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Punky Brewster: The Best of Season Three DVD Review

Punky Brewster: The Best of Season Three DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Punky Brewster: The Best of Season Three (1986-87)
Show & DVD Details

Creator/Executive Producer: David W. Duclon / Supervising Producer: Gary Menteer / Producer: Jerry Mayer

Writers: Cheryl Alu, Deborah Serra, Alan Mandel, Bill Idelson, Paul Friedman, David W. Duclon, Phil Hahn / Directors: Gary Menteer, David W. Duclon, Judi Elterman, Joni Rhodes

Starring Cast: George Gaynes (Henry Warnimont), Soleil Moon Frye (Punky Brewster), Susie Garrett (Mrs. Betty Johnson), Cherie Johnson (Cherie Johnson), Brandon (Himself)

Recurring Characters: Ami Foster (Margaux Kramer), Brent Chalem (Spud Blugner)

Guest Stars: Chico DeBarge, Marty DeBarge, Robert DeBarge, Randy DeBarge, James DeBarge (Themselves); Danny Wells (Manager), Alice Ghostley (Mrs. Winston), Virginia Keehne (Peggy), Mitsuru Yamahata (Iwo), Danielle Rioux (Louise), Casey Ellison (Allen Anderson), Margaret Willock (Mrs. Annie Anderson), Greg Norberg (Mr. Andy Anderson), Todd Susman (Mr. Mike Deaton), Carl Steven (Joey Deaton), Magda Harout (Saleslady), Virginia Peters (Lingerie Customer), Ted Noose (Cemetery Guard #1), Vincent Pantone (Cemetery Guard #2), Alan Sues (Andre Sockstein), Robin Bach (Manager), Lance Wilson-White (Claude), David Spielberg (Matt Glossy), Mary Wickes (Mrs. Dempsey), Meshach Taylor (Delivery Man)

Running Time: 219 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: TV-G
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio) / Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Original Airdates: October 30, 1987 - December 7, 1987
Suggested Retail Price: $9.98 / DVD Release Date: July 19, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Keepcase

Buy Punky Brewster from Amazon.com: The Best of Season Three DVD The Complete Third Season DVD

After two lowly-rated seasons of airing it Sunday nights following their NFL broadcasts, NBC cancelled "Punky Brewster" in 1986. But, the sitcom didn't end there, finding new life in television's then go-to second chance, first-run syndication.
"Punky" would accrue as many episodes and seasons there as on NBC, produced by Columbia Pictures Television, then a division of Coca-Cola. The show finished with four seasons and 88 episodes, nothing momentous, but a significant TV run to be sure.

I recently got my overdue introduction to the series by reviewing a DVD holding most of the second half of the premiere season. From there, I have jumped into Season 3, for this review of Mill Creek Entertainment's recent The Best of Season Three compilation. Skipping over a season finds that the series has changed in pronounced ways. It hasn't moved away from its premise: colorful, optimistic, abandoned young girl Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) gets adopted by weary old widower Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes). Their happy, loving, mutually beneficial arrangement, however, has been made permanent.

In terms of location changes, photographer Henry, formerly working from home, now has a studio at the local mall. Meanwhile, Punky and her two best friends, Cherie (Cherie Johnson) and Margaux (Ami Foster), now hang out in a large and theatrical treehouse set, seemingly out of place in downtown Chicago.

Adoptive dad Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes) is uncertain about the journalistic values Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) demonstrates in Westview School's "Fifth Grade What?" newspaper. Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) is ready for a bra in the third season of her eponymous sitcom.

The series matures with its protagonist. Punky was a precocious 7-year-old at the series' start. Season 3 finds her in the fifth grade, with some slightly weightier issues on her mind. In fact, Season 3 is all about issues. This was around the time that the phrase "very special episode" came about on shows like "Diff'rent Strokes" and "Growing Pains." Nearly all ten of the episodes picked to represent the third season of "Punky" get topical, tackling subjects like drunk driving, divorce, puberty, addiction, and obesity. There is only so much a situation comedy can do with issues like these, having to wrap them around jokes and fit them into a tidy, standard 20-minute structure. Inevitably, such episodes feel crass and melodramatic, if not downright exploitative. Dealing one after another, it's clear that the "Punky Brewster" may be less childish than it was before, but it's not as good.

It's still good, with the Punky/Henry relationship remaining a sturdy foundation and most of the jokes and scenarios maintaining appeal. But it can be pretty stupid, like when it devotes an episode to the stunt casting of R&B sibling group DeBarge (who?!). It's also disheartening to find Punky's trusty dog Brandon (named after then chief of NBC programming, Brandon Tartikoff, whose childhood crush lent the series its title) purely serving as a trained performer to get some easy laughs.
In Season 3, the dog takes pictures, steeps tea, skateboards, plays cards and Monopoly (both with great success), weighs himself, and opens a door. That kind of behavior is amusing from Snoopy, but here, executed with offstage looks and painful obedience, it is slightly distracting, inane, and undermines the show's sweet but limited domestic realism.

Still, this is a traditional multi-camera sitcom, made in the mid-1980s, and aimed largely at young audiences. Any class and tact emerging from that combination have to be considered unexpected delights. And "Punky" delivers such delights, slipping touching moments in along with its usually diverting farce.

As the most fervent "Punky Brewster" fans already know, Shout! Factory released the entire series to DVD in complete season sets from 2004 to 2008. Licensing from Shout!, value-driven Mill Creek has been releasing single-disc, 10-episode compilations as low-priced alternatives to the season sets. Their two most recent ones pull ten episodes from entire seasons, resulting in almost half-season discs, with list prices less than a third of Shout!'s 4-disc collections.

Here is what's considered the best of Season 3...

Someone thought sibling boy band DeBarge lip-synching would make for a compelling premiere for Punky Brewster's syndicated third season. A visit from second cousin Louise (Danielle Rioux) prompts a parade of fat jokes, most of them from her.

3.01. Reading, Writing and Rock & Roll (21:57) (Originally aired October 30, 1987)
Needing to get a book report done quickly so she can attend a DeBarge concert, Punky buys one off of Spud Blugner (the late Brent Chalem, making his first of three appearances). In response, Henry dresses hip and asks DeBarge to teach her the importance of reading.

3.02. Punky's Big Story (21:53) (Originally aired November 2, 1987)
Punky's 5th grade class starts a newspaper. Assigned to cover "human interest", Punky settles for gossip, with consequences.

3.03. Tons of Fun (21:53) (Originally aired November 3, 1987)
Punky's fun, fat second cousin Louise (Danielle Rioux, in padding) visits, prompting an episode devoted to childhood obesity. Punky and company help Louise try to lose weight.

3.04. Divorce Anderson Style (21:57) (Originally aired November 4, 1987)
Punky's friend Allen (Casey Ellison) has been spending a lot of time at her place to avoid his parents fighting. Henry invites the parents over to clarify the concerns. This episode is Allen's last, moving him to Kansas.

3.05. Beer and Buffalos Don't Mix (21:55) (Originally aired November 5, 1987)
Punky finds it tough to talk about her friend's father's drinking and driving.

Things get emotional for Punky and Cherie in a cemetery visit of "The Anniversary." Behind a smile, Henry (George Gaynes) hides the pain of his new position as Glossy's manager.

3.11. Metamorphosis (21:55) (Originally aired November 12, 1987)
Henry isn't comfortable talking with Punky about her developing chest. (But Punky's friends are sure comfortable talking about boobs with her!)

3.15. The Anniversary (21:58) (Originally aired November 17, 1987)
Cherie curiously wants to be left alone on May 9th. When Punky finds out the reason, she helps her grieve for her parents on the anniversary of their death.

3.16. Tangled Web (21:56) (Originally aired November 20, 1987)
Since Henry won't take her to see the R-rated movie Slime Wars in Space, Punky dresses up like an old woman and goes by herself.

3.19. So Long, Studio (21:55) (Originally aired December 2, 1987)
Henry sells his photo studio to the owner of a successful chain for $100,000.
Staying on as manager, everything quickly goes bad there, prompting Henry to quit and start a new business.

3.22. Unhooking Henry (21:56) (Originally aired December 7, 1987)
Punky helps Henry break his dependency on sleeping pills in this Season 3 finale.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Fortunately, I experienced no wrong aspect ratio issue here. "Punky" appeared in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen on both of my players. Displaying the softness and blurriness of most '80s television, picture quality is not great, but certainly watchable. Episodes here run 2-3 minutes shorter than their Season 1 counterparts, alleviating disc compression by about 24 minutes. The disc still wields over 3 hours of content, which is a lot, with a good amount of disc space to spare, but most of the woes seem to stem from the source and not their tight packing. There are some glitches (occasional color splotches and tracking lines) that you don't see on many major studio releases (and I doubt you found on Shout! Factory's sets), but they are fairly infrequent on all but "Tangled Web." The standard 2.0 stereo soundtrack isn't marred by equivalent faults. The elements are dated but robust enough. Sadly but commonly, neither subtitles nor closed captioning are offered here.

In the new treehouse she helped build, Mrs. Johnson (Susie Garrett) drops some breast knowledge on Cherie (Cherie Johnson), Punky, and Margaux. Groovy music and a photo of Punky and Henry enliven the Best of Season Three DVD's episode selection menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No bonus features are provided here, which makes sense
considering the nature of this disc and Mill Creek's operating procedures. A few new cast/crew interviews and episodes of the animated series were attached to the Shout! season sets.

The main menu places the cover art image atop a loving backdrop while part of the theme song loops. Hip score jazzes up the other menu, which allows you to select any of the ten episodes for playback.

It seems like Mill Creek has gotten its act together, since the Season 1 compilation. This disc allows you to watch an individual episode and be returned to the menu. It also grants episodes ample chapter stops, allowing you to skip the title sequence and find a desired scene quickly. And there are no paper envelopes or thick cases here, just a standard-sized black keepcase.

In his only appearance in the syndicated seasons, Allen Anderson (Casey Ellison) bids farewell to Punky, as his parents' divorce requires him to move to Kansas. In the end, Henry (George Gaynes) is happy that Punky (Soleil Moon Frye) helped him overcome his sleeping pill dependency.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Punky Brewster" remains enjoyable in its third season, but less so than before, with its outlandish special issue episodes and occasional stupidity. The decreases in show quality are offset by increases in DVD quality. Compared to the Season 1 compilation I just reviewed, this disc improves in packaging, design, compression, and, most importantly, aspect ratio uniformity. The presentation might still be lacking, but Mill Creek's 10-episode season surveys do seem like an adequate way to revisit Punky without spending much, especially if you are able to overlook picture flaws. Without having it, I can only suspect that The Best of Season Two offers better episodes and a comparable DVD experience, which would make it a preferable buy to this.

Buy The Best of Season Three from Amazon.com / Buy The Complete Third Season DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed August 4, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1987 Lightkeeper Productions, Coca-Cola Telecommunications, NBC Universal Television Distribution, and 2011 Mill Creek Entertainment.
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