Adults Have Declared a Kids Show Special One of the Best TV Episodes Ever. I Think I Know Why.

Last night, at aftercare pickup, my 7-year-old daughter’s friend was wearing a Bluey T-shirt. When I asked her about the new, extra-long episode of the Emmy-winning show that just dropped on Disney+, she said, “Yes, it’s called ‘The Sign!’ I haven’t gotten to watch it yet but everyone’s talking about it.” So ended probably the only day in history that my daughter’s elementary school and my social-media bubble shared the same fixation.

Bluey is a children’s show about the daily life of a family of four living in Australia: dad Bandit and mom Chilli Heeler, and their 6- and 4-year-old daughters, Bluey and Bingo. The Heelers are dogs (blue heelers, or Australian cattle dogs), and everyone else in their universe is also canine, but besides that fact, the show is realistic—quotidian, even, in its depiction of scooter rides and family dinners. “The Sign,” the extra-long Season 3 finale, is about the Heeler family’s decision to sell their Brisbane home. As of the time I write this, it is No. 12 on IMDb’s user-created list of the best TV episodes ever, and all day yesterday #BlueyTheSign trended on X. “Is This the End For ‘Bluey’?” asked the Atlantic, echoing fans’ fears that the show was ending. (Not officially, but in another sense, maybe? Spiritually?)

The show’s adult fandom—primarily made up of parents who watch alongside their kids, but also including a faction of childless viewers who just like Bluey’s vibe—was vocal about their visceral emotional response to the episode. Grown-ups talked about crying, weeping, dissolving in the course of watching “The Sign,” while others looked on with distaste, shaking their heads at how baby everything has become. “You guys HAVE to relax,” one outside observer said on X; “the most toxic stan culture out there,” said another.

I think some “adult Bluey fans” online are overselling it for fun; I’m medium sure that that one guy who got mad that he couldn’t buy a Bandit T-shirt without the word “Dad” on it (“yes I love Bluey no I have not spawned any crotch goblins let non-breeders enjoy things”) was a troll. And I, a parent Bluey fan, recognize I probably do have to relax about this series, and about most things. But Bluey is, as more than one child-having writer before me has argued, the rare show about real family life: what it’s like to be a parent, what it’s like to be a kid, how the two realities weave in and out, minute by minute, day by day. More than anything else I’ve seen in contemporary kids’ media, Bluey reminds me of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, also stories about sisters that are about both nothing and everything, and that pull a lot of understated hilarity out of the creator’s sympathetic observation of how absurd young kids can be. I enjoy the show in part because I’m so glad that children actually, organically like a deeply human entertainment product like Bluey! I choose to see the show’s extreme popularity among today’s youth as a sign that A.I. will never win.

My daughter J., just to prove my point, enjoyed her first out-of-nowhere, culture-instigated cry last year while watching a Bluey episode: the supreme “Sleepytime,” which is currently No. 22 on that IMDb list. I found it interesting that J. was somewhat less moved by “The Sign.” This was a much longer episode than the rest—28 minutes compared to the usual less-than-10—and has, unlike most Bluey installments, real A and B plots. The latter concerns a backyard wedding between the Heelers’ Uncle Rad and their family friend Frisky, taking place in the house that’s at the center of the former: The Heelers have announced that they are going to sell their home and leave their city and move to another, so that Bandit, the dad, can take a new job that makes more money. A lot happens in this episode—there’s even a funny car chase, as mom Chilli goes in search of runaway-bride Frisky with three giggly little flower girls in booster seats buckled across the back of her car, and Bluey gets to take a ride in the front seat for the first time ever. (“But she’s only 6!” J. exclaimed. “I’m 7! You told me no front seat until age 12!” Thanks, Bluey …)

J. said it was “Ghostbasket,” the episode that immediately precedes “The Sign,” that she thought was the saddest. So we went back to it. “Ghostbasket,” Season 3, Episode 48, is only nine minutes long, like a regular Bluey. It’s only got the four core characters in it. The family plays a game: Bandit is a real estate agent, showing their house to Chilli, who plays a supercilious prospective buyer. Bluey and Bingo, wearing scarves over their heads, pretend they are elderly homeowners named “Janet” and “Rita,” whose kids are forcing them out of their house and into a retirement community. The “ghostbasket” is a laundry basket Bingo turns upside-down over her body, then scuttles around like a crab, going “wooooo,” trying to scare the homebuyer away.

The ghost gambit doesn’t work, and Chilli, in character, buys the house and “moves in.” In a classic Bluey turn, Bandit, playing the real estate agent, is overcome with sympathy for the “elderly” Bingo and Bluey, and decides to flip “sides.” In the backyard, Bandit plays “ghost wheelbarrow,” and Chilli, pretending to be spooked, gives up and vacates the premises. The real estate agent loses his sale, and Bluey and Bingo’s “grannies” win, holding onto the house for another day. But: “I can’t do this every time,” Bandit says to the “grannies.” At the end of the episode, we get a view of the front of the house, and it has a real, live “For Sale” sign on it. This is the part, J. said, that made her cry.

This is the reveal and setup for “The Sign.” In the end, what happens in the game in “Ghostbasket” happens in real life in “The Sign.” Bandit decides at the end of the episode to remove the “For Sale” sign from the lawn—a silent indication that he’s going to give up on the new job, the different city, and the new chapter. I think I agree with J. that “Ghostbasket,” with its deep sense of foreshadowing and lack of wedding-type distraction from the emotions at hand, is the more poignant of the two—or maybe I just like the typical Bluey episode, a brief, concentrated capsule of family life, more than the more elaborate ins and outs of “The Sign.”

I understand why some adults responded so strongly to the episode, even the self-identified non-parents who love Bluey so much online. It’s true, it is a bit of a weird feeling to go to the fan-generated Wiki page for “The Sign,” two days after the episode dropped, and see it completely filled out—presumably, not by 5-year-olds!—with Easter eggs like “when Chilli opens the boot of the car the umbrella seen in the episode ‘Rain’ is in there.” But some of these non-parent fans say they love the show because they had negative memories of childhood, parents who made them feel ashamed or unwelcome or wrong, and they find it peaceful to watch Bandit and Chilli enjoy their kids. To them, I say: Whatever works.

As for the kid-having Bluey fans, we’re immersed in a short phase of life that’s chock-full of unexpected finales. You never think you’ll be done with changing diapers, paying for preschool, or the period of time when your kid calls “chapstick” “capchips”—and then one day, it’s over. It makes perfect sense that “The Sign” hit home, even if it’s not really the end.