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Punky Brewster: Turn Your World Around DVD Review

Punky Brewster: Turn Your World Around DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Punky Brewster: Turn Your World Around (1984-85)
Show & DVD Details

Creator/Executive Producer: David W. Duclon / Supervising Producers: Gary Menteer / Producers: Rick Hawkins, Liz Sage

Writers: Carmen Finestra, Jim Evering, Gary Menteer, Rick Hawkins, Liz Sage, David W. Duclon, Dorothy Van, Barry Vigon, Christine Houston, Neil Lebowitz / Director: Art Dielhenn

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

Recurring Characters: Ami Foster (Margaux Kramer), Casey Ellison (Allen Anderson), Dody Goodman (Mrs. Morton)

Notable Guest Stars: Andy Gibb (Himself, Tony Glenn), Loyita Chapel (Mrs. Kramer), Eddie Deezen (Eddie), Iggie Wolfington (Nick), Danny Ponce (Billy Bahootsas), Peter Elbling (Mr. Lonnie Dell), Wendel Meldrum (Heather), Allyn Ann McLerie (Maggie McLerie), Robin Bach (Jeffries), Meeno Peluce (Zach), Chad Allen (Conrad), Scott Nemes (Willie), Beach Richards (Mrs. Carney), Raleigh Bond (Dr. Frankel), T.K. Carter (Mike Fulton), Billy Lombardo (T.C.), James LeGros (Blade), Rosanna DeSoto (Rita J. Sanchez), Benji Gregory (Dash), Martin Davis (Sugar), Gabriel Damon (Lyle), B.J. Barie (Conan)

Running Time: 243 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: TV-G
Varied by Player: 1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio) / 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Stretched)
Dolby Digital 2.0 (English); Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Original Airdates: November 24, 1984 - March 31, 1985
Suggested Retail Price: $9.98 / DVD Release Date: October 12, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Thick Black Keepcase with Paper/Plastic Envelope

Buy Punky Brewster from Amazon.com: Turn Your World Around DVD The Complete First Season DVD

Sitcoms have grown scarce and sitcoms starring children have all but disappeared from network television. You won't find another show like "Punky Brewster" on one of the 4.5 big networks anytime soon. "Punky" premiered on NBC in the fall of 1984. Recalling "Diff'rent Strokes" and "Webster" without the interracial angle, the show is centered on the title character (played by Soleil Moon Frye),
a girl just seven years old at the start who is abandoned by her mother and taken in by elderly Chicago widower Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes). Punky -- a spunky, creative girl with a colorful fashion sense -- and Henry -- skinflint, landlord, and portrait photographer -- are just what the other needs and their unusual two-member foster family is built on love and thoughtfulness.

Sure, maybe that's a little square and inevitably with such a young protagonist, the show is a little childish. But both then and now, this sitcom can play to all ages, a sweet and endearing product of undoubtedly simpler times. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but what television show is, after more than twenty years of changing tastes? With an understated and unobtrusive laugh track, expectations are met. The Emmys relegated "Punky" to the Outstanding Children's Program category in its first two seasons and aside from one other technical nomination, the show's only recognition expectedly came from the Young Artist (then called Youth in Film) Awards.

Certainly, the series is best enjoyed by someone who caught it in youth or who similarly experienced their formative years in the 1980s. Still, while absolutely dated, "Punky" holds up well, being cute but not too cute, sentimental but not saccharine, and silly but not mindless. It's sort of like a live-action cartoon, one which remains accessible for teens and adults while speaking directly to the young viewers who were secondary for other sitcoms. Appropriately enough, the characters take on an animated appearance in the opening and closing credits and the day before Season 2 debuted, Ruby-Spears' animated spin-off "It's Punky Brewster" first aired.

Many a color is used in the title logo for "Punky Brewster", which is laid over an aerial view of Chicago. Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) adds color and happiness to the life of old widower Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes).

"Punky Brewster" did not get good ratings, not that it could have been expected to draw huge crowds with timeslots in the 7:00 hour with which primetime begins on Sunday night. After two seasons there, it and its veteran lead-in turned follow-up "Silver Spoons" were cancelled by NBC, only to find new life in first-run syndication. "Spoons" did its fifth and final season that way, with star Ricky Schroder in postpubescence. "Punky" got two more seasons, finishing with a perfect 88 half-hours of episodes over the course of its four years.

