In this installment, we get Brisbane nighttime psychedelia, a cartoon-based Theory of Evolution, a Daddy Robot and a Mummy Robot, a visit from The Fwamingo Queen, and THE TOP TEN!
18. The Creek
Sometimes the best episodes of Bluey are the ones in which nothing really happens at all. So confident are the show’s creators in their commitment to nothing really happening, that they actually have one scene in which Bluey and her friends do the same thing twice – on the play equipment, once with a happy and excited look on their face, once with a bored look on their face. Responding to repeated imprecations – ‘Will you play with us, Dad?’ ‘Yeah, will you play with us, Bluey’s Dad?’ – Bandit takes them all on a walk to the creek. A lovely score and the usual excellent illustration give this episode some magical moments.
An unusual episode, which starts off with a typical minimalistic Bluey plot – Bluey is struggling to get to sleep – and which ends with an extended surreal fantasy, in which Bluey dreams she is a fruitbat. What’s the point of it, I don’t know, but I still kinda like it. This episode is notable for the amazing artwork and animation – the dream sequence is one thing, but check out the art of Bingo sleeping, completely out of it, just after the 3 minutes 30 seconds mark. The accompanying 70s-style psychedelic music is spot on.
This extremely strange episode starts with a short chat between Bingo and Chilli and then goes straight into Bingo dreaming. There’s almost no real plot, or even dialogue, from then on. The dream looks and feels totally bizarro – a big outerspace scape, basically; Bingo is floating around between the planets and the sun with her cuddle toy, Fluffy – (a pink bunny) – who, nicely, gets a character of her own in this episode. I really appreciate the commitment of the Bluey makers to occasional shows like this that are so out there that you just wonder, whoa, where did that come from? At any rate, it’s effective; while this dreaming is going on, the characters of the house are wandering around, and even end up in all sorts of different beds (there’s a plot there, of sorts). So two basic childhood questions end up being answered: what am I going to dream about? And what happens to everyone when I go to sleep? Typically, and excellently, the soundtrack composers know exactly what music to borrow – okay, steal – from, segueing into a reference to Holst’s The Planets for the sublime ending.
15. Flat Pack
Bandit and Chilli have just brought the family back from IKEA, or whatever it is they call it in the Bluey universe. Chilli is enthused – ‘I could live in that place!’ but Bandit, not so much: ‘I’m not taking advice from a cartoon dog!’ he exclaims, tossing away the instructions, setting the scene for what’s to follow. Plenty of comedy routines have been built around people unsuccessfully putting together kit models and badly following instructions, but part of the genius of the Bluey writers is the way they combine this with that special focus of the program, kids’ games: as each piece of equipment or wrapping is discarded on the lawn, Bluey and Bingo start a new make-believe game – ‘Let’s be fish!’ ‘Let’s be frog dogs!’ (The games get so elaborate that by the end of them they seem to be on the verge of inventing their own language, culture and religion). Two different kinds of chaos take place, and that special blend of humour and family sentiment that you get in a few of the best episodes takes place.
14. Daddy Robot
Very much one of the ‘Dad plays the game so hard he makes trouble for everyone’ episodes, showing off Bandit-voice David McCormack’s talents quite well in the weird Daddy Robot ‘beep boop’ sounds and the rap the Daddy Robot has to do. In one pleasing twist, Bandit readily agrees to the Daddy Robot game (rather than his usual dramatic ‘oh no’ sighs when a game is suggested to him) because he seems to be gobbling up something he’s not supposed to from the fridge. There’s a continuation of the Bandit-Chilli romance when the malfunctioning Daddy Robot meets Mummy Robot – ‘you’re the most beautiful robot I’ve ever seen in my life’. We even get to see the world from the Daddy Robot’s eyes, as they open first thing after an operation. There’s quite a lot going on here!
13. Blue Mountains
For sheer originality and immersion in a striking concept this episode has to be one of the very best. It’s pretty simple; the hands/paws of Chilli and Bluey and Bingo have googley-eyes stuck on and go walking in the Blue Mountains – that’s Bandit’s chest – where they meet a ‘kindly-looking fox’. So you get two stories at once here – the story of the family out for the day and having a game together, and the story of the story they tell one another. This is excellent lighthhearted entertainment, and all the more impressive that it was one of the very first episodes of the show – the producers are fearless! If I hold back from placing it as one of the very top episodes, it is only because it lacks the emotional depth some others bring.
Is an episode called ‘Favourite Thing’ my favourite thing about this series? It’s a strong contender! This is all deceptively simple, just banter around the dinner table. It’s given emotional weight when Bingo becomes depressed, thinking a joke is making fun of her – Bluey repeatedly tries to cheer Bingo up, but nothing seems to be working. This is a fundamental dynamic between the two Heeler sisters that comes out in this episode. Bandit, meanwhile, just wants to eat his steaks – ‘Woo hoo! T-Bone!’, but is repeatedly interrupted by his kids. The beautiful simplicity of the plot, some very funny lines and a killer ending make this one of the best Bluey episodes.
11. The Sleepover
This episode is quintessential Muffin. Bluey and Bingo are excited when their cousin Muffin comes over for the night, because Chilli has said they get to stay up late. ‘A little later’, specifies Chilli. Only Muffin is completely out of it when they come round, she hasn’t had her ‘day sleep’ (she’s in the process of learning to only sleep at night). Uncle Stripe quickly scarpers, leaving an unimpressed Chilli to explain to Bluey and Bingo that there’s been a change of plans. Zonked out Muffin is completely hilarious (‘I am the fwamingo qween!’), alternately running into things and falling asleep in inappropriate locations; Bluey and Bingo want to keep the game going (mostly) so they can stay up late; and the ‘sleepover’ soon devolves into something like a late night bender at Fortitude Valley, in an excellent parody sequence starting with a game of ‘restaurants’. There’s something with this show and the restaurant/café game – many of the best episodes (Café, Fancy Restaurant) seem to be built around it. It’s a classic setting for comedy, I guess. Combining the excitement of ‘staying up late’ with the ‘toddler who just needs to go to sleep’ dilemma, this one earns an Episode of Excellence badge in my book. :)
THE TOP TEN
The episode that introduced the word ‘Dunny’ to generations of Americans. Is ‘dunny’ really an Australian-specific word? Turns out (from my extensive research on those most authoritative places, internet forums) Americans don’t even know how to spell it (‘Duny’!) Anyway, it’s a word that Chilli doesn’t want her kids to say, as she doesn’t think it’s nice. Trouble is Bandit didn’t hear that rule - when he comes back from the toilet and announces that the ‘Dunny’s free’ Bluey and Bingo giggle uncontrollably. ‘Dad said it, dad said it!’ This is an episode of considerable charm, a personal favourite, and again one of the ones in which nothing really happens. It’s just four dogs having a banter in bed.
Part of the recipe that makes Bluey such a special show is the way each episode is structured around a small, believable emotional crisis that all kids have. In this episode, Bluey – and all of her friends – are struggling with something at the play park and just want to give up. The structure here is the height of simplicity – Bluey falls off her bike, curls up at her dad’s feet, and they watch her friends struggle with their games. Maybe it is a bit cheaty, because the episode would be nothing without the soundtrack – starting off with some subtle pizzicato, then building to a glorious climax as the pups overcome their challenges to the tune of Ode an die Freude (that’s Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’). Shut up! I’m not crying, you’re crying!
This one is full of role reversals. It starts off with mum Chilli playing the whacky game – ‘whoa, it’s raining! Better get under the Mumbrella!’ and Bluey is hardly there at all, so the show named after her gets renamed – ‘This episode of Bingo is called Bingo’. An affectionate tribute to Bluey’s younger sister Bingo, who finds herself at a loose end when Bluey goes away with her dad for the day, and who has to find out how to play on her own. She even has troubles with the fridge – ‘I just miss my sister.’ ‘I know.’ ‘And the fridge doesn’t like me.’ ‘I…. know?’
Just how long can the show keep one gag going? This deceptively simple episode manages to keep everything running on the force of one joke, a perennially-delayed game of Shops. Mackenzie just wants to start the game, Bluey keeps on telling everyone to wait until she works out another detail. There’s so much good about this episode, not least the experience of seeing a cartoon dog (Mackenzie) roll their eyes in impatient incredulity. A special mention must go to the show’s composer, who chooses the perfect piece of music to create the sense of delayed expectation (a version of the Can-Can, written to hold off on the famous theme music until just the right time).
