Only the most hardened heart could refuse to soften a little when faced with a little orphaned girl. Just ask Annie, just ask Pippi, just ask Heidi. Now, put a spunky and self-confident little orphan alongside a cantankerous old codger, an odd couple if there ever was one, and you have a recipe for heart-string tugging like no other. Such was the power of Punky Brewster.
Punky (Soleil Moon Frye) was an adorable eight-year-old girl, who, with her puppy (tug, tug, tug) found herself abandoned by her mother and living in an abandoned apartment. When an elderly and perpetually grumpy photographer next door, Henry Warnimont, discovered the plight of Punky and her dog, Brandon (named, incidentally, after NBC programming executive, Brandon Tartikoff,) the old man didn’t have the heart to kick her out. Instead, he allowed her to take up temporary residence with him until social services could find a suitable home for moppet and mutt. And, once she was placed in a home, he discovered that he actually missed the down-on-their-luck duo. Thanks to a masterful courtroom appearance by Punky, the trio was eventually reunited, with Henry awarded custody as a foster parent.
Finally in a stable and loving home, Punky flourished. She befriended an African-American girl named Cherie Johnson, who similar to Punky’s circumstances, lived with an elderly grandmother, Betty (as a result of her parents being killed). Punky also found friendship in two classmates – the snobbish Margeaux and the sheepish Allen – helping her finally have the normal life that she had longed for.
With the overwhelming popularity of Punky Brewster (granted, among mostly elementary-school-aged kids) came the desire to replicate her unique fashion sense. With her prominent pigtails, colorful vests, layered t-shirts and mismatched sneakers, jeans with one pant leg rolled up and an assortment of accessories such as bandanas and heart-shaped buttons, little girls everywhere soon tried their best to look just like their pal, Punky.
And little girls of the 80s had no shortage of opportunities to study Punky’s fashions, first on NBC from 1984-86, then for another three years in syndication. In 1985, those who desired a little more Punky in their lives could also tune into the popular animated Saturday morning show, It’s Punky Brewster, with many of the actors from the series providing the voices to their animated counterparts.
All in all, there was plenty of Punky to go around in the 80s and she managed to provide a plethora of prepubescent fashion statements for little girls to emulate all across America. Now that’s Punky Power.
If you grew up watching the weekly antics of Punky and pals, we welcome your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this fondly remembered series, here at Retroland.