Even in a year as weird as 2020, I would have never predicted a perpetually exhausted pair of Australian dogs would become my parental North Stars. But once the screentime guardrails fell off mid-lockdown, my 5-year-old’s obsession with Bluey became my own. After a scant two seasons, Bluey has emerged as the most relatable— aspirational—family show on television, and an unlikely field guide to modern parenting. To be clear Bluey is not the same thing as Blue’s Clues, so if you were confused and/or worried.
Though ostensibly focused on the 6-year-old titular Bluey and little sister Bingo, goofball dad Bandit and resourceful mom Chilli are never far from the action. Said “action” generally focuses on every day rather than elaborate fantasy. This is a show that can transform waiting for takeout or a frustrating IKEA assembly into a clinic in empathetic parenting.
In its magic-in-the-mundane heart, Bluey has more in common with Seinfeld‘s “show about nothing” ethos than its animated contemporaries. And in tackling small issues with a big imagination, Bandit and Chilli have quickly entered the pantheon of TV parent GOATs. They avoid bumbling dad/fawning mom cliches, emerging as flawed, fun, vulnerable, and frantic. Their joyful farts-and-all earnestness helps even us lowly humans to see ourselves in the Heelers.
With the excellent second season hitting Disney+ this month — and a bunch of new books just published — there’s no excuse to keep sleeping on the best family show on television. Here’s a quick syllabus of what parents can learn from Bluey.
Dealing with extra-sensitive kids
While Bluey occasionally dips its claws in deeper emotional waters—an episode where Chilli struggles with her father’s heartworm diagnosis is particularly poignant—most parent-focused episodes see the Heelers confronting universal issues of fairness, sharing, disappointment. Front and center above all is the constant tug-of-war between childish whimsy and uncontrollable emotion.
In a masterstroke of simplistic storytelling, the show’s creators position 4-year-old Bingo as an emotional foil to adventurous and outgoing Bluey. Bingo is one of those kids whose feelings are constantly hurt, and who approach every situation timidly. The ways Bandit and Chilli are shown struggling with and eventually embracing their daughter’s perspective are paragons of parenting with empathy.
Bingo’s sensitivity comes into play throughout. She’ll show embarrassment at not liking her dad’s roughhousing, or emotionally shut down at parental teasing, offering the show multiple opportunities to show the parents instilling confidence and nurturing. In the season 2 opener, Bingo’s day derails when Bandit eats her last French fry, which snowballs into a larger discussion of respecting other people’s boundaries. And if that sounds too heavy, it’s coupled with a compromise in which Bingo can send her parents into wild fits of dancing at command as a means of penance.
At no point does the show preach. It doesn’t need to. The lessons are always clear: It’s ok to be sad or frustrated. But for parents, the show presents an abstract roadmap for instilling those values through creative play, open ears, and improvisation.
Practical tips for exhausted parenting
Like every parent in history, Bandit and Chilli also have to deal with universal annoyances like bored kids in the car and sore legs on walks. It’s in these sequences that viewers are advised to watch with a notebook in hand, as the show consistently lobs out creative ways to get through the doldrums of childish behavior in the form of games like “Car Rainbow,” which takes the concept of “I Spy” to colorful new ends.
The writers also embrace push and pull between the desire to be the world’s best parent and the reality of abject exhaustion. Bandit, for example, commits to playtime with the zeal of a method actor, despite the bags under his eyes. But his firm commitment to play also comes with a commitment to sitting down: Thus Bingo and Bluey’s favorite games include treating their dad’s foot like a pet in the morning instead of jumping into bed, or climbing his body like a mountain while he lays seemingly lifeless on the couch.
Bandit the embodiment of the philosophy that physically and emotionally engaging with a child and a power nap are not mutually exclusive.
Playtime hacks for running errands
Heeler’s resourcefulness shines brightest during everyday errands, which dominate a huge number of Bluey‘s 100 episodes. Its characters showcase spontaneous, nimble thinking about distracting their kids with fun, MacGyvering activities on the fly in an effort to distract them long enough to get things done.
It’s most evident in “Hammerbarn,” which takes a quick trip to a Home Depot-type store and evolves into a voyage into creative distraction as Chilli discovers the power of the store’s paint sample to transform the shopping cart into a free art project to placate her squabbling kids… and teach them about budget limits and sharing. Meanwhile, “Bin Night” takes place across multiple garbage nights, where Bandit’s insistence that the kids help him take out the garbage reveals itself to be a stealth way for the dad to dole out advice on dealing with other kids in a captive-audience situation (naturally, each bin is also treated like a puppet).
Each time the Heelers embark on an errand, the mundane reveals itself to be a prime opportunity to get creative and solve bigger problems
Lest you think that Bluey is all playtime antics, the show also occasionally comments on the pressures adults face in the weird world of parenting—and in their interactions with other adults.
In”Cafe,” Bandit confronts his reluctance to open himself to a new friend as Bluey and a new kid force their dads to be customers at their imaginary restaurant each week. Meanwhile, in “Dunny,” Chilli is forced to look inward when Bluey asks whether the Heelers think they’re better than a friend’s family due to the fact that they don’t use a crude euphemism for the toilet. Eventually, Bandit lets his guard down and makes a buddy, and Chilli cops to her own stuffiness, but the routes the show takes to get to these conclusions offer a social roadmap for dealing with—and often embracing—other adults’ influences.
Most poignantly and pointedly, Bluey even addresses societal pressures on parents. In flashback-focused “Baby Race,” Chilli tells the story of Bluey’s first steps… but also recalls her panic as other children beat Bluey to milestones like crawling (Bluey, it turns out, was more a butt-shuffler). Chilli’s anguish in the face of her friends’ bragging is all too real for any parent whose child didn’t follow the exact progress charts, but her later wisdom about the subject—imparted by an older member of her mom group—distills the advice of countless childhood-development books into a sweet, funny character moment that new parents would do well to remember.
That’s sort of the magic of Bluey. On its surface, it’s a show about playtime. But in its heart, it treats each episode the same way its characters teach each skinned knee, a bout of jealousy, or car ride: As a teachable moment for those willing to look beyond the whimsy.
Bluey is streaming on Disney+. The latest book, The Beach was just published.