Dec. 23 – Bluey – “Verandah Santa”

Original air date December 12, 2019.

When it comes to The Christmas Spot, I have very few rules. I definitely favor animated Christmas specials, but that’s not some rule I’ve created for myself. The programs don’t have to be all ages, they don’t have to be “nice,” and they certainly don’t have to be any good as I’ve looked at an awful lot of crap over the years. No, my one rule has really only been “No preschool shows.” And that’s not because preschool programs are inherently bad, they’re just often very simple. There’s not a lot to talk about or be entertained by, but it’s also not the goal of such shows to entertain an adult or even an older kid. Those shows typically seek to educate first, entertain second, and there are some that are very good at it and some that are not. My own children learned a lot from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I was bored watching it, but I saw the value in it and how my children responded to it and what they took from it. A preschool show that is not good is Paw Patrol. Paw Patrol is a toy commercial masquerading as educational programming. It’s rubbish and if you’re a parent currently suffering through a Paw Patrol phase with a child then know I feel for you. I’ve been there and it will pass eventually.

Bluey is a fairly simple show at its heart, but it has relatable characters and situations which elevates it above the usual preschool fair.

Obviously, I’m telling you all of this because I’m about to break my one rule, but I think the show I’m breaking it for deserves it. That show is Bluey, the Australian import currently bringing a lot of eyes (and dollars) to the Walt Disney Company in the US. Bluey is a show about a family of dogs, blue and red heelers, that live in Australia in a world apparently ruled by humanoid dogs. They look like dogs that walk upright, but are functionally humans that only occasionally remind the viewer they are not. The title character is a young girl who just likes to play and obviously has a lot to learn. Her little sister, Bingo, is at the age of the target demographic and the two often play together and have rather mundane experiences each episode that somehow prove entertaining. Their parents, Bandit (David McCormack) and Chilli (Melanie Zanettit, all of the children in the show are uncredited to protect their identity), play a large role in most episodes and are presented as patient, attentive, parents. They often never miss an opportunity to impart some wisdom to their daughters, but do so in an authentic manner and not as some kind of “What did we learn today, kids.” The show is created by Joe Brumm and it’s basically a reflection of his own life experiences as a parent to two girls. It’s produced and animated by Ludo Studio and the world is presented in a fairly flat, 2D, style. It’s a little boring to look at, but it makes up for that with plenty of bright colors and smooth animation.

Bluey is a show that succeeds not on just the strength of its child leads, but the whole clan. Dad Bandit (right) is easily the show’s MVP, though as a dad myself, I may be biased.

What makes Bluey special is that it’s genuinely entertaining. Get a group of parents together and ask them what their favorite kid’s show is and 9 out of 10 will say Bluey. And the one holdout just hasn’t seen it. It is not uncommon to encounter parents that admit to watching the show without their children present and I know plenty who were very excited when season three dropped over the summer, and some seemed more excited than their kids! The characters on the show are funny and endearing. The children are often engaged in some form of imaginative play in every episode, but rather than depict a world created by their imagination like many shows choose to do, we see the reality of the play. There are exceptions, but for the most part if the kids are playing helicopter or library you’re just watching them play with a stump or pass around books in their living room. The parents, especially Bandit, are charming and unfailingly patient. They go for it when it comes to playing with their children and are capable of completely buying into the “game,” whatever it is, and other adults around them almost never pay it any mind. They basically inhabit an ideal world for children that supports and nurtures them. It can feel exhausting as a parent to watch because I know I personally can’t give myself over to such play with my kids for longer than a few minutes. At some point, I just start to feel awkward and silly and even embarrassed, even if no one is around. Bandit and Chilli almost never let on similar feelings. Sometimes they’re tired and you can tell they’d rather not play, but they still do it. They’re not always perfect in that they do show frustration at times or get angry with one of their kids, but at the same time they are perfect parents because they always have their children’s best interests in mind with basically everything they do.

