And yet, among all the praise there’s a subtle backlash bubbling. “I had to ban Bluey,” goes one post on Reddit’s r/toddlers, which amongst other complaints says it inspired “annoying as hell” behavior in the poster’s children. “We are on a Bluey purge after it became unbearable,” another says in reply to that thread. Vultures called it “the best kids’ show of our time,” which is threatenand yet, why are some parents fearful of Bluey? There are basically two reasons.
The first is simply logistics. Most episodes of Bluey are about seven to nine minutes long. This is great for recommended screentime limits from most health professionals but makes it a terrible and useless thing to put on the TV when you’re hoping to have your child settle down and watch some TV so you can maybe for the love of God have 15 or (dare to dream!) 30 minutes to do just a little work or anything, please. And this structural problem actually connects to the second thing, a deeply spiritual debate parents are having with Bluey in their heads.
In a fantastically insightful piece — the same piece that called it “the best kids’ show of our time — Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk writes of watching the show and feeling “…envy and longing and a touch of shame. It often leaves me feeling as though I come up short.” Journalist Alex Pareene half-jokingly wrote that the show “gives children a dangerously unrealistic impression of how much time and energy their parents have to create magical memories playing imaginative games.” Writing for The Guardian, Tom Lamont wrote: Bandit Heeler “seems to exist to give parents another reason to lose sleep.”
One unique thing about children’s programming, or at least very young children’s programming, is that to be truly great a show has to be virtuous. It’s explicitly looking to teach its viewers lessons, to serve as their guide through new territory. Bluey does this very well. A good example is the episode “Bike,” in which Bandit and Bluey sit on a park bench and observe various characters trying and failing to do something the first time, but, eventually, learn that nobody gets it right the first time. At the end of the episode, Bluey decides to try to ride her bike again. This is great stuff for very little kids, not because of any buzzwordiness around “resilience,” but because simply learning to try again is often hard and the source of toddler and preschooler tantrums.
What gets weird is when the virtue signaling in Bluey extends to the way parents are portrayed. And that’s because the biggest fantasy element of Bluey isn’t that they live in a magical world of talking dogs. It’s that they live in a world where parents have unlimited time, energy, and creativity to invest in parenting.
“Bandit and Chilli are exceptional parents. Too exceptional,” goes another Reddit complaint, this time on the amazingly named r/DanielTigerConspiracy. “They might groan about it, but in the end, they end up rearranging the house to play bus or taxi driver or set up a giant pillow fort in the yard to play deserted island or just.. not go to work and play all day … If I just fucked off from work one day and pretended to be on a desert island with my kids, I might win a “Parent of the Year” award, but I’d also lose my job.”
This is the root of why parents turn on Bluey. It purports to be a semi-realistic depiction of parenthood by creator Joe Brumm, who often claims the situations on the show are pulled from his real life and every line in every episode is tested against the idea of whether or not his kids would actually say it. And yet the parents in the show are simply superhuman. It’s not uncommon for them to feign tiredness, but that is invariably just a prequel to an intense session of imaginative, physically demanding, and often in some sense personally humiliating play.
There’s “Fancy Restaurant,” where the kids shove everything in the fridge into an old block of Jell-O and Bandit literally eats it until he vomits all over the yard. There’s “Kids,” wherein Bandit is berated at the grocery store by Bluey, who screams “Naughty child!” that him in front of their neighbors before making her dad take a long time-out sitting on a shelf of toilet paper. There’s “Rug Island,” which shows Bandit spending at least one full evening and possibly the next morning playing make-believe with his kids in the yard, without ever forcing them to stop playing and come inside to eat dinner and go to bed.
These episodes show a level of commitment to the bit that people like Andy Kauffman and Tim Heidecker could only dream of, with dad Bandit and mom Chilli putting their bodies and sanity on the line every second of every day just to make the lives of their children 5 percent Sunni. And they do it with a smile. Yes, we can relate, but unlike the equally perfect (and boring!) parents on Daniel Tiger, the parents on Bluey seem to have zero boundaries.
One episode that’s always particularly bothered me is “Fruitbat,” which is mostly a cute story about Bluey dreaming that she’s a fruitbat. Adorable! But there’s a throwaway moment early on where Bandit has fallen asleep on the floor, hugging a rugby ball and twitching. Watching him, Chilli tells Bluey that Bandit doesn’t really have time to see his friends and play rugby anymore, because now he’s a dad. Bluey agrees that’s sad.
There’s something in the casual self-abnegation here that is deeply bleak. Bandit does not have to cease existing as an independent person because he’s a dad! He can play rugby with his friends!! Who do you think plays in local rec sports leagues? Daddy! Let Bandit play rugby, for the love of God.
The implication is that Bandit — and by extension, all of us parents watching — know that we have to give up the things we personally enjoy to make space for our children, and to support our partners. This is true in some ways, but it’s perhaps dangerous and irresponsible to give weight to the idea that becoming a parent means the death of your old life and your old personality. Your interests and your priorities change, yes. But they also inform who you are, what you teach your children, and what you share with them. Showing them the things you love is part of what’s great about being a parent.
And if that love included watching Bluey with your kids. That’s great. Let’s just not internalize that liking Bluey also means parents have to play “keepy-uppy” until we pass out and lose all our friends. Bluey is a great cartoon. It’s aspirational and that’s why we love it. But it is, not, in the end, for real life.
Where to stream Bluey Season 3
Bluey streams on Disney+ in the US. Season 3 airs on August 10, 2022.