If you have young children, chances are you’ve at least heard of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s animated show Bluey (it’s on the Disney channels in the United States). This isn’t a show to simply entertain the kids, and it’s not some fad. It’s a show about parenting, written by a dad, produced by a different dad, and with a main character who is a stay-at-home dad character we should all strive to like.
Set on the outskirts of Brisbane, the show’s characters are all dogs, and the central family is the Heelers. The father, Bandit Heeler, is the primary caregiver. He’s a part-time archeologist (a dog who digs bones, get it?) but the only work we ever see is his main job: raising his two daughters: 6-year-old Bluey and 4-year-old Bingo. Bandit’s wife, Chili, completes the family, and is often privy to their crazy games. Even their adult neighbor, Lucky’s Dad, goes along with the fun.
But this isn’t just a silly kids show. Each episode is only eight minutes (there are more than 100 so far), yet in a mere eight minutes, you’ll see positive values, universal truths and the importance of imaginative play. To do all this and still appeal to infants, adults and every age between is impressive.
Bluey is full of humor and heart, but it’s also deep. In the episode “Copycat,” Bluey deals with learning about death by mimicking her parents. In “Grandad,” we see Chili begging her older dad to slow down, and how time passes differently for grandparents.
“I’m not taking advice from a cartoon dog!” proclaims Bandit, during the episode “Flat Pack.” But that’s exactly what we, as dads should do. Bandit’s real. And a refreshing change. He’s not the buffoon dad (a trope still in use in, from cartoons like Peppa Pig through adult sitcoms like Modern Family), or the absentee dad (another trope). And despite the wholesome feel, the show is pure fun. It’s not the “after-school special” feeling you’ll get from an episode of Daniel Tiger or Sesame Street.
Bandit, who was even named (canine) Father of Year in Australia in 2020, always puts his kids first, sometimes by letting them solve their own problems. When Bluey wants to quit riding a bike (in “Bike”) he doesn’t stop her or argue. He says “OK,” but then encourages her to watch all her friends persevering at other things, until Bluey gets on the bike again herself. Bandit is also a dad who ALWAYS plays games with his kids. The kids don’t leave him alone when he has to use the bathroom. The car is littered with food and toys. There’s always laundry and there are times he’s too tired to get up. In “Mount MumandDad,” the parents are so exhausted they can’t move, but still they play. In “Daddy Drop-Off,” Bandit doesn’t want to play because he’s running late, but he still plays. There is always time for play and for fun.
In fact, every episode is a new, imaginative, fully interactive game. Not just games to watch, but games my kids love to play with me now. Games to play with your kids. Yeah, it’s tiring. I’m not sure how Bandit is always so animated. Maybe it’s because he’s a cartoon. But it’s worth it.
Best of ‘Bluey’
Even if you don’t have young kids, you should still watch. In fact, this is the only show I enjoy watching without the kids. (Rolling Stone magazine listed it in its Top 100 sitcoms of all time earlier this year.) It’s that fun. If you’re a Dad wondering where to start, here’s my top seven episode recommendations (all can be streamed on Disney+) for dads, and why:
- “Café” – This is one of the episodes that hits home to me. Bandit and Bluey meet a new dad and his daughter at the playground. The kids are instant friends. But the dads … well, sometimes it takes adults longer to make friends than it takes kids.
- “Daddy Drop Off” – Bandit’s running late dropping the kids at school. He doesn’t want to keep playing but does. And we see that choosing to play matters, not just to Bandit’s kids, but to others.
- “Baby Race” – All right, this is a mom-focused episode, but we all remember the struggles of when the kids were growing up and ‘competing’ with other parents over which kid walked first, etc.
- “Fancy Restaurant” – One thing I think all parents struggle with, especially with little kids, is finding time for our relationship to our spouse, when our lives are dominated by the kids. Bandit admits he’s “forgotten how to romance” in this charming, fun episode.
- “Takeaway” – Yeah, kids get bored. Yeah, life happens. Sometimes it all just goes downhill. But if you can laugh about it …
- “Octopus” – Playing nonstop games isn’t for everyone. Heck, I’ve three decades of theater and improv training and still find these games exhausting. In this episode, Chloe (a friend of Bluey’s) has a dad who feels like he can’t play the way Bandit does, but he still wants his daughter to have fun. It’s okay to play differently.
- “The Dump” – On a trip to the dump, Bluey and Bingo question if their dad is really the best in the world. It’s okay to not be perfect.
Beyond just the episodes, I really try to get into the games shown. “Magic Xylophone” may be the simplest Bluey game. A ding (which can even just be someone saying “ding”) makes everyone else freeze. Pretty simple. Or “Shadowlands,” where the shadows are land and the sunlit patches are water. Kids have limitless imaginations. Everything can be a game, and kids learn best through play.
Bandit won’t take advice from a cartoon dog. But we should. It’s OK to be goofy. It’s OK to be a little crazy. It’s OK to teach through pure fun. As the Aussies say: wackadoo!
About the author
Chris Mannino lives with his wife and two children. As a full-time stay-at-home dad, he considers himself a lion tamer, cat herder, sanitation manager, personal chef, private teacher and more. Somehow, he also manages to squeeze in a writing career: crafting fantasy stories from picture books through adult. Visit him at www.ChristopherMannino.com