The Perils of Punky with Kayleigh Shoen

Flash fiction writer Kayleigh Shoen joined us to talk about an episode of Punky Brewster that scared her as a child: The Perils of Punky!

The Perils of Punky with Kayleigh Shoen
Cherie, Margaux, and Allan stuck in giant spiderweb in a cave in The Perils of Punky

For the first time in a year and a half we actually met in person to record this one! Flash fiction writer Kayleigh Shoen joined us to talk about an episode of Punky Brewster that scared her as a child: The Perils of Punky!

Listen to "The Perils of Punky with Kayleigh Shoen" on Spreaker.

Here’s Kayleigh’s hazy recollection:

“I was very into Punky Brewster at an age when I was too young to read clocks, so even though I loved it, I had a hard time being a regular viewer. I think I remember it being part of a Saturday morning block with PeeWee’s Playhouse and Hey Vern, It’s Ernest, but I’m not 100% certain.

Punky Brewster has some more famous episodes like the fridge episode and the Challenger explosion episode and the must-increase-our-busts episode, but I’ve chosen the episodes that were most memorable to me – THE SPIDER EPISODES!

So, I actually didn’t even realize this was 2 episodes because I think I only saw the first one and then – like I said I had no idea what time it was on or even the days of the week -- I probably didn’t see the show again for another month. I was so little that I couldn’t even really follow stories on tv. I think the first episode ends with Punky seeing a spider the size of a human adult and I was just like wow that was a really scary episode! I think I remember even thinking maybe Punky died at the end. I remember it’s set in a cave and she gets separated from her friends. Maybe they’re camping? The spider is very large and very furry.

The first thing I’m looking forward to seeing again is Punky’s style. Punky was a style icon to me as a kindergarten/first grader. I was very much a dresses with pigtails girl, and thanks to Punky I added a lot of insouciant touches like bathrobe belts and mismatched socks to put my own stamp on everything.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the opening credits so I can work out what Punky’s actual backstory is. What I remember can’t possibly be true – that her mom deserted her in a laundromat and then Punky went to juvie before she somehow dropped in on an old guy and convinced him to adopt her?  Maybe I should’ve suggested the first episode, actually.”

So much to unpack here. First, Kayleigh was basically right about the actual premise of the show. It was very much grounded in real life issue special episodes, so this weird supernatural one where the kids go into a cave and get attacked by a giant spider is really out of the ordinary. Second, there’s a whole lot of Native American cultural appropriation that happens in this particular 2 part episode. It was the mid 80s, the same era as Poltergeist II, so this shouldn’t be terribly surprising, but it still definitely didn’t age well.

We also talked about Mike the Headless Chicken… which was a real chicken who survived a botched beheading attempt and lived for 18 months longer. Wikipedia has details, but be warned that they aren’t for the squeamish.

Geoffrey gives us a lesson on the history of the band Oingo Boingo, and Julia and Kayleigh share choice nuggets of trivia from oral histories of the Punky Brewster refrigerator episode and of The Perils of Punky.