The show may not have been a huge hit, but four seasons is more than the vast majority of television gets and Punky herself remains an icon of 1980s pop culture, somewhere between Rainbow Brite and ALF. The four seasons were released to DVD from 2004 to 2008 by fan-pleasing licensee Shout! Factory. In 2009, Shout! entered a deal with Mill Creek Entertainment, allowing the latter to supplement the complete season sets with low-priced collections aimed at the less devout. Mill Creek's first disc, released that summer with no subtitle, held the show's first eight episodes in order.

Its second is this review's subject, a compilation titled Turn Your World Around. It holds ten episodes from the second half of Season 1 (six of them comprising two-parters), taking us to the end of the season by skipping over four episodes. The disc was released last October and I got it this week along with one of the series' newest Mill Creek DVDs, which also serve up single discs holding ten episodes but are now covering entire 22-episode seasons that way with a "Best of Season X" approach.

Carrying a list price of just $9.98 each, Mill Creek's 10-episode collections should tempt those who are nostalgic for Punky and her friends but not enough to want to own the whole run. But it's not just the runtime and price that fall below Shout! Factory's sets, as you'll see. First, let's look closer at the episodes gathered here...

Andy Gibb hosts and judges the Miss Adorable beauty pageant. Punky celebrates Henry's marriage proposal to Maggie (Allyn Ann McLerie) during the couple's dinner at Looweegee's Home of Punky Pizza. Mike Fulton (T.K. Carter) reaches through to troubled boys with a solid Bill Cosby impression.

1.09. Miss Adorable (24:33) (Originally aired November 25, 1984)
Punky enters the Miss Adorable beauty pageant, judged by the Bee Gees' Andy Gibb (who gives a rousing performance of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls").
Punky's entry is an act with her loyal companion, Brandon the Wonder Dog.

1.12-13. Yes, Punky, There is a Santa Claus - Part 1 and Part 2 (48:44) (Originally aired December 16, 1984)
An older student tells Punky there is no Santa Claus, prompting Henry to play the part at her school. In Part 2, he struggles to make good on Santa's promise to find Punky's mom as requested.

1.14. Play It Again, Punky (24:27) (Originally aired January 20, 1985)
Punky learns to play piano from hip teacher Tony Glenn (Andy Gibb, in his final taste of character acting), who she tries to turn into a star.

1.15. Henry Falls in Love - Part 1 (24:28) (Originally aired January 27, 1985)
Henry's high school sweetheart (Allyn Ann McLerie) comes in for passport photos and instead gets rekindled romance and a dinner at Punky's Italian restaurant.

1.16. Henry Falls in Love - Part 2 (23:50) (Originally aired February 3, 1985)
So as not to stand in the way of Henry getting remarried, Punky runs away and finds a friend in teenaged runaway Zach (Soleil Moon Frye's half-brother, "Voyagers!" star Meeno Peluce).

1.17. My Aged Valentine (24:21) (Originally aired February 10, 1985)
After brushing off a classmate's (Chad Allen) kiss with a punch, Punky dreams of being old, single, and lonely.

1.18. I Love You, Brandon (24:21) (Originally aired February 17, 1985)
Brandon eats Henry's priceless newly-acquired stamps. When trying to set it right, the dog is hit by a car and might have to be euthanized.

1.21-22. Fenster Hall - Part 1 and Part 2 (48:25) (Originally aired March 31, 1985)
Another homeless child features, this one, T.C. (Billy Lombardo), a young cat burglar who Henry refers to the aforementioned Fenster Hall, a shelter for neglected tough boys run by the cool Mike Fulton (T.K. Carter, "Good Morning, Miss Bliss"). T.C.'s nasty mentor (James LeGros, in one of his first acting gigs) wants him to scam the joint during its charity auction. Intended to launch a spin-off, this hour-long season finale instead just introduced Fulton as a character who would recur in Season 2.

Punky (Soleil Moon Frye) tells Santa Claus (Henry) what she wants for Christmas in the first half of "Yes, Punky, There is a Santa Claus." Punky gets a glimpse at a spinster future with a very old Henry in "My Aged Valentine."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Bizarrely, watching this DVD on my regular set-top player, these episodes filled my 16:9 television, stretched from their original standard 1.33:1 to 1.78:1 widescreen. On my computer, the disc played the episodes properly in 1.33:1. That changes what I had already written considerably, but not as far as my TV and home theater are concerned...

