Punky Brewster



Heartwarming '80s sitcom celebrates family bonds.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The show doesn’t aim to educate kids, but they will pick up on its messages of tolerance and individuality.

Positive messages

The show celebrates the nontraditional family, exploring the heartwarming relationship between foster (and adoptive) parents and kids. Henry and Punky forge an unlikely bond and come to rely on and love each other. The show also deals with serious issues in a thoughtful way, including child abandonment, financial uncertainty, illness, and even the real-life tragedy of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986.

Positive role models

Despite his grumpy demeanor, Henry is affectionate and honest with Punky and encourages her to express herself. Punky is an imaginative free spirit, a good friend, and a stickler for fairness, and acceptance of others.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this 1980s sitcom celebrates the diverse definition of family, centering on the unique bond between a young girl and her unlikely foster (and eventual adoptive) father. Even though its style is notably outdated, kids who do tune in won’t likely miss its heartwarming messages about tolerance, kindness, and overcoming differences. The show is thoughtful in its approach to serious issues like a family member’s illness, child abandonment, and even the 1986 Space Shuttle tragedy.

What's the story?

When her mom abandons her at a shopping mall, young Penelope “Punky” Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) is left to fend for herself. She discovers a vacant space in an apartment building and takes up residence there with her faithful canine companion, Brandon, and quickly befriends her upstairs neighbor, Cherie (Cherie Johnson). But she’s soon discovered by the building’s curmudgeonly manager, Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes), who surprisingly hits it off with free-spirited Punky. Their mutual affection eventually inspires him to become her foster parent, giving her the stable family life she’s always craved.

Is it any good?


Modern-day girls may take one look at Punky and veto the show solely for its outdated sense of fashion (mismatched shoes, gaudy colors, and that trademark handkerchief tied around one leg), but if they’re willing to take a chance on it, there are plenty of good messages about individuality and tolerance to be gleaned.

It isn’t flashy or set to a downloadable soundtrack, but PUNKY BREWSTER tells a feel-good story about realistic characters and relatable problems, and it makes us rethink what it means to be a family. As content goes, there’s very little to worry about here, but the show does touch on some serious issues (child abandonment and a parent’s illness, for example) that might raise concerns for kids.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what defines a family. How has society’s definition of family changed through the years? How expansive is your family? Are there non-biological relationships that you consider to be family?

  • Talk about comedy. What makes a show funny to you? Does a show’s humor change when it’s viewed through the lens of time? Is it harder to relate to shows that are years old? If so, why?

  • Kids: How do you express your individuality? What kinds of things do you hold dear to your heart? How do you let people know what you value? What makes you special?

TV details

Cast:George Gaynes, Soleil Moon Frye
TV rating:NR
Available on:DVD

This review of Punky Brewster was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Classic family sitcom offers fun with its lessons.
  • Classic 1980s sitcom's messages still ring true today.
  • '80s favorite offers laughs and life lessons.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written byLowe's man July 7, 2014

A huge payoff for kids who take the gamble.

I used to watch this show as a teenager, when it first came on in 1984. I liked it back then. When I saw it again years later I thought that the show was ok, but just ok. Translation: even if you liked this show as a kid, you may or may not like it as an adult. Today's kids may veto the show because it's obviously outdated, making this a hit or miss show. What's more, the show may or may not appeal to boys. But again, NBC was aware of this challenge. To that end, Allen was cast so the show would appeal to both boys and girls. Even when Allen left, while the show became more feminine, even then it wasn't too feminine or girly, assuring that the show would generally still appeal to boys and girls. What's good about this show is that Punky and Henry live in poverty, as poor people, particularly poor families, are often invisible on tv, making poor children (and adults) feel that tv doesn't recognize them. Not on PUNKY BREWSTER. Poor people are seen and are portrayed positively on this show. A refreshing departure. One of the few shows that depicts the struggle that poor people have. Let us not forget the life lessons that Punky and her friends taught us. In addition to such "classic" lessons as honesty, persistence, problems at school and tolerance, also included are Just Saying No to drugs, the reaction to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (a springboard for a discussion about how kids feel when there are tragic events in the news), and- this is how deep the show went- the importance of learning CPR. Today's kids may or may not like this show, for, in addition to being outdated, the artistic quality isn't great. But those who do watch will gain much in the way of life lessons.
Adult Written bygoodgirl July 6, 2015

Cute little show

Punky Brewster is about a little girl with a positive attitude , and she looks on the bright side which is cool. she also has her own fashion which makes her an indivual. I was born in 1985 and the show came out in 1984 but watching the dvds its a cute show. a clean show with no bad stuff or profanity.
What other families should know
Great messages
Teen, 13 years old Written bystar97 November 28, 2010

cute show!

I like this show a lot! My mom got a DVD with the first few episodes on it, and I thought it was great and really cute!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide