Ah, the joys of parenting as a nervous Millennial father, raised by TV dads like Bill Cosby, Tim Allen and *deep shudder* Stephen Collins, whose perverse anti-drug propaganda and hot tips on drugging people with horny sauce shaped my childhood. Think of the millions of impressionable young men who were on the cusp of emotional maturity when shows like Home Improvement and King of Queens permeated the airspace, demonstrating how men could revel in their leather-and-pork-rinds-scented, patriarchy-approved ignorance.
TV dads have historically been played by men of varying softness and portrayed as big children. A man’s man and a daddy’s boy rolled into one, the typical TV dad bumbles through life, punching holes in walls, threatening their daughters’ boyfriends and using fucking manly sports metaphors to demonstrate the horrors of unsafe sex. Mom was only there to ruin the fun with her so-called foresight and yucky menstruation.
Friends and Frasier showcased single dads whose respective kids were played by a revolving cast of child actors who’d show up for an episode or two before going away to space camp until adulthood. Watching dads like Ross Gellar and Frasier Crane put hot dates and hookups — really any vague promise of sexual attention — in front of their respective kid’s needs always put a sour feeling in my stomach.
Then came Bluey. You’ve probably heard of it by now. It’s an Australian preschool animated TV (commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in partnership with the BBC, interestingly enough) about a family of pups named the Heelers. The most valuable Aussie asset to hit America since the Hemsworth Hydra, Bluey is a wonderful show that fully articulates the daily exploration that is childhood. Episodes like “Sticky Gecko” and “Curry Quest” turn childhood chores like putting your shoes on or getting takeout into an adventure.
What strikes me about Bluey is its soul; this is a show that teaches kids how to be good people — especially dads. Bandit is a Blue Heeler pup in his 40s (human years) whose job as an archaeologist takes him all over the world. Like many of the dads I grew up with on television, Bandit is silly. He pretends to be a robot, he lets his girls paint his fingernails, and he does banana phone — he is a fantastic father who listens, teaches and respects his family of cartoon dogs with his wife, Chilli.
Bandit is the antithesis of Al Bundy; he’s a level-headed pup whose modern brand of parenting breeds empathy and emotional intelligence. In one episode, Bluey repeatedly tries and fails to get her dad’s attention, leaving her upset at the lapse in communication with the one person who’s always supposed to have your undivided attention as a kid. Bandit goes up to Bingo and says, “If I’m talking to a grown-up and you want me, how about you just come up and put your hand on my arm?”
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In “Fancy Date,” Bingo and Bluey are determined to get their parents to smoochy kiss by setting up a date in a fake restaurant that looks suspiciously like the girls’ room. Meanwhile, Bandit is trying to find the ultimate romantic gesture to surprise Chilli. To the parents’ chagrin, Chef Bingo brings out a monstrous concoction made of spaghetti, baked beans and Jell-O, leaving Bandit and Chilli on the brink of nausea while delicately searching for a way to avoid having to eat this cursed creation.
With no solution in sight, Bandit eats the entire dish himself, validating his kids’ love and proving his marital devotion in one fell swoop. Bandit also breaks the TV dad trope with a relationship with his wife that deserves admiration. They’re equal partners with dynamic communication skills — and hell yeah, they’re probably still doin’ it. Bandit and Chilli respect each other, taking on an equal share of parenting you just don’t see on TV. Bluey very much moves away from TV gender roles, both in and out of the household. Mom is not a homemaker whose only hobby is laundry, and dad is not a useless sack of crap. They’re still imperfect, but there’s a lesson to that imperfection, making it a show you just cannot turn off.
It’s no surprise Bluey is such a hit with kids and parents; by balancing gentle humor and lessons of emotional intelligence with legitimately funny moments, Simpsons references and a killer soundtrack, the show somehow manages to portray a functional family without veering into cheesy territory.
I became a father at the beginning of the pandemic, and life hit me like a sock full of nickels.
I am a good dad. At my best, I’m a great dad, and at my worst not a bad dad. I’ve had my moments of lost temper and lapsed attention, but I know I’m a good dad because I’m nothing like the aforementioned TV dads whose passive role in their family’s lives never really made sense to me. I love Bluey because I see my family in this family of cartoon dogs. That especially comes to life during scenes taking place in a messy car or episodes about trying to make your kid go the heck to sleep.
Bandit might just be the most competent dad on television, which feels like a breath of fresh air in a sea of buffoonery.
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