Robert Trachtenberg/Peacock
July 02, 2021
In The Mix

Room for More

Once the spunky foster kid Punky Brewster, Soleil Moon Frye picks up the story on Peacock, now as a foster mom.

Laurie Ulster

"I feel like I'm coming of age all over again, at this stage in my life."

Soleil Moon Frye first came of age in the mid-'80s as the star of Punky Brewster, playing a precocious girl abandoned by her parents but rescued from the foster care system by a lovable curmudgeon. Young viewers connected deeply with her ungirly fashion choices and indefatigable optimism in the face of a surprisingly gritty backstory. The show ran on NBC from 1984 to '88.

Now, Punky has a sequel streaming on Peacock, and Frye couldn't be happier. Fresh from the last run-through of a 10-episode season, she oozes enthusiasm, a trademark she shares with her TV alter ego. "I look at the kids, I look at the family... I want to just escape into this world," she says, confessing she hopes the show will go for "years and years and years."

Peacock's Punky is all grown up ("ish," she says), divorced (Freddie Prinze, Jr., plays her ex) and a mom of three when she meets a strikingly familiar foster kid through her still-BFF Cherie (Cherie Johnson).

The new series revisits familiar themes, exploring "everything from abandonment to identity to what does family look like," Frye says. Serious issues are built into the show's DNA, along with the comedy and positivity of the original.

It wasn't always easy for Frye to keep the positive energy flowing as a teenager. "I had years where I kind of had forgotten a little bit of that Punky power and had let in the voices that you feel inside, of insecurity or self-doubt — those things that start to weigh on you."

Back then, she carried a video camera with her everywhere; she captured fellow teen stars in candid moments but locked all the footage away for decades. She's since turned that material — and additional modern-day footage — into Kid 90, a coming-of-age documentary available on Hulu.

So what's still on her bucket list? "I do plan on going to space at some point," she declares. "I'm not even kidding." Remember, Punky wanted to be an astronaut, too. And unlike some former child actors, Frye has nothing but love for the character who made her a star.

"I always felt like if I was 80 years old and people still called me Punky, I would be totally great with it."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2021

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