Everything ends. Even Bluey.

Everything ends. Even Bluey.

Ludo Studio

Did you see a parent crying today? The brilliant kids’ TV show Bluey is why.

If you happen not to have children or have been living under a rock, let me introduce you to someone. Her name is Bluey. She’s a 7-year-old who lives with her younger sister Bingo and her dad Bandit and mom Chili in the bucolic Australian city of Brisbane. Also, she’s a dog — a blue heeler, to be precise. And a cartoon. And she’s really, really big.

The brainchild of Australian animator Joe Brumm, the kid’s cartoon Bluey premiered in its home country in 2018 before taking the rest of the world by storm. In 2023, Bluey was the second-most popular streaming show in the US, where it was watched for 731 million hours.

But a better measurement of Bluey’s power is in the mindspace of its tens of millions of young fans and the wallets of their parents, who bought enough books, dolls, albums, juices, cookies, and even theater tickets to make the Bluey brand worth an estimated $2 billion. (As Bluey herself might say, that’s a lot of dollarbucks.)

Which is why the most recent episode of Bluey, which hints at a possible ending for the show, was so shocking — not just to her multitudes of adoring kid fans and their parents, but to the major media companies like Disney that are banking on a never-ending supply of content like Bluey.

But like childhood itself — for both children and the parents who watch them grow — nothing as perfectly beautiful as Bluey is meant to last forever, unchanged. Which may be the lesson the show was trying to tell us all this time.

Bluey, explained

You have to watch Bluey — and you absolutely should — to really understand what makes it so superior to the vast, often-polluted river that is children’s TV content. It’s funny in a way that 5-year-olds and 45-year-olds can appreciate.

But what pushes Bluey into the realm of the masterpiece is Brumm and his colleagues’ ability to thread real-life themes into their richly realized childhood world. Aging parents, infertility, parental fighting, sibling rivalry: Each of these complicated subjects gets its moment in between the games of keepy-uppy. And not in a didactic, Afterschool Special sort of way. The lessons Bluey has for children and parents alike aren’t told; they’re lived.

You can see that for yourself in the most recent episode, which dropped globally on April 14, a 28-minute special titled “The Sign.” Bandit has gotten a new job, one that Chili tells the kids “can give them a better life” — but it requires selling their beloved home in Brisbane and moving across the country.

A sudden, major move is about as traumatic as it gets for kids — and that’s precisely how Bluey responds. She becomes fixated on the “For Sale” sign outside her house, reasoning with perfect kid logic that if the sign is removed, the house can’t be sold.

But life doesn’t stop because of one kid’s crisis, whether in Bluey or in the real world. While Bluey struggles with the sign, her beloved babysitter tries to decide whether to go through with a wedding, while her mother Chili comes to grips with her own doubts about the move.

Spoiler alert for all our 6-year-old Today, Explained readers: The family does not, in the end, go through with the move. It was an unusual decision for a show that generally hasn’t shied away from the challenges of reality.

At our house, at least, the ending was received by a great flow of what my son and my wife called “happy tears.” But much of the angst that has greeted “The Sign” has less to do with the episode itself than the very real chance it could represent, if not a full-stop ending to Bluey, at the very least a significant change.

If its current incarnation does end, there would be a flood of “sad tears.” But it would also underscore why Bluey is so great — and so unusual for kids’ programming.

The longest shortest time

Bluey is the closest thing a multibillion-dollar media property can be to a truly artisan production. It has remained defiantly Australian, down to the accents and the lingo. Brumm writes or co-writes all the episodes. He’s kept production at his studio in Brisbane, rather than subcontracting it out to cheaper countries.

All that makes for greatness — and burnout, something that critics have noticed sneaking into Brumm’s characterization of his stand-in Bandit. He told Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this month about his worries that he would repeat himself, that the quality couldn’t possibly keep climbing. The slowness to announce what would be a fourth season, combined with the soft finale feeling of “The Sign,” has fans panicking.

As you can imagine, studios like Disney and the BBC that have a huge financial stake in the continued production of Bluey have no desire to see it end. The streaming ecosystem needs a constant supply of new content to keep subscribers hooked and bring on new ones (which is one reason why they’re so excited about the dystopian possibility of AI-generated content). If the quality suffers, that’s a small price to pay to keep the IP flowing.

It’s not clear what will happen with Bluey next, though producers involved in the show have promised fans it will be returning in some form. But Brumm has spoken about his reluctance to replace the actors who voice Bluey and Bingo as they age out of the roles and the fact that, as his own daughters get older, he can’t draw from their experiences as he once did.

I can relate. My own son, the one who cried the “happy tears,” is turning 7 soon, aging out of the Bluey zone.

This is one of the fundamental facts of the longest shortest time that is parenting. On top of the sleepless nights, the endless hours to fill, and, yes, all that joy, raising a kid is one long experience of loss. We lose the 1-year-old with his arms outstretched to be picked up, the 4-year-old bravely marching to his first day of preschool, the 6-year-old who just wants to snuggle on the couch and watch Bluey. They’re replaced by new people we can’t wait to meet, but the ones they were, the ones we knew and loved, they’re gone forever.

Maybe that’s why I love Bluey so much — so much I almost hope it ends now, at its zenith. Watching it is a time capsule for a moment I would hold onto with all my strength, even as I know I can’t. I suspect Brumm knows that too.

This story appeared originally in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.

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