Say hello again to the 1980s. A sequel to Punky Brewster is being launched, with Soleil Moon Frye reprising her popular role from the mid-1980s sitcom.
In the original series, Punky was a bright young girl raised by a foster dad, played by George Gaynes. Now Punky is “a single mother of three trying to get her life back on track when she meets a young girl who reminds her a lot of her younger self,” according to Deadline. Frye was an instant success when “Punky Brewster” premiered on NBC. The series ran four seasons and earned three Primetime Emmy nominations including two for Outstanding Children’s Program. Frye later voiced Brewster in an animated series that ran for two seasons, It’s Punky Brewster, which earned a Daytime Emmy nod of its own.
In the years since the sitcom ended, Frye has done quite a bit of voice work, including Robot Chicken, Bratz, and The Proud Family. She also appeared on several seasons of Sabrina the Teenage Witch as Sabrina’s college roommate, Roxie.
Huffington Post said, “The show may have only lasted four seasons, but ‘Punky Brewster’ left a lasting impression and made pre-teen Soleil Moon Frye, who played the little leading lady, a household name.” No network is attached yet. Should it get picked up, it will join a flood of 80s revivals, including The Lost Boys (TV show based on the movie), Cobra Kai (Karate Kid spinoff) Murphy Brown, and Full House. 80s nostalgia is back in a big way it seems.
Frye will serve as an executive producer on the new project, along with original series creator David Duclon. Steve and Jim Armogida (who worked on Nickelodeon’s School of Rock adaptation) will write the script.
In the original series, Punky’s father has walked out and her mother abandoned her at a shopping center. She and her dog find shelter in a vacant apartment; the complex is managed by a widowed man who is on the grouchy side. He eventually adopts her. Although not officially an adaptation, Punky Brewster contains many elements in common with the novel Silas Marner, in which a miserly hermit whose only friend is an elderly woman adopts a young girl who was abandoned by her parents.
Of the original cast, only Frye, Cherie Johnson (who played Punky’s friend Cherie) and T.K. Carter (elementary school teacher Mike Fulton) are still alive. George Gaynes, who played Punky’s foster parent, died in 2016 and Susie Garrett, who played Cherie’s grandmother Betty Johnson, died of cancer in 2002.
NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff reportedly named the series after a girl he once had a crush on. Punky’s dog is named Brandon, after Tartikoff himself. There were more than 3,000 child actors who auditioned for the role of Punky. Soleil at 7 years of age had already acted in television, with siblings and parents in show business, and won the part. Frye quickly gained a following. She appeared in parades and for some reason was prominent in Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaigns.
One of the best things about Punky Brewster was the unforgettable theme song intro:
After the show ended in 2003, Frye turned her focus to motherhood. She and her husband Jason Goldberg, a television producer, have two daughters.
Slate said of the show in a 2013 story, “Punky did embody aspects of both punk and feminist thinking, it turns out. But she was trapped inside a show that was all about reinforcing mainstream middle class values circa 1984. This was, after all, the mid-1980s, the throes of the family values era, when Reagan Republican Alex Keaton somehow spawned from hippie parents.”
The BBC Review said of the original show, “Depending on your view point, this was either a ghastly, sickly sweet, cheaply made sitcom of the worst kind, or a harmless slice of Apple Pie America.“
Nancy Bilyeau, a former staff editor at Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and InStyle, has written a trilogy of historical thrillers for Touchstone Books. Her new book, The Blue, is a spy story set in the 18th-century porcelain world. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com