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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Punky Brewster: Season Three
Punky Brewster: Season Three
Shout Factory // Unrated // July 25, 2006
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 31, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
Punky's back for more punishment

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: The '80s
Likes: Sitcoms
Hates: Very Special Episodes

The Story So Far...
Punky (Soleil Moon-Frye), a young girl with plenty of energy and a unique sense of style, was abandoned by her mother in a supermarket, and found squatting in an empty apartment by the building's elderly superintendent, Henry (George Gaynes). Henry takes her in and she proceeds to turn his life upside down, as she gets into plenty of trouble with her friends Cherie, Margeaux and Allen.

Shout! Factory released the first season of the show in June of 2004, and followed it with Season Two in February 2005. DVDTalk has reviews of both: Season One | Season Two.

The Show
If you thought Punky had it rough in her second season, dealing with kidnapping, the near-death of her pal Cherie, and the potential loss of her foster dad Henry, as well as the explosion of the Challenger shuttle, the creators were just getting started. In the third season of the show, which was syndicated after NBC had cancelled the show, life just got worse for the perky Punky and her pals.

Focusing on the issues of the day, including literacy, bullying, the environment, and the economy, the show took on a preachy "The More You Know" feel. A full two episodes are spent on children who are overweight, while Henry even has troubles to cope with, as his photo shop is bought out and he becomes hooked on drugs. One of the more memorable episodes dealt with a friend of Punky's being the child of an alcoholic, while the cast took a hit thanks to "Divorce, Anderson Style," in which Allen's parents split up, forcing him to move.

While the show has its definite gloom and doom moments, there's a good deal of shows dealing mainly with growing up. Punky needs to get a bra, Cherie discovers boys, Punky wants to see R-rated films and she gets a job. There's also an unusual amount of episodes focused on Brandon, including a two-parter where he runs away. It's episodes like this, and the depressing "The Anniversary," which reveals Cherie's past, that give this series its real '80s feel. The "very special episodes" that dominated sitcoms of the time today feel very heavy-handed, and tend to make for weaker episodes.

There's one very '80s episode that's worth watching though, and that's the season premiere, "Reading, Writing, and Rock & Roll." For some reason, in '80s sitcoms, everyone had access to celebrities, whenever they were needed to teach a child a lesson. And for some additional reason, El Debarge was always available as well (as anyone who has seen their "The Facts of Life" episode will attest to.) Thus, when Punky doesn't do her school work, she can't see El Debarge, so El Debarge comes to her, to teach her that reading is fundamental. It's so ridiculously stupid that it becomes genuinely entertaining. That's a pretty good description of most of the series, truthfully. If you have a taste for '80s nostalgia and sitcom stupidity, this episode, including a stunningly dated and silly (and lip-synched) appearance by the band, will entertain you. Even with my status as an '80s aficionado, I didn't remember El Debarge being so cheesy (or so blond.)

Outside of the plots, the show remains reliably consistent, with good sitcom performances by the main cast, as they attempt to draw laughs with weak gags and gasps with melodrama. Nothing stands out, other than Henry'scontained love-hate relationship with Cheri's grandma, which can be counted on for the show's best jokes. The series was always aimed at children, which explains why the show remained safe and simple. There doesn't seem to be much room for that kind of TV today, which makes this set one that younger viewers could enjoy more than adults, though the dated references could turn some kids off.

The DVDs
The 22 episodes from the third season of "Punky Brewster" come spread over four DVDs, packed in a gatefold digipak package. The episodes are split with five on the first and fourth discs, and six on the other two. Each episode can be viewed separately or you can select the Play All option to watch the entire disc. There are no audio options or subtitles, though the episodes do have closed captioning. The menus retain the same look as the previous seasons, with the same annoying Special Features animation that slows down use of the options.

The Quality
The full-frame episodes have the distinct look of a vintage '80s sitcom. Sharpness doesn't exist on these DVDs, and fine detail is similarly absent. The color is pretty good,important in displaying Punky's oddball sense of style, and has solid black levels, considering the inherent amount of grain and softness in these transfers. Occasionally, some light pixelation is obvious, but overall they are decent.

The audio is similarly good though limited, capturing the thin sound of '80s TV, delivered in Dolby Digital 2.0. The laughtrack is pretty heavy, while the music and stings are well separated from the dialogue. There's no obvious interference in the soundtrack, resulting in a clear presentation.

The Extras
Sales must not be too hot for this series, as the extras decrease once again, with the only bonus features being five more episodes of the cartoon "It's Punky Brewster." This time it's "Punky, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs / Punky the Heiress," "Punky to the Rescue / The Quartersize Quarterback," " Brandon the Dialogue Dog / Winning Isn't Everything," "Any Wish Way You Can / The Bermuda Tangle," "Unidentified Flying Glomer," and "Fish Story" (the last two are halves from two separate episodes. At the current rate, they'd have to include nine episodes with Season Four to finish the series. Hopefully Shout! Factory will come through to make sure a few episodes don't fall into limbo.

The Bottom Line
No one is going to pick up just Season Three of this series out of curiosity, so the buyers will almost always own the first two set, and are interested in this set more for completing a collection than the quality of the episodes (with the exception of the El Debarge fanatics out there.) Considering how imited the audience for this set is, Shout! Factory should be commended simply for continuing the releases, and lauded for the presentation and for supplying a set of supplements the show's fans can appreciate. Fans of '80s cheese and parents of younger sitcom watchers should give it a rent, leaving the rest of the inventory for the show's hard-core followers.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter

*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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