Though the distortion is simple, there is no easy way to fix it. The 4:3 mode on my TV only cut off the edges and nothing else, from telling my TV it was 4:3 to choosing "Pan and Scan" output, was able to restore the picture to its original dimensions. A wrong aspect ratio is about the most basic goof a TV DVD can make. I've encountered few that do this and even then, they're shows simultaneously framed/guarded for both 4:3 and 16:9, making them viable if not ideal. Until now, I had not seen one faking a widescreen presentation by stretching 1.33:1 content.
I think a good rule of thumb for studios is this: maintain the original aspect ratio and let those who want it stretched (16:9 is the new "fullscreen") change their settings to do so. That's clearly preferred when there is no setting to right this wrong. Furthermore, If you're deliberately going to make an old show widescreen (a practice I, and most, oppose), at least achieve it by matting (that seems to be how HD On Demand "Seinfeld" episodes are presented in the new standard ratio with no concerns).

I couldn't believe that two Amazon customers could review this disc without mentioning this unfortunate shortcoming. Now, I understand that mileage will vary. But I still can't figure out the source of my repeatable problem. Clearly my player is set up right, as I watch 1.33:1 content all the time without this. And it doesn't seem to be some random studio-wide setting, since the other two Mill Creek titles I'm currently reviewing (including the Best of Season 3 "Punky") do not exhibit the same issue. If you are the owner of a Sony BDV-E570, know that you too might have some trouble.

The stretching emphasized the inevitable fact that the show doesn't look so good. TV quality standards have changed sharply over the years and this has the soft, faded look of its era. It doesn't help that Mill Creek squeezes nearly twice as much content on this disc as what most studios would, with over four hours of episodes sharing a DVD-9 that's shy of capacity. Some compression issues definitely seem to stem from that design, with certain shots breaking up as they might on a low-res YouTube stream. There's also the occasional blip in the video. Meanwhile, the seemingly monaural 2.0 audio suffers from the rare crackle and hiss along with the usual dated '80s sitcom sound. Adding insult to injury, neither closed captioning nor English subtitles are offered. I assume that most of the A/V shortcomings are products of the original source and that Mill Creek might well be working with materials from Shout!, only giving them less room to breathe.

Things start to go bad for Punky's beloved dog Brandon after he eats Henry's priceless stamps in "I Love You, Brandon." Pick where you'd like to start playback of the disc on the two crumpled paper episode menus.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No bonus features are included here. If you want extras, you'll have to get Shout! Factory's complete season sets while you still can. They include episodes of the cartoon spin-off "It's Punky Brewster" and interviews with the creator and cast, but sadly not Soleil Moon Frye herself, who has since reprised the part vocally on "Robot Chicken" and in costume for this short 2009 video to celebrate her 1 millionth Twitter follower:


Video streaming by Ustream

The main menu, which ironically always appeared in 4:3, displays photos and animates the title while an instrumental version of the theme song plays. The episodes are listed across two pages with colorful children's writing on slightly crumpled notebook paper. Two chapter stops are placed per episode, meaning you can't easily skip the 1-minute opening title if so inclined. Selecting one episode plays it and all the ones that follow.

Turn Your World Around has one of the most bizarre DVD packages I've come across. The case is about 1 times as wide as a standard keepcase (in itself, unusual for a single-disc release). Then inside, that disc is held in a paper and plastic envelope which is secured by various plastic protrusions. I guess more is better than less in this case, but it does seem a standard case would have done just fine.

Every color is well-represented in the wardrobe of Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye). Merry Christmas from Henry (George Gaynes), Punky (Soleil Moon Frye), and Brandon (Brandon)!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Holding almost half the first season and selling for less than one-fourth the price, Turn Your World Around seems like a good deal and a great way for casual "Punky Brewster" fans to begin a DVD collection, but the episodes are packed too tight and, if it affects you, that widescreen aspect ratio is inexcusable. At least the former is somewhat tolerable (the casual fans this is targeted at may prefer more episodes to fewer compression artifacts) and the latter seems to vary based on your player.

This '80s sitcom is good enough to discover or rediscover and if you'd like to do that at a single-digit cost, one of Mill Creek's other compilations should be a surer bet than this one.

Buy Turn Your World Around from Amazon.com / Buy The Complete First Season DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed July 22, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1984-85 NBC International Ltd., Lightkeeper Productions, NBC Productions, and 2010 Mill Creek Entertainment, NBC Enterprises.
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