I could talk about Bluey for awhile, but I’m going to limit myself here so we can actually get to the episode at hand. I have waffled on whether or not I should do this for a couple of years now, but when it comes down to it, Bluey is incredibly popular and it just makes sense to include it. I will say upfront that I don’t think either of the show’s Christmas episodes are among its best. Both have more of a preschool vibe and aren’t able to elevate themselves above that. The kids have fun, someone does something wrong, and there’s a lesson to be learned. It’s laid out quite deliberately where as the strength of the show tends to be it’s teaching your kids without them knowing it. And since I couldn’t decide which episode was better, I just decided to go with the first one: “Verandah Santa.”

I love this shot.

The episode opens on a holiday gathering. It’s a pretty good image because it’s quite relatable. Chilli looks buzzed and appears to be drinking something for adults. Bandit’s brother, Stripe (Dan Brumm) is passed out on the floor likely from eating way too much. His wife Trixie (Myf Warhurst) appears to be in a similar state while Bandit is relaxing with a cup of coffee. The children are lurking and taking stock of the situation apparently eyeing a chance to investigate the presents under the tree. I’m not sure what they’re still waiting for as I assume it’s Christmas Eve and this is a family gathering. Maybe they just have to wait for the rest of the family to come over tomorrow or something. Either way, Bluey creeps over to the underside of the tree and gets reprimanded by her dad. He tells her that Santa doesn’t bring presents to naughty children who peek which leads to Bluey’s cousin Muffin wondering how Santa can even get in there since they don’t have a chimney. Bluey speculates he enters through the verandah followed by Bingo bursting out of the presents under the tree. Apparently she’s the sneaky one.

Poor Uncle Stripe. Bluey is a show that is not above nut-shots and fart jokes, which I appreciate.

The kids decide they want to play Verandah Santa, and they excitedly run off to do so. Only Muffin is a bit too excited and jumps off of the chair she was on and lands on her father in a very sensitive area. He’s in some pain and Bluey tells her cousin she better apologize right away before Santa sees! Muffin cries out to the heavens her apologies while her dad lets her know, through groans, that it’s okay. They then resume their run to wherever and Bluey crashes into her mother causing her to drop a plate of food. Bluey quickly shouts out her apologies as well before Santa can see and we finally get our title card for the episode. We come back from that to find the girls and Bandit in a bedroom. The kids jump into bed as Bandit is to play Santa first. He lays down the rules for the game by establishing that it’s Christmas Eve and Verandah Santa is coming tonight, but he only leaves presents for nice kids who don’t peek! The girls all get under the covers and pretend to sleep while Bandit makes his exit through the door.

Verandah Santa does not take kindly to those who peek, Bluey!

Bandit re-enters the room via the verandah and with a festive Santa hat on as well. He has some items in his arms, but as he creeps over to the bed, Bluey risks a peek. He recoils and basically gives her an out by saying “That better not be a peek,” and she cries out she’s not peeking. Bandit then deposits the “gifts” under the pillow behind each girl’s head and leaves via the verandah. He re-enters through the door shouting “Wake up kids, it’s Christmas!” They all cheer and pop up to check what “Santa” left them. Muffin got a snow globe, Bingo a can of shaving cream, and Bluey a pencil case. When Bingo sees that Bluey received her pencil case as a gift, she angrily snatches it from her sister’s hands. Bandit is forced to step in and reassures Bingo it’s just Bluey’s for the game and that seems to satisfy her. Bingo apologizes to her sister and hands it over, but Bluey refuses to accept the pencil case or her apology. Bingo protests this fact to her dad, and when he asks why she won’t accept Bingo’s apology Bluey responds with, “Why should I?” Muffin is the one to respond now as she says that Santa doesn’t like kids who won’t accept sorries and Bluey’s eyes widen ands she immediately changes course. Bandit then remarks, “Wow, that was easy!” which feels like a nod to the adults in the audience who have leaned on the Santa threat during this time of the year.

Bluey, like many kids, enjoys having even a taste of power and authority over others.

