Foster Care: Does Punky Brewster Still Have Punky Power?

I may be aging myself a bit, but I was obsessed with Punky Brewster as a kid. I watched every episode. I even watched the silly cartoon. I bought the shoes and wore the pigtails. I confess, I even shouted “Punky Power!” on occasion. 

Maybe the show is part of the reason I went on to be a grown-up who became a foster parent and adopted children from the foster care system. Who knows? 

Either way, I was over-the-moon excited to hear that there was a reboot in the works for this show. I was happy to convince my youngest son that this show would have to be cool and that we needed to binge-watch it immediately. We happily downloaded the Peacock app on our TV so we could begin binging with popcorn and soda like we were at the theater. 

If you haven’t watched yet, be warned that some spoilers are ahead!

The first season is 10 episodes. I was thrilled to see many of the original cast return to the reboot. Punky, played by Soleil Moon Frye is the main character, of course. Cherie Johnson is back as well (Cherie Johnson is her character name too), playing Punky’s best friend. Margeaux, played by Ami Foster, makes an appearance in an episode. If you loved the original Punky Brewster, you will love seeing these grown-up characters back in the reboot. 

The show centers around Punky as a mom of three children (Hannah, Diego, and Daniel, with the two boys joining the family through adoption). She is divorced (her ex-husband played by Freddie Prinze Jr.) and learning to navigate her relationship with Travis while raising the kids together and adding a fourth (foster) child to the mix. Cherie is a social worker and introduces Punky to a troubled young girl in need of a foster home. Oddly, Fenster Hall is still a place for troubled youth, and this is where Punky meets Izzy. Like Henry, Punky is a photographer. She uses photography as a way to connect with Izzy. 

Punky also connects with Izzy over her similar abandonment story and gives a wonderful example of a house on fire. Sounds crazy, right? The story is about a mother in a burning building with her baby. As the fire gets close, the mother realizes the only way to save her baby is to drop the child into the arms of a waiting firefighter below. Punky explains that maybe the only way their mothers’ felt they could save them may have been to let them go. Listening to Punky tell it, teary-eyed, was powerful and quite honestly got me teary-eyed as well. 

The show adequately shows the struggle of foster care starting from the first episode when Punky’s kids are reluctant to accept Izzy into the house. When Izzy is supposed to go with a new foster placement (determined to change her and declared all wrong for Izzy), the family realizes they want her to stay. Later, the family struggles when Izzy has a placement hearing. While they want her birth mom to show up for Izzy, they also want Izzy to stay. Foster parents often struggle with this same feeling. Sometimes it is hard to remember that reunification is always the goal of fostering when it is in the best interest of the child. Foster parents often fall so in love with the children that they find it difficult to root for the parents. It is such a whirlwind of conflicting emotions to hope that birth parents are able to bring their children home while also loving the child so much that the thought of them leaving brings tremendous grief. This struggle of emotion is portrayed beautifully in several episodes. 

There is an episode that centers around Punky’s children being reluctant to accept Izzy into the family. None of the kids want to share their rooms, and disrupt their life to include another child. The episode ends with the kids getting a lesson in what it is like to feel like you have nowhere to go while being asked to sleep in a car. 

I love this episode. While it was a little hard to watch all the kids refusing to accept Izzy into their space, it is a true representation of what often happens within families that take in foster children. While it may not happen with every placement, or in every family, it is definitely a situation that occurs. As hard as it was to connect with this, I am sure it also makes other families feel validated and seen in their struggles with new placements. Of course, by the end of the season, the kids have embraced Izzy as part of the family.

When there is a show about adoption and foster care, there are bound to be a few cringy moments. One of these happened in the first episode when talking about the placement transfer of Izzy, and it was referred to as the “handoff.” Proper language and wording regarding fostering and adoption can be a bit tricky, but this definitely stood out to me. In episode four there is a bad joke where it is said, “is there a return policy on kids?” And while we all know it is a joke, it is an awfully hurtful joke to a child who may feel insecure due to adoption or foster care. Aside from these moments though, I do think the show is good, and I am glad to see adoption and foster care represented on TV. 

Throughout the show, Hannah often acts as if she is the mom. She even comments that she is raising her brothers with her mom. She is often the voice of reason and sometimes acts more like an adult than Punky or Travis. 

