From Teletubbies and Bob The Builder to Peppa Pig and Hey Duggee: once in a blue moon, a pre-school show crosses over into the mainstream, becoming instantly recognisable to all ages.
For the pandemic generation, that show is undoubtedly Bluey (available on iPlayer and Disney+ in the UK). The first season alone has been streamed 97m times on BBC iPlayer in the UK. Created, written, directed and produced in-house at Ludo Studio in Brisbane, Australia, it’s the biggest Aussie TV export since Steve Irwin.
Bluey follows the lives of a family of four, suburban, Blue Heeler dogs. Bluey is the inexhaustible, 6-year-old daughter, Bingo the quieter, more subdued younger sister, while Bandit and Chilli are their devoted, competent but tired, parents.
Read more: Bluey S2 arrives on CBeebies
The sisters love to play and their parents willingly encourage them in their fantastical adventures which play out over short bitesize episodes. It’s like a pre-school Seinfeld: A show about nothing, that is secretly about everything.
Watch a clip from Bluey
Insightful, hilarious, occasionally deeply moving, alongside a growing global audience, the charming show has also won legions of famous fans around the world. Natalie Portman, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all parlayed their love of the show into cameos, and Rolling Stone recently listed it as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.
Created by Joe Brumm, who honed his craft working on Peppa Pig and Charlie & Lola while living in the UK, its first 52-episode series launched on ABC in Australia in 2018.
However, it was the global lockdown in 2020 that catalysed the show’s popularity around the globe.
“Lockdown was a time that we had around the writing of the second season,” Bluey’s executive producer Charlie Aspinwall tells Yahoo ahead of the launch of the third season on Disney+.
“We were all at home for months, and that included Joe. I think about 30 episodes out of the 52 [in S2] are set at home. They’re like family comedy type episodes where it’s just the four of them hanging out at home during lockdown.
“I think that coincided with the audience in the second lockdown all watching those episodes,” he adds. “In Australia, it had already taken off but I think internationally I think that was the moment when it really caught fire.”
Read more: Bluey S3 coming to Disney+
In 2019, Australian magazine TV Week listed Bluey as one of the 101 greatest Australian TV shows ever, and the accolades haven’t stopped rolling in since. Beloved by parent and kids alike, a lot of the credit for its crossover appeal must go to the positive manner in which it portrays modern parenting.
After years of clueless dolts like Homer Simpson and Daddy Pig, modern dads finally have a worthy role model in Bluey’s dad Bandit. The archaeologist (dogs love digging up bones of course) patriarch is devoted to his wife Chilli and his young family and always finds time for his two girls amidst the chaos of his own life, even if he struggles to find the right balance from time to time.
Both Joe and Charlie were fathers to two young girls when the show was conceived, so the family’s relationships never feel contrived.
“What really resonates with me is the way that the parents relate to the kids,” says Aspinwall. “They’ve got their own lives, they’re their own people. It’s not just their problems with the kids, or they’re entertaining the kids: the parents have their own lives.
“That means that parents can relate to those characters themselves and also the kids can relate to the kids, and also recognise that the adults in the show are like their parents, doing things that adults do.
“What we’ve created, hopefully, is a really good role model.”
The show is set in suburban Australia, amid the same Brisbane urban sprawl where the the show is made under one roof. This adds to the homemade warmth generated by the series and somehow, by making the show super-localised in one place, it adds to the universality of its appeal.
“I think it makes it feels really, authentically Australia,” explains Sam Moor, the former BBC exec now producing Bluey.
“Everything is made here in Brisbane, so the art directors take inspiration from what they see outside: the houses, the architecture, the flora and fauna. It makes it feel like a really genuine show.”
That authenticity also extends to the universal dilemmas faced by parents around the world, regardless of which continent they are.
“I think we always try to make every episode to be about something,” Aspinwall says about the upcoming third season, “and every episode needs to be about something we haven’t done before.”
Read more: Bluey celebrates Queen's Platinum Jubilee
An upcoming episode explores the heightened drama of modern 'pass-the-parcel'. Anyone who’s hosted, or attended, a kid's party in recent years will know that ‘pass-the-parcel’ has evolved to be more rewarding for participants: every layer comes with a small gift or token, and the most switched-on parents also make sure every child gets something.
In Bluey though, the dad of next-door neighbour Lucky is old school and plays it his way with just one gift in the middle.
“I’m very excited about just to see how it gets received by the audience in the UK, because it sort of exploded here,” laughs Moor.
“It’s just a really great insight into the kids parties and what people do now.”
“Often we choose an intractable dilemma that parents have around parenting, where you just don’t know what the right answer is,” adds Aspinwall. “And that’s often where a great episode comes from.”
The creatives also cite 'Rain' (Bluey builds a dam in the front yard) and 'Fairtyale' (an 80s set one) as episodes to watch out for in S3.
“I think we’re always trying to do bigger and better,” says Aspinwall. “We’re always challenging ourselves, so we try not to do the same ideas again. There are some new episodes in series three that are really startling and some of them are a bit longer too. There are some quite surprising episodes.”
Could ‘bigger and better’ mean a Bluey movie is on the horizon?
Both producers laugh at the idea when we bring it up, but a wry smile suggests it has been discussed.
“Well, we always talk about it,” admits Aspinwall.
“You’ve just got to think of an idea so if the question is asked then… maybe,” Moor adds.
“We’ve just reached the Everest of another 52 episodes, so we’re feeling a little tired from that,” Aspinwall concedes.
“I’m up for more!” Moor chips in.
“Maybe one day,” Aspinwall concludes. “It would be exciting, yeah.”
With movies from Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, and Octonauts all being released in recent years, a Bluey movie seems inevitable as they family of blue heelers continue forward on their march to global domination.
Bluey S3 lands on Disney+ from 10 August. Series two of Bluey had its UK free-to-air premiere on CBeebies and BBC iPlayer on Monday, 1 August.