When Punky Brewster fans learned a reboot was coming, the fanfare was magnetic. The original series aired on NBC from 1984 to 1988 and chronicled Punky (Soleil Moon Frye), an abandoned tween who adapts to a new life with the help of her dog, a photographer, and her childhood friend, Cherie (Cherie Johnson).
Frye and Johnson are reprising their roles in the reboot set to begin streaming on Peacock on Feb. 25. Punky is just the latest sitcom from the ’80s and ’90s getting a reboot. Johnson, who’s been acting professionally since she was 6, told Shadow and Act in a recent interview that the reason so many reboots are in motion is due to fans yearning for content of substance.
“People want to see their favorite childhood shows because there’s no photo of Black love right now,” she told us. “The only thing we get is a lot of mess and reality shows. I believe those shows bring us back to a feel-good time when there was more unity in the world, when Black love was represented correctly on TV…you watch TV now, I can’t sit and watch that stuff. On reality, they’re screaming, they’re throwing drinks at each other…that’s not my life.”
For Punky specifically, Johnson says the show appeals to viewers of all ages. “It’s generational. I’ve heard a lot of people who watched us that have introduced the show to their children,” she explained. “I think it’s amazing that they’ve had the time to sit back and share what they loved growing up with their babies. I didn’t realize that it was such a big deal until I walked in the store one day and this little, little girl came up to me and she said, ‘Excuse me…is your name Cherie?’ For a baby to recognize you for something that you did 30 years ago was amazing and I’m excited that our friends are going to be able to watch the show with their kids.”
Furthermore, Johnson says the subject matter has always been appealing, especially as the show tackled tough topics. The reboot adds another layer, with Johnson in a same-sex relationship that she is sure will spark conversation. As a matter of fact, Johnson demanded that her on-screen love interest look the part.
“One of the things that I wanted was for it to not be stereotypical so it was very important for me when they brought the idea to me. The first thing I said to them was, ‘Bring me a baddie! [laughs] And bring me a baddie because I hear so many men say ‘Oh my God, you were my first crush in the world’,” she recalled. “If you bring me a baddie to be involved with, now you have all of those original guy [fans] just as excited to like her as they like me.”
Jasika Nicole, who is an openly lesbian actress, stars as Johnson’s on-screen love interest. Johnson’s career is admirable. She’s been able to successfully transition from child star with roles in shows like Family Matters to a working adult actress. She also hosts her own successful podcast Cherie’s World.
Unfortunately, some of Johnson’s colleagues haven’t had the same seamless experience. Johnson says it’s all about staying grounded and that it starts with having the right people around you.
“From what I’ve seen being in the industry is that a lot of the parents made the decision for their children, they were living vicariously through their children and their children were mommy and daddy pleasing,” she explained. “For me, it was a decision that I made for myself. My parents, my uncles, they had no intent on me being on TV, they wanted me to go to school…that makes the difference. My mom was my mother, she was not my friend. If I didn’t get good grades, I couldn’t get my work permit and I couldn’t work.”
Watch the full interview with Johnson below, in which she also talks about her time on other classic projects like Family Matters and much more: