The Gospel According to Bluey
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the children’s television series Bluey. Please feel free to watch (and thoroughly enjoy) the episodes talked about and then return to the article!
Bluey is an Australian children’s television series focusing on six year old Bluey, a Blue Heeler pup, and her family. Bluey has a little sister, Bingo, and mum and dad, Chilli and Bandit. Then there are aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and a whole community of neighbours, friends and school playmates to make for a realistic setting for a child to grow and learn in.
Bluey has received critical acclaim and has won two Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards and an International Emmy. In 2022, Bluey had her own Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, demonstrating the world-wide popularity of a show that is only in its third season.
Created by Joe Brumm, Bluey is written for children and adults alike. Much of it is based on his own parenting experiences of being a father to daughters. From the comments on the Bluey Facebook page, not only children tune in regularly for Bluey, but parents watch it without the kids, as do people without children. It speaks into the life of contemporary families in a way that few children’s shows achieve. My brother, father of five, appreciates the uncanny accuracy of the episode Takeaway, where Bingo needs to go to the toilet, Bluey wants a shower under a tap, Bingo wants to eat the plants, the food gets spilled, and existential questions are asked all in the time it takes for spring rolls to be cooked. My sister, mother of two, relates completely with Chilli trying to get the girls out the door so they can get to an event on time in Sticky Gecko.
Given its Australian context, it is endearing to hear Aussie accents with musician David McCormack voicing Bandit and actress Melanie Zanetti voicing Chilli. It is also “set” in the Sunshine state, so be prepared to see Queenslander style houses, the Brisbane city skyline, and even the water fountains and play area at South Bank. You can also play spot the iconic Aussie toys whenever the girls play around the house. It’s use of music is clever and perfectly suited for each episode. Listen for Gustav Holst’s The Planets in Sleepytime, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in Bike, and Mozart’s Rondo ‘Alla Turca’ in The Magic Xylophone. For the pop culture buffs, you can look for Easter Eggs like the cardboard box from Metal Gear Solid in Smoochy Kiss, a Total Recall quote in Daddy Robot, or the State of Origin match being commentated by Ray Warren (his fans are claiming it as his 100th Origin match), Johnathan Thurston and Gordon Bray in The Decider.
Whilst the show revolves around the two girls learning creativity, resilience, and life lessons through play, the show does not hide from difficult and complex issues, making Bluey ripe for family conversations and theological discussions.
Smoochy Kiss is one such episode. Chilli introduces the concept of having to take the bad with the good in the opening scene when Bluey doesn’t want to dance to the part of a song she dislikes. Over the course of the episode, the girls try to prevent Chilli and Bandit from sharing a “smoochy kiss”, claiming that dad is now theirs. They soon discover that their dad has flaws – his armpits leak, he licks gravy off his fur, pees on his foot, washes it off in the laundry sink, uses Bluey’s t-shirt to clean it off, has hairs in his nose, and passes “stinky fluffies”. When the girls try to tell their mum all these “disgusting” aspects of Bandit, Chilli calmly says that she is used to all that. Bandit reveals that Chilli has flaws too. Chilli’s closing words of wisdom are “Kids, if you are going to belong to someone, you’d better toughen up”. The girls declare that Chilli and Bandit can keep each other which works for the parents. They finally get to enjoy their kiss…despite Chilli’s sardine flavoured morning breath!
There is a definite case for couples, friends, and family members having to accept certain quirks, idiosyncrasies and flaws in one another. Not a single person is perfect and all will fail others at some point. Offering grace, forgiveness, and compassion to others, with the humble awareness of one’s own shortcomings, is a human virtue.
This is of course, a far cry from abuse, violence, and coercive control. Where crimes are committed, these should not be endured. Injustice and harm need to be called out so that victims and survivors can be safe, perpetrators can repent, and both can forgive, heal, and move on.
God’s gracious treatment of humans, however, goes a long way further than just accepting human frailties. The life and teachings of Jesus describe ways of God interacting with the world and demonstrate how humans can respond. In those, we could be forgiven for only finding moral tales to inspire, emulate and learn from.
The death and resurrection of Jesus, however, is compelling at a far deeper level. The cross has meaning, power, and salvific importance that cannot be limited to a simple morality tale or parable. Rather the cross, especially the resurrection of Jesus, is what the Christian faith hangs on.
According to Daniel L. Migliore in Faith Seeking Understanding, the New Testament has a number of legal, financial, military, sacrificial and other metaphors that seek to explain and give meaning to the death and resurrection of Jesus. These in turn, have been developed into theories of atonement. One is the Christ the Victor theory where a cosmic battle is won by Jesus who defeats demons, the devil, and all powers that hold humans captive. A second is the satisfaction theory where Jesus’ death satisfies the wrath of God, justice is done and sinners forgiven. A third is the moral influence theory in which Christ’s love is demonstrated in such a compelling way that humans are constrained to respond in wonder and gratitude. Each one of these is a human attempt to understand a divine act. As such, they all contain limitations and failings, as well as deep truths. Migliore acknowledges that there are theological, Christological, pneumatological (Holy Spirit), ecclesiological (church), political and cosmic dimensions to the resurrection of Jesus that go beyond these three theories of atonement. He writes:
The cross is God’s free and costly gift of love whose goal is the transformation of the world…God’s raising of the crucified Jesus to new life is God’s concrete confirmation of the promise that evil will finally be defeated and justice will reign throughout God’s creation.
While Bluey gives us an endearing and loving demonstration of taking the good with the bad in close and committed relationships, it shows some of the limitations of human love. The cross, however, shows us a loving, costly, powerful act that affected the entire cosmos and which can only be performed by the Trinitarian God.
Bluey is streaming now on ABC iView.
Dr Katherine Grocott