Review for Bugs: Complete Box Set
This could be my biggest DVD purchasing mistake in the name of nostalgia. I loved Bugs when I was younger. It ran for four years from 1995 onwards, offering action and drama aimed at a family audience on Saturday nights. It was the only thing that could tear me away from my Pinball Fantasies addiction. It’s easy to take the family drama for granted these days; after all it’s a rare Saturday night that doesn’t have a show like Doctor Who, Merlin, Atlantis... It seems they’re always coming up with a new concept to aim for that audience bracket. But there was a period in the late eighties and early nineties when Saturday Night was a bust for such shows. Following the cancellation of the old Doctor Who, the most challenging programming we got was Bob’s Opportunity Knocks and Noel’s House Party! Thank God for US imports and Due South to save my sanity. Then a little tech-thriller started showing up on Saturday evenings, starring Henry from Neighbours, the guy from El Dorado, and the woman from the Mercury mobile phone ads. From that inauspicious genre resurrection came the short-lived Crime Traveller, Vic and Bob’s Randall and Hopkirk, and so on until Doctor Who itself regenerated. And Saturday night’s television balance was restored. But I haven’t seen Bugs since its broadcast. Will it be enough to tear me away from my iPad and Zen Pinball?
Bugs tells the story of the Gizmos group, a company of tech consultants comprising tech wizard Ros Henderson, former intelligence agent Nick Beckett, and daredevil pilot Ed Russell. In the world of high tech crime, they’re at the cutting edge of investigation, and often wind up in the deep end of some dangerous situations.
This collection gathers all four series of Bugs across 12 discs, plus a thirteenth, bonus disc. That’s forty episodes in total.
1. Out of the Hive
The government intelligence agency The Hive is due to take possession of a satellite jamming system called SACROS. But dangerous people are after this piece of kit, and there’s a mole inside The Hive. Hive employee Nick Beckett is about to be framed, and he has to turn to private tech consultant Ros Henderson, and daredevil pilot Ed for help. It’s the start of an interesting association.
2. Assassins Inc.
Now working with Ros at Gizmos, Ed and Beckett have a job stealing back a game from an unscrupulous software company. Only it turns out that it’s actually an unscrupulous defence contractor, one that the government have hired Ros to investigate. Only Ed and Beckett have deleted the evidence, evidence of some lethal assassination tech.
3. All Under Control
Pilots are losing control of their aircraft. What’s worse, if anything could be worse, is that someone else is taking control. Gizmos are called in when a threatening fax is received from Icarus, promising more than just a little scare for the passengers next time. The suspicion falls on the latest flight navigation software, so advanced that pilots aren’t really needed. But its creator insists that his program is virus proof and hack proof.
4. Down Among the Dead Men
When thefts from a naval salvage yard take a lethal turn, Gizmos are hired to investigate. What they find is an audacious plan to use military surplus and a decommissioned submarine, to steal a quarter billion pounds.
5. Shotgun Wedding
Politicians running on an anti-corruption ticket garner popular support, and even more so when there’s a hint of romance involved. But there are people who will kill to avoid that kind of political change. It seems like a simple job for Gizmos, to find out if a logo designer for the political party is bugged, but they get pulled into a life or death crisis.
When a cutting edge prototype supercar is stolen, Gizmos are called in to handle security. The vengeful sisters who stole the car merely stole a shell on a conventional chassis. The real tech lies in a testbed vehicle that is what really needs protecting. But this particular R&D firm dabbles in more than just road cars, and when the sisters steal some military tech, industrial espionage takes on a more lethal shade.
7. Manna From Heaven
Phodex is the new wonderfood, genetically modified algae processed into whatever food you desire, and it has the potential to solve the world food crisis. Naturally everyone is after it. Gizmos are called into beef up security after a failed break-in, but it looks as if it was an inside job. Worse, there is a worrying aspect to Phodex that its creator is keeping secret.
8. Hot Metal
The latest in superconductor research is the R-6 alloy created by Millennium Metals. That doesn’t explain why a known terrorist is trying to steal it. It turns out that R-6 has a problem with stability that also makes it an ideal weapon. But this terrorist is using a rather unique weapon of his own to break into the research facility.
9. A Sporting Chance
Ed gets to show off his martial arts skills when Gizmos are called in to investigate a sporting academy. Athletes are collapsing when pushed beyond their limits, and then vanishing when the paramedics show up. The facility’s doctor is working with undetectable performance enhancement, but there’s a military interest in his research.
Someone’s taking over small companies on the verge of bankruptcy, and they aren’t taking no for an answer. When Gizmos investigate, the trail leads to a couple of unsavoury French brothers. They have a lot more planned than mere hostile takeovers, and Jean Daniel Marcel might be the most lethal foe the team has yet faced.
1. What Goes Up...
2. ... Must Come Down
It’s Gizmos most high profile job yet, ensuring the security around a sensitive satellite launch. But whoever is looking to stop the launch is utterly ruthless about it, attacking the satellite, the astronauts, and when Ed volunteers to replace an astronaut on the time sensitive mission, the shuttle Excalibur itself. It turns out that whoever is attacking the mission has a very personal, and lethal grudge against the Gizmos group.
