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“Punky Brewster” is an exercise in empty nostalgia

Punky Brewster

Peacock’s attempt at reviving the classic 80s sitcom with some vague modern touches is as meaningless as it is harmless.

Existing in a cotton candy-tinged alternate 2021 (the year is specifically noted, but there’s nary a mask or online class in sight), Peacock’s new reboot of ‘80s touchstone Punky Brewster exemplifies the question asked of all reboots. Who is this for? The adults who grew up with Punky are likely to ignore this entirely and it’s hard to imagine any child or teenager clamoring to watch it either. It’s a wispy throwback with vague trappings of “the messages of today.” And a laugh track. In this economy? 

Punky (Soleil Moon Frye), a professional photographer, still lives in the Chicago apartment where she lived with adoptive father Henry, but now with her own three children. Said children are Hannah (Lauren Lindsey Donzis) a teenager’s teenager, who loves TikTok and Timothee Chalamet as the teens do; Diego (Noah Cottrell); and Daniel (Oliver De Los Santos). These three are shortly joined by Izzy (Quinn Copeland) AKA Punky 2.0, a sprightly foster child whom Punky’s lifelong BFF Cherie (Cherie Johnson), now a social worker, encourages her to take in. Izzy appears to have wandered in from a casting call for The Great Gilly Hopkins, all adorable wisecracks and beanies. Also in the mix is Punky’s ex-husband Travis (Freddie Prinze, Jr), from whom she is recently divorced, although neither of them seems to remember that regularly. 

It’s a wispy throwback with vague trappings of “the messages of today.”

Punky Brewster wants to have important modern conversations, but in such a mild-mannered and inoffensive way that the conversations barely happen at all. Of the six episodes made available for review, each and every one is a “very special episode,” covering being yourself, gender expression, the foster system, first dates, and marijuana use, among others; as of publication, no one had yet been trapped in an abandoned refrigerator

Prinze is having a great time as lovable rocker Travis, who was “thrown out” for vague reasons possibly related to his current “not girlfriend.” Though sex is (gasp!) mentioned, it’s a nebulous concept at best and no one seems to have been too badly affected by the fact that Travis ostensibly doesn’t live there anymore. He’s there all the time, though. Seriously, Punky, change your locks. Frye is as winning as she ever was, though the “golly, Punky is a kooky mom!” schtick is wearing thin by about the end of the pilot. The younger actors are all fine, though burdened with every imaginable affectation and precocious to the very core. It’s a sitcom’s sitcom, a reboot not only of content but also form. 

It’s hard to be negative about something so aggressively inoffensive, but hard as well to recommend it. At best, Punky Brewster is cute, but the sweet moments are almost immediately undercut by a poorly-delivered joke, beaten to the ground by repetition, or overwhelmed by the aforementioned laugh track. If this was on cable instead of on Peacock, it’d be on heavy rotation in hotel rooms everywhere. Sorry Punky, but this endeavor is a miss. 

Punky Brewster premieres on Peacock February 25th. 

Punky Brewster Trailer:

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Megan Sunday

Megan Sunday is a writer, archivist, and cohost of Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast. She lives in the DC area with her family and her growing collection of horror paperbacks.