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‘Paradigm-shattering’: Bluey’s biggest episode ever is packed with magic
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‘Paradigm-shattering’: Bluey’s biggest episode ever is packed with magic

You get nervous watching an all-time great show try something different. Too many sitcoms have dented their rep with a dud feature-length special; too many dramas have that extra season where the formula changed, it didn’t really work, and now their listing in the pantheon has a little asterisk beside it. But if any programme can be trusted to take a risk, it’s Bluey.

Bluey is the second-greatest Australian TV show ever – after Mr Inbetween, obviously – and by far the country’s most popular television export. One of those very rare shows for primary-school kids (and those even younger) that is genuinely, unironically beloved by parents, it purports to tell simple stories about a seven-year-old talking blue heeler dog living in Queensland with her sister and their mum and dad.

What a world there is, though, just below the surface. While four-year-olds laugh along with a canine having childish good times, Bluey keeps hitting grownups with deep emotional wisdom – mainly about parenting, specifically how it can be a liberating adventure if properly embraced, but is more often allowed by silly mummies and daddies to be a knot of regret and anxiety. Bluey makes observations about the simple joys of life and of other people that your children’s childhood can unlock, if you will let it. It has plenty to say about friendship, marriage, ambitions, dreams, sadness, loss and love.

Yes, all this is in a cartoon about brightly coloured dogs who live in houses and drive cars. But not only that: it’s all in a cartoon about dogs whose episodes only last seven minutes. Every single one of the 152 instalments to date has been a masterclass in screenwriting economy. Bluey gambols in, has fun, makes a point that you’ll be lying awake thinking about hours after the little ones are all tucked up, then gallops off again – all in less time than it would take to put that overdue pile of laundry away.

Bluey cartoonView image in fullscreen

Not now, though. Brand new episode The Sign is a wildly risky, paradigm-shattering 28 minutes in length. It’s epic. It’s animated Australian canines’ answer to Killers of the Flower Moon. But there is no need to be concerned: everything that makes Bluey magic is intact.

Big changes are afoot. Bandit, the indefatigably fun and imaginative father who has a tendency to make dads at home feel painfully inadequate, has got himself a better-paid job, but it’s in another city. A “for sale” sign is up outside the house. Bluey doesn’t want to move and, thanks to the best bit of wordless face acting (by a drawing of a dog) in the show since Pat realised Rusty had let him win at cricket, we see that Bluey’s mum, Chilli, doesn’t want to go either.

First, though, there is the business of Bandit’s brother Radley marrying his girlfriend (and Bluey’s godmother), Frisky. When Frisky gets cold feet and takes flight, Chilli, Bluey and Bluey’s cousins Socks and Muffin take a road trip to try to find her.

The life lesson here is that adults sometimes have to make major life changes, and that although these might look as if they will cause unhappiness, it is hard to know what is around the corner – especially since the grownups themselves don’t know either. At school, Bluey is told a story about a farmer who loses a horse, setting off a chain of events that seem to be either lucky or unlucky, but prove to be the reverse. That fable is woven with fine skill through the rest of the episode by Bluey’s genius creator/writer, Joe Brumm.

The school scene also features some of the sort of Bluey dialogue that parents around the world adore. Prompted to tell sad stories from their lives, one kid says: “My dad doesn’t live with my mum and now he’s lonely all the time.” Another replies, in a throwaway murmur: “Our mum likes your dad.”

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With that whole novel’s worth of narrative casually tossed aside, The Sign continues confidently on its way, doling out shorter versions of what could easily have been whole Bluey episodes about a car ride plagued by interruptions, a scatty policeman (voiced by Joel Edgerton) and a coin-operated telescope.

No (more) spoilers, but the ending moves from sad to happy and back again several times, rounding off the theme of events you cannot control creating emotions you should try not to take to heart. There is a lovely little twist, a revelation about a minor character that will have long-term adult fans cooing, and a steady stream of sturdy, funny jokes. Bluey is a classic, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.

Source: theguardian.com