We're having a very Soleil Moon Frye moment right now. With the Punky Brewster revival happening over on Peacock, Hulu is also debuting its new documentary Kid 90. Directed by Soleil Moon Frye — who was cast as adorable sitcom orphan Punky Brewster at the age of 7, and who by age 12 was cast out into the Hollywood teen-star ecosystem — and assembled from the hours upon hours of camcorder footage she taped at the time, Kid 90 is an almost eerie trip back to the '90s, as well as an intimate and emotionally honest retelling of Frye's own story, now that she has the perspective to see it for what it was.
Kid 90 takes us into Frye's post-Punky years, as she tries to navigate her own adolescence in the public eye. The combination of all this video footage, her copious diary entries at the time, and her present-day perspective means we get to watch her interrogate her own life as we're watching. There are the usual mile markers of the teen-star rocky road, to be sure, but Frye's story isn't a cliche, mostly because she's able to tell it with such specificity. Having to get breast reduction surgery as a teenager because of the relentless gawking and "Punky Boobster" cracks; her early relationships with boys; getting into drugs. It's all just a bit more fascinating than the usual teen-star arc, and that's to Frye's credit.
But the biggest reason to watch, especially if you were tuned in to the teen stars of the early '90s, is to see just how many familiar faces end up in front of Frye's camera. You get the sense that she was the single most popular teenage actor of her era, because she was friends with everyone. Close friends like Brian Austin Green and Mark-Paul Gosselaar show up on old videos and current day interviews, but we also get 1990s footage of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kevin Connolly, Sara Gilbert, Robin Thicke, Mark McGrath, and Emmanuel Lewis, plus recorded phone messages from Charlie Sheen (which are so much nicer than you'd expect from the phrase "phone messages from Charlie Sheen") and Mark Wahlberg. Frye isn't out to deliver an exposé on any of these people. They were her friends then and many still are today. This isn't an E! True Hollywood Story writ large. But still it's fascinating to watch these famous people existing on Soleil's camera without any kind of self-consciousness about exposure or, crucially, the permanent self-awareness of today's Instagram-ready celebs.
To get a better understanding of the cast of characters in Kid 90, and some background information on who these teens were back then, here's a guide to the twelve most prominent '90s teen stars in the film:
Best known for playing David Silver on Beverly Hills, 90210, Brian Austin Green shows up in Kid 90 as a longtime friend of Soleil, both in her vintage footage and in the present day. Most recently, he was a judge on FOX's The Masked Dancer.
Dorff guest starred on countless TV shows in the late '80s, including Roseanne, Married...with Children, and Blossom. His biggest role in his early career was in the film Backbeat, playing "fifth Beatle" Stuart Sutcliffe, before embarking on a career that's included roles in Blade, Cecil B. DeMented, and Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. Dorff most recently starred in the third season of HBO's True Detective.
One of Soleil's closest teenage friends, Heather McComb guest starred on a ton of that era's biggest TV shows, including Who's the Boss?, The Wonder Years, and Thirtysomething. She also starred in the Francis Ford Coppola segment of New York Stories. More recently, she guest-starred on episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Station 19. She also starred in the 1998 movie Wild Horses, written and directed by Soleil and her brother, Meeno Peluce.
Around the time Soleil was filming all these teenage antics, Mark-Paul Gosselaar was starring on the iconic high-school comedy Saved by the Bell. Before that, though, he guest starred on an episode of Punky Brewster, and in the mid-'90s, the two co-starred in two films together: the Christian-themed The St. Tammany Miracle and the erotic thriller Twisted Love. Gosselaar can currently be seen on both ABC's Mixed-ish and Peacock's Saved by the Bell reboot.
Another of Frye's friends who appears both in her '80s era videos and in present day interviews, Getty was an up-and-coming star in the '90s, starring in movies like Young Guns II, White Squall, and Lost Highway. In the 2000s he starred on ABC's Brothers & Sisters, opposite Sally Field and Matthew Rhys. He most recently appeared on Twin Peaks: The Return.
One of the most promising young stars of his era, Jonathan Brandis was a teen-magazine staple, having starred in The Neverending Story II, the ABC miniseries version of Stephen King's It, the Rodney Dangerfield youth-soccer comedy Ladybugs, and the NBC sci-fi series SeaQuest DSV. Brandis tragically committed suicide at the age of 27 in 2003.
Before Jenny Lewis became an acclaimed singer-songwriter and musician, on her own and with her band, Rilo Kiley, she was an up-and-coming teen star. Aside from her many TV guest appearances on shows like Growing Pains and Murder She Wrote, Lewis also starred in films like Troop Beverly Hills, as one of the girl scouts under the supervision of Shelley Long, and The Wizard, opposite Fred Savage.
The onetime frontman for early alternative rock pioneers Jane's Addiction, Farrell went on to form the band Porno for Pyros and, most influentially, founded the Lollapalooza music festival. He's also the one who sings the theme song for Entourage, if that's your thing.
Member of the famous acting Arquette family, David Arquette appeared in movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Airheads in the early '90s, but he didn't really break through in a major way until his performance as Dewey in Scream in 1996.
Danny Boy was one of the founding members of the hip hop group House of Pain, which scored a major hit in the early '90s with "Jump Around." As we see in Kid 90, he and Soleil were in a relationship together around that time.
The 1995 film Kids was an incredibly influential film out of the mid-90s American indie revolution. It starred at-the-time unknown actors like Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson. Two other stars of the film were NYC skater kids Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter. Soleil befriended the pair after spotting them skating around her apartment building, and she was close with both of them. Pierce died by suicide in 2000 at the age of 25, and Hunter died in 2006 from complications from drug abuse at the age of 31.
Kid 90 drops on Hulu March 12th.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.