It’s not often that a show aimed at young children finds an audience beyond the age group it’s made for.
Yes, many weary parents and siblings end up watching programs about animated characters, often on repeat, often when there are many superior things they could be watching, while keeping a small child entertained.
But a show that isn’t just appealing to fussy toddlers, but also their family members and even people who have no reason to watch kids TV – heck, even awards voters and “best of” list writers – is definitely not the norm.
But Bluey is one such show.
A co-production between the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC, Bluey is set in Australia and is about the life of the eponymous Bluey, a blue heeler puppy, her little sister Bingo and parents Bandit and Chilli.
After first airing in 2018, it went on to win acclaim – the first series became the number one kids show on Australian TV, won an International Emmy Kids Award, was listed as one of the best sitcoms of all time, attracted celebrity fans including Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, and has been streamed 97 million times on iPlayer in the UK.
And while Bluey is the central character, the breakout star has to be her father Bandit Heeler, who doesn’t conform to the Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson “lazy cartoon dad” stereotype – instead he is the one who stays at home with his girls , teaching them life lessons through play.
He’s voiced by musician David McCormack, who told Sky News’ Backstage podcast he was initially invited to read just a couple of lines.
“Through a mutual friend, they were like, someone’s doing this show, it’s about a family of dogs and do you want to read to be the dad? And I was like, I can’t act, I can’t do any of that stuff, because I’m from a music background, I’ve never done anything like this before in my life,” he said.
“And I got in the booth and they gave me the script with the highlighted lines, then I started reading and we just sort of kept going. We did a couple of hours of different lines and trying things and I said, ‘Cool, thanks I thought it was going to be an online only sort of glitchy, animated webisode thing called Bluey.
“And then they made the pilot and people liked the pilot, and now we are 486 episodes later or whatever and we’re still doing it – so yeah, I completely fell into it, I’d never done anything like this before and I may not do anything like this again, but it’s fun at the moment.”
But perhaps it’s that lack of acting experience that made McCormack right for the role. Like Bandit, he’s a dad, so he says it didn’t always require a huge amount of acting.
“My secret weapon was when we started doing it I had daughters who were three and five, and maybe that’s the approximate age of Bingo and Bluey. So they gave me the script and I’d read it and whatever was happening in the script probably happened to me that day or last week or that morning.”
Bandit is often lauded as a brilliant father, an inspiration to parents who don’t have the time or make the effort to play with their kids like he does.
But while McCormack agrees that he’s great, he says the playing field isn’t exactly level.
“I wish I was more like Bandit Heeler, but you know what advantage Bandit has? He’s only being Bandit for seven minutes at a time – we’ve got to do parenting 24/7, 365,” he laughed.
“And if you get a Bandit Heeler show that is like a Big Brother style, I bet we’re going to see some things that aren’t so Mr. Perfect Bandit Heeler, you know what I mean? The truth will come out. “
Whether it’s down to his parenting skills, or something else, Bandit has also become something of an object of desire – despite him being a cartoon dog.
“I put that down to the beautiful animators,” McCormack said. “The animators have made him very appealing in an everyman sort of way – he’s a little bit tubby, little bit scruffy, he’s a cool dude.
“But, yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it, that he has become a sort of cartoon dog pin-up.”
Bluey series two is coming to CBeebies and BBC iPlayer from 1 August, with series three premiering worldwide on Disney+ on August 10. To hear more from David McCormack check out the latest episode of Backstage – the film and TV podcast from Sky News