6. Sticky Gecko
It’s another episode in which nothing really happens, but that nothing happens at a very very frenetic pace. Chilli just wants to get the kids out the door, the kids keep on getting distracted by, well, stuff, the sticky gecko toy just doesn’t want to drop down from the roof, and anyway, Bluey seems weirdly reluctant to go. ‘Mum, what was that thing that granddad said again?’ ‘Hurry up and wait.’ We’re getting a glimpse into Chilli’s family history here – her Dad was in the army; she works in airport security – there’s a history of family service. As the normally-patient Chilli’s frustration at this most impossible of tasks builds – ‘The door is right there!’ – the comedy builds as well. There’s even an extended dialogue built around that most successful debate gambit of kids – ‘But why?’ Nothing happens, but this show really is everything.
5. The Weekend
This one originally appeared as the pilot episode of Bluey, and you can tell the show knew what it was doing from the get go. Bandit just wants to watch the cricket, the kids just want to play games with him, and Bingo gets upset when Bandit doesn’t notice her. It’s difficult to explain the magic that happens in this episode, but do take time to appreciate the gorgeous illustration/animation of a Brisbane night (also happens in episodes like Daddy Putdown) and the pitch perfect soundtrack (well, you’d hope it would be).
4. Daddy Putdown
As we have all learned from that stirring modern classic Go the fuck to sleep, a story about the kids going to bed is mostly not about the kids going to bed. Bluey doesn’t want her dad to put her to bed, but it’s really about her anxiety about her mum being away from home. There’s a kind of beautiful suburban blissfulness about this episode; look at how gorgeously Bluey’s backyard is depicted, with the long evening light and the dreamlike soundtrack, halfway between a lullaby and a meditation. There’s a very funny joke towards the end, but it’s just a very sweet episode, really.
Aw, isn’t that sweet, the whole family is bonding by being violent to Bandit. (Consensually. Sort of.) When Bluey and Bingo decide to play hairdressers, Bandit gives himself some dodge name and joins in the fun – only to be told he has nits. Oh no, bring out the cold showers, bring out the bats! All of which makes the concluding line ‘Hi. I don’t have nits. Would you like to have coffee with me?’ very funny indeed. It shouldn’t be funny, but it so is. To quote Homer Simpson – ‘It’s funny because it isn’t happening to me.’
2. Rug Island
‘Hey kids, I got you some new pens. ’’Yay, Rug Island!’ ‘Huh?’ Chilli is not the only that ends up confused about this concept; by the end of this episode I have lost track of reason, time, and even reality itself. The idea is simple enough – the island is a rug in the middle of the backyard covered with pot plants, the pens become fish and spears and vegetables and animals, all is going well when a grown-up (Bandit) becomes washed up on Rug Island. Bingo wants to make him welcome, but Bluey doesn’t even bother holding back on her inner cannibal – ‘It’s a grown-up! Eat him!’ There’s a montage of scenes with Bandit finding out how to live on the island, and here’s where reality really starts to warp – the episode starts with Bandit saying, ‘I’ve got to get to work’, and the rest of the episode is basically him not getting to work. Was it all just an elaborate ruse? Doesn’t he normally work at home? It’s hard to believe that all the material in this episode happens in the five odd minutes or so before he leaves home for work. And then Lucky’s Dad appears, apparently fully immersed in the game as well. The emotional movement of this episode is sweetly paralleled by a lyrical score, making it one of the high points of the whole series. While most episodes are about children’s games, this one is really more about Bandit, looking nostalgically back at childhood and a life without all his adult cares.
1. Fancy restaurant
Oh, this episode has got the goods. The set up: Bluey and Bingo want Mum and Dad to ‘smoochy kiss’ because ‘it’s so romance’. (‘Where did you learn that word?’ ’TV.’) But Chilli is reluctant without a romantic occasion. So they all play Restaurants; Bluey becomes the waiter, Bingo the chef, and Bandit gives himself the name ‘Romeo McFlourish’ before promptly forgetting it. He tries to urge Bluey and Bingo to make it a more romantic setting for the date (baked beans aren’t very conducive to smoochy kisses). Everyone gets great lines here; we find ourselves more in sit-com territory rather than the suburban realism-with-a-hint-of-childhood-whimsy territory more familiar to the series. Bluey urges Bandit ‘Well, toughen up, Romeo! We want to see a smoochy kiss!’, but the magic doesn’t seem to be happening – ‘I guess I have forgotten how to be romance’ Bandit, AKA Romeo McFlourish, tells his date. Simultaneously sending up the romantic love genre while reaffirming the love affair between Bandit and Chilli, this is a great example of the two-way appeal of the show – amusing the kids and the adults, all at once.