one person from the site crossed the line a bit. It was bad enough that she had claimed that Punky had aged like an old bag, but at this point, it wasn't like Punky was a member of the site anyways, so it was doubtful that she could see it. But then when other members stood up and tried to defend the actress and the photo she took, and tried to explain that she looked better at 35 than they did, for some reason, she started to take it somewhat on the personal side, and started to personally insult them right out in plain view.

And that caused me to tell her to politely knock it off.

Which then caused her to call me every nasty name in the book. Some which were so disgusting that it really wouldn't be very nice to post in public...well, unless of course, I made this blog rated NC-17...which will NEVER happen. :D

I mean, it was just ridiculous how it snowballed out of control. It seemed like the more we reasoned with her, the more personal she took it until she got so angry she decided to leave the site and not come back. But the fact that she had to resort to bullying someone else online instead of trying to talk it out calmly was just plain unnecessary.

And for what? A photo of a 1980s child actress all grown up? Sheesh. Even the problems that Miss Penelope Brewster had to go through in her rough and tumble, but highly fictional upbringing seemed more dire and frightening, and yet she handled her own problems with much more strength and courage than...well...our anti-Punky rebel.

And I think that's why I chose to do my blog entry on Punky Brewster this Saturday.

Now, before I go on, I think I know what you're going to say. Wasn't yesterday the sitcom day? Shouldn't this have been talked about yesterday? True enough, this entry probably could have fit in a TGIF day. But what some don't know is that the show was later developed into a cartoon series called 'It's Punky Brewster'. Here's the opening below.

I will say that I do remember the cartoon quite well, and one of the perks that the cartoon had going for it was the fact that the actors who were in the live-action version of the program did the voices for their respective characters on the cartoon show. But, I didn't quite understand why they had to add that fuzzy Glomer character in the cartoon, and while it was a cute cartoon, I didn't like it as well as the live-action show.

So, I'll be mostly talking about the live-action program in this entry, but just wanted to briefly bring up the cartoon so I could justify talking about Punky Brewster on a Saturday.

The show Punky Brewster was like a lot of shows that aired during the 1980s. It originally aired on a major network, was cancelled due to low ratings, and brought back in syndication. From its debut in 1984 to 1986, it aired on NBC every Sunday night paired up with Silver Spoons. Problem was that it aired directly opposite 60 Minutes on CBS, and and NBC made the decision to cancel both shows, feeling that neither one could compete. But both Silver Spoons and Punky Brewster managed to find new life in syndication, and in the case of Punky Brewster, managed to continue airing until the spring of 1988.

As I eluded to earlier, the title character of Punky Brewster had one of those hard knock lives that Annie sang about back in 1982. Actually, I would bet that Punky's life was a little more hard knock than Annie's could ever be. By the time Punky was eight years old, she was basically abandoned by her parents. Her father walked out on the family when she was a baby, and then her mother left her alone at a Chicago shopping center along with her puppy, Brandon (who was actually named after then president of NBC Brandon Tartikoff, who developed the Punky Brewster sitcom).

I can't even imagine being eight years old and basically living on the streets by myself. Looking back on how I was at the age of eight, I probably wouldn't have lasted an hour. Yet, Punky seemed to be amazingly resourceful at her young age, and soon found herself stowing away inside a vacant apartment inside a Chicago building.

Punky quickly became friends with a young girl named Cherie (played by actress Cherie Johnson), who lived upstairs from where Punky was staying with her grandmother, Betty (Susie Garrett). But Punky is also discovered by the manager of the apartment building, the grouchy, cantankerous, 60-year-old Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes). Henry takes pity on Punky, and invites her and Brandon to his apartment across the hall for dinner, where Punky fills Henry in on what happened to her, and how Cherie and Betty took her food for her to share with Brandon. Henry takes Punky to his photography studio where he takes pictures of her with Betty and Cherie, and he starts to lose his grouchy exterior the closer he and Punky got.

At some point, Punky decides that she wants Henry to look after her as a foster father, and Henry is eager to make it happen. But the fact that Henry is in his sixties causes shadows of doubt for the social workers involved in the case, as they don't feel that he can handle the responsibility of taking care of an eight-year-old girl. But Punky is desperate to convince them that Henry is the best person to raise her, even escaping from the group home she was placed in to prove it. Eventually, Henry became Punky's foster father, and after a crisis in which Henry's photography studio burns down and Punky is temporarily taken away again, Henry legally adopts Punky as his own.

Of course, having Punky as a child could be a handful for Henry, as Punky's well-intentioned ideas usually ended with her getting herself and Henry by association into trouble. Still, I think we could all argue that Punky was better off having a caring, kind father figure like Henry Warnimont in her life.

Actually, for a show that was aimed at a younger demographic, Punky Brewster dealt with some very huge subject matter back in the day. Punky Brewster was one of the first examples on a sitcom that I can recollect in which they talked about the issue of peer pressure, and how kids believed that they needed to do drugs in order to be popular. Punky and Cherie wanted to join a club known as the Chicklets, and Punky even offered up the use of her treehouse for the club to have their meetings. But when Punky discovered that the Chicklets all did drugs and were pressuring Punky to use them too, Punky decided that the Chicklets weren't worth it anymore, and she started up the 'Just Say No' club with Cherie and a Chicklet who defected from the group. Watch a clip of this episode below.

That last part of the clip was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia at a Just Say No march, in which Soleil-Moon Frye took part in.

The show also tackled the subject of learning CPR to save a life, the danger of abusing prescription drugs, and even had an episode where Henry had to buy Punky her first bra!

And in a tragic case of life imitating art, a very special episode was filmed in 1986. The episode was called 'Accidents Happen', and if you click on the links in this paragraph you can watch it. The episode started off innocently enough, as Punky was telling the class all about how when she grew up, she wanted to be an astronaut, and as a special treat, her teacher, knowing about an upcoming space shuttle launch, had arranged for the class to watch it live on television.

That space shuttle launch ended up being that of the Challenger, which as you all know exploded during its take-off on January 28, 1986, killing everyone on board, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. The episode was obviously based on the tragedy, and the episode dealt with Punky coming to terms with watching the whole thing unfold right in front of her eyes. It really was a great episode to watch, and honestly, I could go on about how much of an impact that it had, especially since it aired just a few weeks after the event happened. But, really, I think you guys should watch it instead to form your own opinion.

The point is that Punky Brewster was very much appreciated growing up. At a time now where many shows try to dumb things down for children, I really liked the fact that Punky Brewster didn't try to do that. In fact, I think it remains a great show for kids to watch because of how they handled such matters. I know if I have kids, I'll probably let them watch it.

Who knows? Soleil Moon Frye is now a mother of two herself, and she very well could let her children watch her as Punky. She had a lot of fans who enjoyed what she did, and I know that she was very much appreciative of every fan. That's why she decided to don the Punky costume once more as an adult. She wanted to have fun with it, but she also sent the message that she wasn't ashamed of her child actor past. Rather, she embraced it.

And I think that's matter what random internet pot-stirrers say otherwise.

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