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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

RATING: 5/10
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´┐Ż 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 contract...
   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.
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