The show also tackles some current topics. One topic that you will see unfold is that of Daniel’s gender identity. Beginning in the first episode you will notice that Punky’s youngest son is painting his fingernails. Later, there is an episode where he wears a sarong. Diego (the middle child) while supportive of some of Daniel’s choices is embarrassed by the sarong. But later, when another kid picks on his brother, he gets into a fight defending Daniel. The episode shows Punky and Travis trying to decide if they ought to have a talk with Daniel to see if he is struggling with his gender identity or sexuality. They decide to send in Cherie and her girlfriend to try to see if Daniel has questions. This is, of course, an epic fail. Hannah is the voice of reason in this one, encouraging her parents to just let him be and not make a big deal. 

I love that they are tackling some current issues like gender identity in a supportive way and that Daniel is allowed to express himself with family support. Early in the season, Daniel is painting his fingernails, and it isn’t addressed at all or made to seem unusual. What a wonderful way to help kids who are struggling with their identity to feel included and accepted. Today we are seeing a surge in gender education and learning more and more about how to properly address gender identity. I love when relevant current topics and events are brought into sitcoms and can create the opportunity for conversations with our children. 

Of course, there is an episode dealing with teens and drug use. The unexpected twist is that the drugs don’t belong to the teens. Thankfully, the drug mentioned is simply marijuana, which as we all know, is legal for recreational use in many states. Fans of the original Punky Brewster may remember the big “Just say no” episode. 

There are also some other fun references to the original show sprinkled throughout episodes. My favorite was Cherie saying she has an irrational fear of refrigerators. I am telling you, as a kid, that refrigerator episode really frightened me. I will admit to warning my kids to never play in any household appliances like refrigerators or washers/dryers thanks to that episode. Only those of us who watched the original will understand the reference. 

There is also an episode focused on the treehouse. Oh, the Punky Brewster treehouse that we all thought our friends and family should be able to build us in a weekend. Sadly, I have never seen a real-life treehouse as amazing as Punky’s treehouse. It was fun to see an episode that focused on that fabulous place for kids to gather and Punky’s connection to it. 

The show does have some confusing themes for children of parents that are divorced. Punky and Travis have recently divorced and seem a bit wishy-washy about whether they want to be together or be divorced. Travis has a girlfriend in the beginning, but later they break up. Punky goes on a date in one episode, determined to move on. There is a point where Punky and Travis end up kissing and considering a reunion. I definitely think it sends the wrong message to kids of divorce and wasn’t thrilled with this storyline.

The season also addresses Punky’s feelings surrounding her birth mom. Punky struggles with whether or not to contact her birth mom after all this time. Her birth mom calls out of the blue at the end of episode one. Strangely, this storyline doesn’t resume for several episodes, until Punky decides to call back, leaving a series of funny voicemail messages.  In the end, we see a reunion. In my opinion, the reunion is dealt with in an absolutely wonderful way. Punky finally gets to understand what happened when she was a little kid. When they meet face to face, there is honesty as well as connection. Punky is straightforward in saying she isn’t looking for a mother because she had a mother named Henry (oh my heart). She does, however, agree that she could use a friend. I loved this reunion and the acknowledgment of Punky’s relationship with Henry. Since she is now an adult with kids of her own, she has a good perspective on relationships. The offer to be friends was a wonderful start at reconnecting with boundaries in place. Boundaries are so important in all relationships. They are especially important in foster care, adoption, and relationships that are based on trauma. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. My son liked it too. That goes to show you don’t have to know the original show to love the new reboot. My son has expressed some interest in seeing some of the original episodes though, and I am very excited to bring out my DVD box set to watch with him. Yes, I am admitting that I have the box set of the original show. I told you earlier, I am a fan! 

If you don’t have the seasons on DVD, the original can be found streaming on Peacock. 

If you are fostering and want a show that portrays foster care to watch with your family, I would urge you to watch it first to consider how the kids will feel about each episode. While I feel that topics are presented well, some kids may struggle with how foster care is portrayed. Foster care and family dynamics can be a touchy subject. I think it could stir up some issues in kids that are struggling with a new placement. However, seeing the family come together quickly to support Izzy may also be comforting. Previewing ahead of time will help you better assess if it is appropriate for you and your family. 

Of the recent shows I have watched that have a foster care and adoption theme, the Punky Brewster reboot is one I would recommend. I may be a bit biased due to my love of the original. I can admit that. I eagerly await a season 2 to binge with my son.

Now excuse me while I find my mismatched shoes so I can dance around to “Maniac.”