3. Bugged Wheat
You’d think researchers would be on to a winner, creating genetically engineered wheat, resistant to all disease. But all it takes is a couple of unscrupulous people to create a genetically engineered wheat blight to hold the agricultural world to ransom. And from a prison cell, someone machinates the whole thing.
4. Whirling Dervish
Strate Air is the new kid on the block, and is ruffling more than a few established airline feathers, so much so that the cartel is willing to do whatever it takes to put Strate Air out of business. A covert agency hires Gizmos to investigate and stop the potential attack, and it’s a complex one involving a stealth fighter and Direct Cerebral Encoding, while the agent who hired them isn’t who he claims to be.
Ros is getting a tour of a new fusion generating station, when terrorists attack the installation, take hostages and lock it down, although Ros manages to elude capture. As the terrorists start issuing demands, their true aims are something more lucrative, and with Ed and Beckett on the outside, it’s down to Ros to thwart their plans. Or, Die Hard in a power station!
6. Gold Rush
You don’t have to steal gold to be rich, not when currencies are backed up by gold. And when all currencies are tied into one exchange rate mechanism, they’re all vulnerable. A bacterium that destroys gold causes enough havoc when it eats away the circuitry in a currency exchange’s computers, but that’s just a trial run for all the gold in its vaults.
7. Schrodinger’s Bomb
Roland Blatty from The Bureau of Weapons Technology has called in Gizmos to investigate a couple of sneaky gunrunners, who sell top grade and advanced weapons technology for ancient artefacts. But the undercover operation goes wrong when the evidence they’re after, a potentially devastating explosive, is hidden in a vault set to self destruct if anyone gets too close. Meanwhile, in Jean-Daniel Marcel’s prison, the governor has made the mistake of giving his charge computer access. When a prisoner makes enough money playing stocks to buy his prison, he’s not exactly a prisoner any more.
8. Newton’s Run
A biotech company specialising in advanced artificial nervous system research is targeted in a raid. But the assailants aren’t after industrial espionage, or tech secrets; they’re after the remote control dog! They’re eco-terrorists, looking to extort some serious money, and what they have planned for Newton threatens the entire city.
9. The Bureau of Weapons
10. A Cage For Satan
Jean-Daniel Marcel is back, and with more than just revenge on his mind, although he’s not above taking time out for making life difficult for the Gizmos group. For one thing, he’s liberated a military AI and let it loose into the world to grow. The second thing is that he’s making a whole load of superconducting computer chips for that AI. The third thing is that the AI has found out a way to hack human brains, and Jean-Daniel is ‘recruiting’ human drones, including Ros’ old friend Roland Blatty. When he targets a particle accelerator, to prevent a catastrophe, Ros has to use a direct mind link interface, and she winds up hacked too.
1. Blaze of Glory
There’s life outside of Gizmos as well. Ros has finally got around to marketing some of her inventions, Ed’s helping a friend test a new motorbike, and Beckett’s broke. So broke that even a job helping a building contractor deal with techno-sabotage and chemical weapons isn’t lucrative enough. He’s so broke that he winds up getting Gizmos on the payroll of the government and Bureau 2 to help clear his debts.
2. The Revenge Effect
The villainous Kitty McHaig may have eluded them, but she’s far from finished with Gizmos. She’s looking to make a clean getaway, which means she needs a new identity and a clean bank account to stash her millions. But one of her henchmen gets cold feet about her methods, changes the passcode on her new account, and gives Ed the passcode before fleeing, whether he wants it or not. Now Kitty McHaig wants Ed in the worst possible way.
3. The Price of Peace
The end of war in Eastern Europe is looking likely, with one of the architects, a businessman named Van Straaten due a peace prize. But a warlord excluded from the peace process and his general have other ideas, including kidnapping Van Straaten, and stealing codes to a weapons satellite to end the war on their bloody terms.
4. Hollow Man
The Bank of England has created the ultimate, un-forgeable currency, imprinted with fiendishly complex holograms. The new £100 note is about to be unveiled, only the master print laserdisc has been stolen. There’s no point to that unless they have access to the hologram printer, and supposedly only the Mint has that. It’s this which leads Bureau 2 to suspect an inside job.
5. Nuclear Family
The ailing president of a former Soviet state is in the city for pioneering heart surgery, and for negotiations regarding the decommissioning of his nuclear weapons stockpile. It’s up to Bureau 2 to safeguard him, but there are weapons dealers with an eye on old Soviet nukes, and there’s a traitor willing to sell the president out.
When an attempt to apprehend a gun-runner goes disastrously wrong, the security services begin to suspect a mole, and given Gizmos’ freelance nature and outside-of-the-box thinking, their attention turns on Bureau 2 and on Ros Henderson in particular. But while Ros comes under the scrutiny of SSD, and her friends rush to clear her name, the real traitor has a free hand.
