In episodes like Space and Onesies, the beloved kids show returns with some very adult subject matter, writes Amil Niazi.
Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for season three of Bluey
We wait for new seasons of Bluey like we wait for Christmas in my house. There’s a breathless anticipation that reaches a fever pitch the closer we get to another fresh batch of bingeable, seven-minute-long episodes. And with the latest released on Wednesday on Disney+, even I was surprised by just how affected I was by one episode that left me in tears, having to explain to a five- and three-year-old why mummy is sobbing at Bluey.
The animated kids show – which The Guardian has called “arguably the best television series in the world” – is a tender examination of family life as seen through the eyes of six-year-old Bluey, the eldest of two blue heeler pups, living with her younger sister Bingo, dad Bandit and mum Chili. Life amongst this family of dogs revolves around joy, imaginative play and emotional vulnerability. It has tackled everything from sibling rivalry, jealousy, regret and technology addiction to miscarriage. It’s a cartoon that manages to engage children and yes, occasionally devastate their parents, too.
This latest season is no different, with 10 new episodes that have captivated kids and one in particular that is driving countless conversations and arguments among adults online.
Episode 32 of season three (called Onesies) is, on the surface, a look at Bingo’s raucous imagination gone haywire, as Chili’s estranged sister Brandy finally comes to visit after four years. She arrives with two animal onesies, a cheetah for Bingo and a zebra for Bluey. Bluey is envious of Bingo’s cheetah costume but it doesn’t quite fit and Bingo has taken to her cheetah persona a little too intently. The outfits unleash a wild game of hunter and hunted, but throughout, Brandy seems uncomfortable, on the verge of leaving and seemingly full of unspoken regrets.
A sad fan theory confirmed
Eventually Bluey asks Chili why her aunt is so sad and why she’s only come to see them once before. As Brandy wrestles with a feral Bingo outside, we learn that much like Bluey’s desire for the cheetah costume, aunt Brandy had badly wished for something that no one could make fit and was ultimately not meant to be. Viewers extrapolated that Chili was talking about infertility, seeming to confirm fan theories around her own issues with child loss.
Season two’s episode The Show hints at a miscarriage: when Bluey pretends to be a pregnant Chili by placing a balloon under her shirt and when the balloon accidentally pops, a smiling Chili is suddenly despondent. Bandit reaches out for her hand and fans were left wondering if an earlier pregnancy loss had triggered this reaction. This assumption was later confirmed by show creator Joe Brumm when he told author Isabelle Oderberg that, “The Show indeed does point at Chilli having a miscarriage.”
Despite the general way in which Chili addresses Brandy’s issues to Bluey in the new episode, it was clear to me what she was struggling with. But would this vagueness help kids watching process such difficult subject matter? Dr Amanda Calhoun, Chief Resident of child psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Centre, says Onesies did a good job of opening up the conversation, but she thinks it could have gone further.
“With traumatic issues, such as pregnancy loss, parents are often worried children will be traumatised if they talk about the issue too much. While the intentions are good, it is a good idea to process issues like pregnancy loss with children in a developmentally appropriate way,” she tells BBC Culture. Calhoun believes answering Bluey’s questions about Brandy “honestly, but specifically” would have ultimately been more helpful.
I’ve written a lot about my own struggles with infertility and IVF and could not have prepared myself for the way that episode affected me. Simple and careful in its execution, it nonetheless manages to convey the complicated array of feelings that accompany the desire and disappointment of trying and failing to conceive. In Brandy’s reticence to be around what she can’t have herself, we get a close-up look at the true impact of infertility. By isolating herself from her sister and nieces, Brandy’s pain has altered the shape of her own life, but also Chili’s, Bluey’s and Bingo’s.
Another episode that flies close enough to a sensitive subject to melt parents’ hearts and, possibly, leave children confused is Space, which sees Bluey’s pals Jack, Rusty and Mackenzie using a rowboat to make-believe they’re in outer space. When Mackenzie disappears, it unearths some big feelings from his past around separation anxiety. Watching a young child grapple with such all-encompassing, overwhelming thoughts will be especially hard on parents, who tend to carry their kids’ emotional burdens as well as their own. When he finally confronts the “black hole” connected to his memory, well, parents may struggle to keep it together. On the other hand, smaller viewers will likely just see a brave pup overcoming a playtime fear.
Space, Onesies and The Show all exemplify what Bluey does best, reflecting the patchwork of personal history that makes up a family, the interwoven stories that ultimately inform who we are to our loved ones and to ourselves. The series helps give language to what often goes unspoken between us, giving both parents and kids fresh tools to understand the family dynamic. The only question left to ask is, “when is season four coming?”
Produced by Ludo Studio for ABC KIDS (Australia), Bluey is co-commissioned by ABC Children’s and BBC Studios Kids & Family.
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