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"Bluey" is the Best Show on Right Now






One of my family’s most pleasant surprises last December was that, unexpectedly, for about a week or so, you could find iffy quality uploads of a few scattered episodes from the newest season of the Australian children’s show, Bluey, on YouTube. The deliberately odd formatting of these videos made them a little annoying to watch, but that also likely helped keep them from being immediately found and taken down by an algorithm. I warned my kids before I let them watch any of the episodes that this was probably a very short-term occurrence and that they shouldn’t get too attached to these because they were sure to be taken down in a few days, if not hours. Just the same, we burned through all of the episodes we could find that night before bed and kept rotating through them over the next few days until they were finally taken down.



If you haven’t seen Bluey, I could imagine this behavior seeming odd, but I’m pretty sure anyone who has seen the show would understand. Unexpectedly, these 8-minute episodes about an anthropomorphic family of Australian cattle dogs named The Heelers, make up one of the best shows on TV. Not one of the best kid’s shows, but one of the best shows, full stop. Like an all-ages Ted Lasso, Bluey is a genuinely funny and emotionally-intelligent show that works for audiences from preschool age and up. It’s hard to overstate just how much of a creative feat that is. How good is Bluey? The morning the new season finally dropped on Disney+, I didn’t wait for my kids to wake up before I started watching the new episodes on my own.





There are three episodes from season 3 that I want to take a close look at to tease out some of the elements of this show that I think help explain why I think it’s the best show on at the moment. In the episode, “Omelette,” Mum, Bluey, and Bingo are planning to make breakfast in bed for Dad’s birthday. Mum has everything for the morning planned, with each of the children having a task to keep themselves busy, while she takes care of making breakfast. Bluey will take care of preparing the tray for the food, and Bingo will make Dad a birthday card. Where things go awry is that Bingo already has the card ready and wants to help mom make breakfast. One of the more real and regular challenges of parenting is in navigating children that want to do things they aren’t able to yet. On one hand, as a parent, you want to be there to help teach your child how to do things, but often working against that desire is just how much easier and faster it would be to do the thing yourself without making it a teaching moment. If you envision how this scene would go down on some PBS KIDS' show, like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the beats of the story would be something like: (1) Daniel would like to help mom; (2) Unflustered mom would happily let him help; (3) Daniel would make some small mistake, which mom would correct, teaching him a lesson about mistakes being a part of learning; and then (4) mom and Daniel would finish the task together without further incident. And there is a place for that kind of lesson, but Bluey opts to do something different. The show doesn’t hide that Mum isn’t thrilled that Bingo wants to help, but she’s game to let Bingo try. Bingo drops half the eggs while getting them from the fridge, and lets another one roll off the table. She scatters most of the bowls over the kitchen floor, getting the one they need to mix the eggs, and then, after pleading to help crack the eggs, she covers herself and mum in yolk. At this point, Mum kindly tells Bingo that it would be best if she finished up on her own. Bingo’s a little sad, but understands, and Mum knows this is the best way to finish quickly. Bingo moves over to play with the breakfast tray, to which Mum is half listening to while she works on quickly whipping together breakfast.





The game Bingo is playing is with a pair of knight salt and pepper shakers on dad’s breakfast tray with a glass of orange juice playing the role of the queen. The scene is a heartbreaking reinterpretation of what just transpired for Bingo while trying to help make breakfast. One knight wants to come with the other knight to help guard the queen, but the second knight explains to the first that they aren’t really a proper guard, and it would be best if they stayed behind, and the second knight accepts this. Bingo isn’t especially emoting while playing the game, but this kind of play is how kids actually process their feelings and frustrations. Bingo isn’t sniffling back tears, because she understands the lesson: she may want to help, but she’ll just slow Mum down, so it’s better if she keeps out of Mum’s way. Mum sees all of this play out and recognizes she can’t let that lesson stand. She sets aside the breakfast she just finished making, and tells Bingo that it isn’t quite right and that she needs her help. We get a quick montage of Bingo helping and all of the disasters repeat again: dropped food, egg yolk everywhere, two separate trips over to neighbors to borrow more eggs, and the final product is a shell-ridden mess. But, it’s a success. A completely believable success. Unlike with our hypothetical Daniel Tiger episode, you get an ending that actually makes you feel something because the outcome actually feels more true to life; the kid that wants to help probably isn’t going to do a great job, and it’ll take more time and resources than planned, and the final result is going to be far from perfect, but it’s the kind of experience every kid needs, and every parent is fated to endure.





