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A Sporting Chance
Bugs: Series One|
cast: Jaye Griffiths, Craig McLachlan, Jesse Birdsall, Paula Hunt, and Jan Harvey
directors: Brian Farnham, Ken Grieve, and Andrew Grieve
490 minutes (PG) 1995
Revelation DVD Region 0 retail
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Nick Beckett is an intelligence officer working for a government surveillance department.
When a fellow officer disappears, and his bosses refuse to investigate, Nick calls in
some outside help - and finds himself framed for espionage. To clear his name, he must
team up with Ros, a freelance surveillance expert, and Ed, a daredevil helicopter pilot.
But freelance work has its attractions, and soon the three of them are working as experts
for hire, helping technology companies guard their secrets and battle unscrupulous competitors.
This regularly involves them in matters of national security, as everyone struggles to
exploit the wonders of modern technology.
In its day, Bugs was hugely popular family entertainment. It
would be churlish to criticise the show in retrospect for the crudity of its wonderful
technology - remember when computers had bright blue screens, and the Docklands Light
Railway was an engineering marvel? - or its obvious low budget. It's lack of imagination,
however, is less excusable. For a show apparently about the wonders of technology, Bugs
shows little interest in it. Unable to muster a plot involving real science, the writers
have to resort to ever more unlikely assignments for the team - preventing assassinations,
or investigating missing athletes. The flashy surveillance gadgets are often simply an
excuse to trigger an old-fashioned car chase - not to mention the obligatory weekly explosion.
Admittedly, Bugs takes place in some alternate reality where
serving intelligence officers can talk freely to helicopter pilots about their work, and
freelance surveillance experts apparently have the authority to call out the Dutch coastguard
to chase submarines. But a designer steroids plot must have been pass� even at the time, and
an episode involving wonder foodstuffs made from pondweed sounds like it's been borrowed from
1950s' pulp science fiction. The villains, too, are leftover from James Bond movies, plotting
to take over the world or avenge themselves on a former business partners in elaborately
unlikely fashions. Some writers do show a greater interest in the cutting edge of technology:
Stephen Gallagher contributes many of the best episodes, in which the science is interesting
and ingeniously used, and the villains are often undone by the flaws in their own technology.
Jesse Birdsall, an actor of some talent in the right material, is broadly
charming as Beckett, but struggles with expositional dialogue and his character's humourless
professionalism. Jaye Griffiths, as Ros, brings warmth and intelligence to the most human
character - despite being the butt of predictable jokes about women drivers - and Craig
McLaughlin provides the beefcake factor as adventurous, impulsive Ed. A range of British
character actors add some weight to individual episodes - even RSC stalwart Anton Lesser
makes an appearance in the enjoyable season finale, Pulse, which gets some much needed
laughs by pairing Beckett with a precocious kidnapped child. If only they'd put the kid on
Perhaps it's inevitable that a television show, a form often regarded as
disposable entertainment, disappoints when you come back to it after so long. Series like
Spooks and 24 have also raised the bar for espionage drama. As popular as it
was at the time, Bugs is doomed to appear slow and unimaginative to a contemporary
audience. If you have nostalgic memories of Saturday nights, this glossy boxset may be just
what you're looking for. However, it is unlikely to win many new fans.
DVD extras are also disappointing: mock typewritten character notes and
background on companies and organisations only show up the lack of detail in the episodes.