Now it’s Bluey’s turn to play Verandah Santa and Bandit takes her place in the bed. She exits through the door and enters as her dad did with her arms full of stuff she found around the house. As she creeps over to the bed, she has a bit of a devilish look on her face, and with good reason, as she shouts “HO! HO! HO!” Those in the bed immediately snap their eyes open with a startle to see Bluey as Verandah Santa who immediately reprimands them for being naughty children and peeking, even though she’s basically engaging in entrapment. Bandit defends their actions, but Bluey refuses to leave them gifts. As she walks off she indicates that she’ll be disposing of the presents in the bin, as in trash bin. The others pop out of bed, and on their hands and knees, apologize to Santa for peeking. Bandit asks if Santa will accept their apologies? Bluey thinks about it a moment, and then decides that she will and hands over the presents. Muffin gets toilet paper, Bandit some kind of stuffed gecko, and Bingo a TV remote. Bluey then takes off her hat and shouts “I sure am a nice child!” and suggests she deserves lots of presents which momentarily confuses Bandit. He tells her that’s probably not how it works, but Bluey doesn’t seem discouraged. Their other cousin, Socks, then comes running in yipping happily after Bingo declares it’s her turn. She then appoints her young cousin as her helper.

“She’s just a baby,” is one of the hardest concepts to get across to a child who feels they’ve been wronged by a younger cousin or sibling.

Socks is the rare character on this show that behaves like an actual dog. Apparently, these characters begin life as a puppy that behaves like one would expect a puppy would behave. Socks walks on all fours, doesn’t talk, and only barks. In the third season, she’ll have aged to a toddler and behaves more like her sister Muffin and cousins. Anyway, it’s Bingo’s turn to play Verandah Santa so they do the whole routine again. Bingo and Socks enter with Bingo sporting the Santa hat and Socks wearing an adorable pair of reindeer antlers. Bingo creeps over to the side of the bed her father is on and when she goes to plant a present under his pillow he reflexively grabs her and essentially pretends she’s a teddy bear which makes her giggle. Bluey, on the other side of the bed, does the same thing to Socks, only Socks doesn’t giggle. She reflexively bites Bluey on the arm which shatters the play as Bluey jumps up crying about being bit. Bandit tells Socks that it’s not okay to bite, but since she’s a puppy, she just sits there smiling and panting. Bluey is frustrated that Socks isn’t saying she’s sorry, but Bandit asks her what more she wants him to do and points out that she’s only one. He then tries to change the subject by asking who wants to play Verandah Santa next. Bluey announces that she does and angrily glares at Socks. You can basically tell by looking at Bandit’s face that he knows this isn’t a particularly good development. Bluey snatches the hat from her father’s hands and stomps off leaving Bandit to remark, “Strap yourselves in, kids.”

Bluey is taking delight in publicly shaming her cousin. Meanwhile, Bandit has been gifted some underwear when he doesn’t even wear pants!

Bluey creeps back into the room in her Santa guise and hops on the bed. She deftly avoids her father and deposits each present under the pillow while uttering a soft, “Ho!” When she gets to Socks though, she says “No,” and then leaves. When she re-emerges to wake everyone up, they all sit up excitedly for Christmas except Muffin, who now looks legitimately tired and ready for bed. Everyone looks under their pillow and pulls out a present, all except Socks. When she finds nothing, she hangs her head and whimpers. Bluey then gleefully tells her that Santa doesn’t leave presents for those who bite people. Bandit shouts out a “Bluey!” while a hurt Socks hops off of the bed and runs away. Bingo, apparently unphased by the developments, starts playing with her “One of these,” which is a fidget spinner, to lighten the mood.

Stripe has been converted into a loveseat.

We’re treated to a close-up of the star on the tree then pan back to find a grumpy Bluey seated in a chair. Bandit and Chilli then come over to have a chat with their eldest daughter. Bandit thinks Bluey should apologize to Socks, and as he has a talk with her he sits on his brother who is still laying on the floor in a state of semi-consciousness. He does make a grunt and is laying on his side, which is good in case I’ve misread this and he’s actually drunk. Bluey refuses to apologize and instead defends her actions as she was trying to teach Socks that Santa doesn’t leave presents for children who aren’t nice. Her parents then tell her that she needs to stop worrying about Santa’s motivations, and when she asks why, her mother tells her because it’s not the reason to be nice. She then encourages her daughter to come with her so she can show her the real reason it’s good to be nice.

