To Bluey on Father’s Day

Bluey is high culture and I will fight anyone who says differently.

Well, I take that back. If I were to choose to fight, I am sure that somewhere in the Bluey universe is a lesson about how we can all make a difference by choosing love over violence. And I am sure that through comedy, and sharply written dialogue set against the backdrop of innovative animation and the hippest music (imagine a Belle and Sebastian/Beirut collaboration) on television, I would choose that option. And if you are familiar with Bluey, you know exactly what I am referring to.

For those unfamiliar, here’s the scoop: Somewhere in the television ether in-between shows written for children that appeal to adults and shows written for adults that appeal to children lies Bluey, an animated series produced by Australian ABC (and distributed by Disney) that features the titular character, her younger sister Bingo, mother Chili, and father Bandit. In the Bluey universe, all dogs are anthropomorphic and different breeds (both purebred and mixed) are represented.

In many ways, Bluey signals a return to the nuclear television family while mirroring the home and work lives of contemporary working families: Bandit, an archeologist, has a home office and takes as much of a role in rearing his pups as Chili, who has a part time job in airport security. These occupations are the first indicators of the sly humor that underpins Bluey as canines (along with archeologists) like to dig for bones and are also employed by airport security.

As the family navigates the waters of suburban Brisbane, you can find them in the trappings of many familiar situations. Bandit drinks craft beer with a neighbor at a backyard cookout, Chili (through flashbacks) nervously joins a new mothers group, and Bluey and Bandit fight their parents over screen time, eating habits, and playing together. Pretty standard stuff, it would seem.

What sets Bluey apart from its contemporary animated programs and live action sitcoms is that Bandit is not a moron, rather a competent and caring patriarch who teaches his children life lessons through play. In a nutshell, Bandit is a cross between Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and your hip mid-30s dad who mans the grills at cookouts, plays touch football with his buddies, drinks craft beer, and I can only assume listens to The National as well as National Public Radio.

And for those of us who are fathers of young children, Bandit (voiced by Australian rock royalty David McCormack), is something of a cheat code for learning tricks of the fatherhood trade. Although my daughter is still an infant, I am making mental notes about how to answer questions about the nature of existence, how to handle bed time, and how to maximize the time I am lucky enough to spend with her by making our playtime more enjoyable and creative.

And for the mothers among us, Chili is smart, caring, and, like many television mothers, the glue that keeps the family together. The screen time Chili shares with her children, and as well as her own father, are so beautifully written and animated, that it is hard not to occasionally get choked up. And by occasionally, I mean by roughly every fifth episode.

The first of those moments is ‘Grandad’ (Season 2 Episode 27) where the audience is introduced to Chili’s father who is simply named Grandad.

Diagnosed with a heart ailment and prescribed rest, the allure of running and playing with his grandchildren proves too strong and Grandad, as many grandparents do, over exerts himself. At the end of this busy day, Grandad and Chili relax on the dock of her favorite childhood swimming hole watching the grandchildren swim. The fleeting nature of time is referenced as father and daughter hold hands against the backdrop of a setting sun, and Chili (in Grandad’s memory) morphs from an adult to his baby girl one last time.

Cue the waterworks.

A second moment, that simultaneously connects the artistry of the emotional depth of Bluey, while lampooning the wonderful disaster that is bed time with young children is entitled ‘Sleepytime’ (Season 2 Episode 9).

Nowhere in the series is the Bluey team’s creative vision, comedic chops, and heart more aptly displayed than in this series high point. The youngest member of the Heeler family, Bingo is determined to sleep alone in her bed. She drifts off to sleep and begins to dream, at first accompanied and then eventually abandoned by her stuffy Floppy.

She finds her way back to Chili only to separate from her mother. As Bingo declares, “I have to go now mom. I’m a big girl.” There is no better litmus test to determine if you are a serial killer. If you cry, you aren’t. Congrats.

Of course, the series isn’t all tugging at heart strings, and there are a lot of slapstick moments that bring tons of laughs. One of the best examples is the episode ‘Take Away’ (Season 1 Episode 14) in which Bandit, Bingo, and Bluey go to their local Asian food carryout to order dinner. As seemingly always is the case with carryout and children, the order takes longer than expected which in turn causes a bathroom incident, a sprinkler disaster and spilled food. Anyone who has ever waited for a carryout dinner with young children can relate.

Also good for a few belly laughs is any episode in which Bluey and Bingo play their alter-egos – elderly, slow moving, nosey, and thrifty Grannies, aptly named Rita and Janet.

Perhaps the most appreciated gift Bluey gives its viewers is the warm memory of time spent together with those no longer with us, even if the memory isn’t completely our own. There is no price I wouldn’t pay to sit on the dock of a pond with my father while we watch my daughter swim, and no ransom too rich to witness my mother, against my wishes, spoil my daughter with sugary desserts.

The offering Bluey gives to those of us with small children is even more grand – a vision of quality time with our children and other loved ones, as we all grow older. My wish to you and yours is that your clan do that together for as long as possible.

Bluey is perfect. And so are the people that love you.

Happy Father’s Day.

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