For quite some time during the early days of the COVID lockdowns, my husband and I would take turns sitting with our then 2-and-a-half-year-old in the living room while she watched “Cocomelon.” A brightly colored show with seemingly animatronic humans singing not quite catchy (but not easily forgettable) songs, “Cocomelon” was standard viewing in the first few weeks of the pandemic.
And neither of us could stand it.
The colors. The music. The weird looking people who didn’t move in quite the right way, even for cartoons. So, we’d trade off the time we needed to remote work in the office and let our toddler watch way too much of a show that we absolutely abhorred.
We introduced the classic Pixar movies. We tried to trick her into watching more “Daniel Tiger” and “Sesame Street.” We even declared, at one point, that we were going TV free, which lasted about 48 hours before we were all collectively losing our minds trying to manage working from home.
And then, one morning, as if the Lord himself had heard our prayers, I walked into the living room and my husband was pressing play on Episode 1 of an Australian kid’s show featuring talking dogs that Rose had noticed on the “new to Disney+” list.
Three episodes in, and we were hooked.
Now, more than two years later, this Australian creation that we accidentally found has become a fixture in our house, a frequently quoted, often laughed at, most commonly played show that none of us hate — and, in fact, all love quite a lot. So much so that we’ve got matching family T-shirts and have themed birthday parties after it.
The show, “Bluey,” is the invention of Joe Brumm, an Australian dad raising two little girls who wanted to create a show that was equal parts enjoyable for parents and their kids. He’s certainly succeeded, because these quick little episodes, only seven-minutes long, with over 125 currently available on Disney+, are funny, heartwarming and, most of all, entertaining. It is utterly captivating to watch Bandit and his wife, Chilli, parent and live life with their little girls, Bluey and Bingo, who are near miniature looking versions of their mom and dad. From games trying to keep a balloon up in the air to antics on the playground to the frequent appearance of Janet and Rita, Bluey and Bingo’s “grannie” characters who get into all sorts of trouble, these short little episodes pack a punch in just a few quick minutes.
Details of the Heeler family are introduced gradually. Bandit works in archeology. Chilli works in airport security. Bingo and Bluey go to a Montessori style pre-school and get into hijinx as they play imaginatively with their friends. They often visit Nana, and Uncle Stripe and his family, including their wild little cousin Muffin. There’s an entire world in the Bluey universe, from parks and shops to restaurants and festivals. But the heart of the show, and most of the activity, is the Heeler home, a split-level house that includes a giant backyard, a gorgeous veranda and a playroom with a green kiwi rug I’ve already searched for on Etsy.
It is here, in this Heeler home, that Bluey and Bingo live an entirely ordinary, and remarkably entertaining, life. They’re sisters, so sometimes they disagree and don’t share well. But most of the time, they’re having fun, playing imaginatively and roping their parents into wild scenarios. And, most of the time, Bandit and Chilli play along.
This is where the show is absolute perfection. In showing a very realistic snapshot (even in the animated world of Australian dogs) of a family living life — playing games, sharing meals, going to and from work and school — we, the viewers, from kids to adults, are reminded of what’s most essential in life: being together. And, in being together, we learn how to share, how to be patient, how to be supportive and how to love.
There’s an episode in Season 1, “Grannies,” where Bluey, age 6, insists to the almost 4-year-old Bingo, that “grannies can’t floss.” She is absolutely certain their grandmother is unable to do the popular dance, and she tells Bingo so. Bingo gets upset and refuses to keep playing the game, and so Bluey runs off to whine to her mom about how Bingo is being a bad sport. As Chilli and Bandit are folding laundry and changing sheets on the beds, doing the ordinary work of the family home, Chilli explains to Bluey, “Do you want to be right, or do you want her to play with you?” In that moment, Bluey has a revelation. She can continue to be bossy and tell Bingo she’s wrong, or she can Facetime her Nana and teach her how to do the floss dance, and then Bingo and Bluey can both be right.
That’s exactly what she does, and in the final 2 minutes of the episode, Bluey and Bingo reconcile, Bandit and Chilli continue with their housework, and their grannies game carries on, with a valuable lesson about sisterhood and family learned. In the final scene of the episode, Mom and Dad Heeler sit on their veranda, looking out at their daughters, smiling as they watch them play.
Of all the kids’ shows we’ve turned on in our home, “Bluey” is really the only one that I’ve ever wanted to watch on my own (and I’m happy to admit I have). Bluey is really the only one that I’ve sort of seen myself, and my family, in — a mom and dad, with their young kids, navigating how to say yes, when to say no and what to do in even the most ordinary of circumstances to make the best memories.
As a Catholic parent, this is precisely the encouragement I need in the everyday grind of raising little kids, trying to teach them virtue, helping them understand right from wrong and placing at the center of our home an attitude of loving and serving one another — the very mandate given to us by Christ. It’s not that “Bluey” is a Catholic kids’ show in the sense that we see a family pray or go to Church or memorize the Catechism. Those kids’ shows exist, and we watch them (from time to time, usually Sunday mornings before or after Mass, and there’s much groaning and consternation because, frankly, they’re not very good). But “Bluey” is a “Catholic” show in that it showcases themes of family, love, service and both the struggle and joy of family life.
Day in and day out, Catholic parents are trying to figure out how to pass on the Faith, keep our kids Catholic, encourage them to love this Church of ours. … And that is best taught, in my experience, by living virtuously and loving without reservation. We can certainly run through the Catholic material, stay committed to our devotional prayers and figure out liturgical living activities to keep our kids aware of the rhythms of the Church. All of that is good and well. And you won’t necessarily see that in “Bluey.” It won’t show us the life of the Church in terms of the sacraments or attending Mass. But it does show us a snapshot of a domestic Church, watching a family filled with moments of sorrow and joy, moments of choosing to give and sacrifice, and moments that remind me that I, as a mom, can give of myself completely for the joy and delight of — and in service to — my family. It can show me, and challenge me, to find grace in the ordinary, to notice goodness in even the hard moments and to say yes to serving and loving the most important people in my life.
If mind-numbing music with awful animation is your hearts’ desire, stick with “Cocomelon” (and don’t invite us over). But if endearing stories about family and the enduring truth that being present to one another is the best way we can love one another, and a remarkable expression of our Catholic faith, then turn on “Bluey” and give us McGradys a call. We’ll be there, with magic asparagus, balloons for Keepy Uppy, a good toy for Pass the Parcel, and the desire to go into full-blown dance mode.
Katie Prejean McGrady is an award-winning author, sought-after speaker and host of the daily radio program “The Katie McGrady Show” on Sirius XM’s The Catholic Channel. She lives with her husband, Tommy, and daughters, Rose and Clare, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and she wrote this article while watching “Bluey.”