That is one sad puppy in an otherwise beautiful setting.

The three stand on the porch and look outside. There we find Socks laying sadly amongst some reindeer yard decorations. Bluey takes one look at her cousin and immediately realizes her mistake and hangs her head in response. Bandit then reminds us this is a preschool show by asking Bluey how she would feel if Socks did to her what she did to Socks. Bluey doesn’t offer a response, but instead walks over to Socks and takes a seat opposite her. She then apologizes to her cousin for what she did, but also explains herself by saying she was angry with her for biting her and she never even said sorry. Socks then walks over and licks the part of Bluey’s arm she bit earlier, seemingly apologizing in her own way. Bluey smiles and gives her young cousin a hug while her parents look on with approval from the porch.

Aww, Socks found a way to say “sorry.”

We return to the game, and now everyone is in the bed including Chilli, Stripe, and Trixie. Bandit is set to play Santa and as he warns them not to peek he also gets the sense that something is up and even uses the term “sinister plotting.” He leaves the room as the others all cover themselves with the sheet and enters through the verandah once more. He pulls back the sheet only to find a pile of pillows in place of his family. He utters what sounds like an intentionally corny “Ho, ho, whoa no!” as the rest come rushing back in and we end our episode with a big pillow fight. We get an exterior shot of the house set to the sounds of laughter that pans up to the north star before the credits come in.

Do we know if Santa is okay with breaking a pillow over your father’s face?

I mentioned coming into this one that I didn’t think “Verandah Santa” was one of the show’s best, but it’s still charming. There’s enough little, comical, details to appreciate and I very much enjoy the post Christmas feast feel of the living room setting it begins on. I can relate to that scene, and to small children eager to open presents. The lesson it imparts is a decent one, that we should be nice for the sake of being nice, and not because we’re trying to get presents out of a fat guy in a red suit. It is as Santa commands, good for goodness sake, after all. It’s a lesson for kids, but also one for parents as basically a cautionary tale of relying too much on the threat of no presents when addressing our own children. And I like the use of Socks and Bluey to relay that message as it’s just interesting to see the puppy-like Socks and the implications her existence has on this setting. Bluey is a tad unlikable in this one at times, and that’s not always a common trait for the character. Once again, it comes back to authenticity as sometimes kids can act like jerks. One day they seem like perfect, little, angels and the next day you can’t wait until bedtime. Bluey, like all kids, is learning and developing emotionally and intellectually. Muffin and Bingo are mostly along for the ride as a result as this is a very Bluey-centric episode. I suppose that makes sense since the show is called Bluey, after all.

The Heelers go all out for Christmas, which isn’t that much of a surprise considering they go all out with pretty much everything.

For a dweller of the northeastern United States, it’s always amusing for me to see Christmas presented as not cold and snowy. I can’t imagine being able to have an open verandah on Christmas Eve, or really a verandah at all! I like seeing the Heeler house all decorated for Christmas even if there is no snow. The game they play is fairly relatable, especially for me since my kids played the same game after they saw this episode. They also didn’t limit it to Santa as they’d do an Easter Bunny version as well. It’s good, harmless, fun and there’s still some stuff in here even adults can get a chuckle out of. The message of the episode is a little heavy-handed and if they could have found a more subtle way to impart it that would have been appreciated. I say that and yet I still experience “the feels” when Socks gives Bluey a lick.

Does Santa have kangaroos? A Santa koala? Australia, I have some questions.

Bluey is a terrific show for your kids to get obsessed with and it has a perfectly fine Christmas episode you can watch with them. It’s shown frequently on television and I’m sure this episode has been aired a lot this month and might yet be aired some more before the holiday has past. And if you can’t find it or don’t have cable, Bluey is streaming on Disney+ for your viewing pleasure. I don’t know that I would recommend it for you childless folks out there unless you’re really into heeler dogs, but your kids will love it.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

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