The second episode I want to look at is called “Sheepdog.” In it, we get a parenting moment more real than anything I’ve ever seen on a kid's show. Mum is in the kitchen, cleaning and solo parenting, while Dad is out getting a haircut. Bluey wants Mum to listen to her loudly play a song on her recorder, while Bingo is telling Mum an endless string of incoherent knock-knock jokes. This is already pretty true to life, but it takes an unexpected step when Bandit arrives home, and through almost gritted teeth an overwhelmed Mum tells Dad in front of the kids, “I need twenty minutes where no one comes near me.” I don’t know a set of parents that haven’t had this exchange, and I don’t know another children’s show that could get away with depicting it. The rest of the episode is Dad doing everything he can to keep the kids occupied so that they will leave Mum alone, and failing repeatedly, while Bluey is trying to wrap her head around the idea of Mum sometimes needing a break from them, and that it doesn't mean that Mum doesn’t love them.



Parenting is relentless. Even if most days are great, it’s a grind, and it’s impossible to keep kids from ever seeing the strain. But, you’re never going to see Daniel Tiger’s parents have to apologize to him for losing their temper, or need to walk away from him for a few minutes to regroup. Bluey can do that though because their crazy tonal alchemy lets them have a story beat like this without it having to be a very special moment, or something traumatizing to young kids. They are able to surround a moment like this with jokes and a good enough payoff to the episode to let the lesson being told go down smoothly.



The last episode I want to talk about is “Rain.” This is an almost entirely silent episode. Bluey and Mum are on the porch saying goodbye to Dad and Bingo as they pull out of the driveway. There’s a rumble of thunder and rain, and the score is all we hear for the rest of the episode. A core feature of a lot of children’s shows is they usually have a fairly rigid structure. Sometimes, the structure is just that all of the episodes unfold in kind of the same way, with the same catchphrases, but in the case of a show like Bubble Guppies, every episode is rigidly broken down into smaller segments that recur every week, in the same order, to help hold a kid’s attention. It’s a comparatively big swing for Bluey to attempt a silent episode, but they manage to put together something funny, joyful, and beautiful, that plays for a preschool audience, and they pull it all off in just 7 minutes.





When the rain comes, Mum runs to gather the laundry that’s outside drying, while Bluey runs to play in the rain. We watch a stream of water start to form that runs down the side of the front walk, and Bluey invents for herself a game of trying to block the stream from going down the walk. A typical children’s game, thought of on a whim, with no real stakes other than the deathly serious end of keeping the game going. On Bluey’s end, she keeps coming up with things to try to stop the water, while Mum progresses from the parent mode of trying to keep Bluey from tracking water into the house, to becoming bemused, and then becoming invested in watching Bluey’s game unfold. There are two kickers to this episode. The first is the one you might expect, Bluey can’t actually block the water on her own. She’s stretched out herself and every toy and towel she has, and the stream of water is swelling up to pass her, but just in the knick of time Mum comes out with an umbrella to help her block the rest of the walkway. Mum even sets down her umbrella to use her hands to block the parts that her feet can’t reach. They’ve done it. The rain stops. The water’s receding and they watch a double rainbow form in the newly clear sky. They move to make their way inside, but the sky starts to darken again. The sky opens up, and the episode ends with them exchanging a look before running back to their spot to reform their dam.



The thing that this episode captures beautifully is seeing the parent all but disappear, leaving viewers watching a kid and a "kid at heart" play together. No parent ever truly feels as old as they are, and you can see that best when they lose themselves playing with their kid. Mum isn’t running back to their dam out of some sense of obligation to play with her kid, she is bought in entirely on the game she and her playmate were playing and she can’t wait to get back to it. Part of why Bluey works so smashingly for parents as well as kids is because of how well it recognizes how parents often are, in so very many ways, just really big kids themselves.





It’s this spirit of play that ties together everything Bluey does. A small criticism that the show has received is that the parents, especially Dad, set an impossibly high bar for their willingness to throw themselves entirely into child-directed play, but the show plays with that idea in a healthy way, too. They do often show dad so wholeheartedly committed to some activity that it makes you want to up your own game as a parent, but it also shows Dad feeling too tired to play, or too embarrassed to go all out because another dad can see him, or sometimes he is just screwing around on his phone while the kids amuse themselves. One episode is even built around the conceit of Mum and Dad being too wiped out to play because they played a little too hard at a New Year's Eve party the night before. Mum and Dad are world-class playmates, but the show doesn’t hide that even for them, it’s sometimes a grind to keep up with their kids.



The show just gets play in a deep way. It largely avoids the kind of magical realism other shows employ, where the main action is taking place in some kind of imagined world. The games being played are in the real world, and can all be replicated by the audience at home if they are so inclined. The show also gets the role that play holds in our lives, not just for kids and parents, but for everybody. Play is something kids do to amuse themselves and fill time, but it’s also the best way for them to learn something, process ideas and emotions they are struggling with, make friends outside their family, and, maybe most importantly, play is something that we never outgrow whether we recognize it or not. What makes Bluey so special is that it’s not merely a kid’s show that parents can watch too, but a funny show for literally everyone, that reflects both the kind of play kids want, and the kind of play that grownups may have forgotten that they often still want, too.




 


Damian Masterson

Staff Writer

Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

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