7. Happy Ever After?
Bureau 2 is in charge of providing security at a wedding, not least as favour to the Bureau director whose goddaughter is getting married, but also because of her father, an unpopular government minister whose water conservation policies are putting industry noses out of joint. The wedding goes off without a hitch, but no one expects the bride to be kidnapped outside the church.
8. Buried Treasure
The Bureau has its eye on a government official, suspected of squirreling away millions of pounds worth of fine art, but they’re not the only ones. A secretive criminal named Athena has been hacking into prison computers, getting early releases for a select group of prisoners. Meanwhile an old flame of Ed’s, an art agent named Sasha has come back into his life, looking for a favour.
9. Identity Crisis
The pressure’s coming down on Bureau 2, and especially its director Jan. She has just 24 hours to complete an investigation into David Lance, but it turns out that David Lance has his eyes on Jan as well. The next morning when Beckett and the others turn up for work, there’s a new Jan to report to, and no-one knows what has happened to the old Jan.
Former head of the Bureau of Weapons Design Roland Blatty has been in a persistent vegetative state since the events of the CYBERAX incident. No-one expected him or the other two victims to ever regain consciousness; only they just have, with a mission to reboot CYBERAX. It’s a race against time for Bureau 2 to stop them recovering the AI software, which the government kept, albeit split on four discs.
1. Absent Friends
2. Sacrifice to Science
Following the events at the end of the previous series, Beckett and Ros were finally getting together, when Ros vanished, her apartment showing signs of a violent altercation. When her car is found at the bottom of a river, peppered with bullet-holes, the Bureau declares Ros dead, something that Beckett can’t accept. He quits to keep searching for Ros, while Ed and Alex have to return to work. The first job is to investigate an eco-warrior group named SUNSTORM, who have in their sights a government genetics research lab. Beckett’s looking for clues to what happened to Ros in her past. Before Beckett knew her, before Gizmos, during her anti-establishment youth, she started a group with her friends called SUNSTORM...
3. Girl Power
When Beckett’s old workplace, the HIVE is hacked, the culprit turns out to be a 14-year-old delinquent girl, who unleashed top secret files onto the Internet. While Ros gets to ‘babysit’ Carly, and somehow rehabilitate her, the Bureau has a bigger problem. For some reason, the HIVE had Bureau files on its servers, and they have been broadcast on the web, including the security details for a museum mission that Beckett and Ed are currently undertaking.
4. The Two Becketts
After ten years, Nick Beckett’s father Matt shows up again, arrested breaking into a secure facility. He used to be in the same line of work, but following the death of Nick’s mother, he disappeared, defected to the other side. Only now he wants his son’s help taking down a corrupt Russian warlord. Not exactly a happy reunion...
5. Hell and High Water
When a 25 year old machine is stolen from a computer museum, it seems like a trivial crime, but the company that owned the machine built oil rigs, and one old rig has been converted into a satellite monitoring station, and now that a massive satellite is going to re-enter the atmosphere, and they need to transmit a self-destruct code, the monitoring station has gone quiet.
6. Pandora’s Box
The hostile takeover of a waste management company shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows, but when a waste disposal site stops accepting waste for disposal, but instead starts hiring diggers, that’s worth investigating. The new owner knows more about archaeology than waste disposal, but what he’s digging up harbours an invisible and lethal menace.
7. Jewel Control
It’s a convoluted get rich scheme indeed. Marry the daughter of a former government official while making a deal with a Colombian gangster. The official designed the communications technology used in old Cold War bunkers. One of these bunkers is now a gemstone vault but it’s connected to the other bunkers. The snag is the daughter is a friend of Ros, and the other bunker is at a Bureau training facility.
8. Twin Geeks
You know how it is, antisocial twin geniuses invent practically everything, and the company sacks them for being antisocial, before profiting from their inventions. Naturally the twins get aggrieved at this, and in this case decide to extort what they feel they are owed by planting a series of ingenious bombs. They may be too ingenious for Bureau 2.
9. Money Spiders
10. The Enemy Within
When a bank manager becomes a victim of cyber extortion, it seems like just another case, but these particular extortionists have a ruthless streak that makes this a far more dangerous affair than Ros, Beckett and Ed are used to. At the same time, Bureau 2 and The Hive have internal problems that threaten them all.
Bugs gets a 4:3 regular, native PAL transfer on these discs. The transfer is well over 10 years old at this point, and while it is watchable in playback, particularly on a good old fashioned CRT TV, a little closer scrutiny reveals a fair degree of compression and quite a grainy image. It certainly doesn’t bear up well after being scaled up to a flat panel HD display. On the bright side, there are no significant artefacts, signs of age, or flaws in the image, while the clarity and depth suggests that the show might actually have been shot on film, instead of video. In terms of production quality, Bugs is something of a mixed bag. When it comes to the live action footage, the exterior and location scenes, and especially the stunts, it looks like a big budget affair. But when it comes to studio sets and props, we can at time slip back to the days of old Doctor Who, with things looking a little flimsy and cheap. Also, back in the mid-nineties, the show got a good deal of value filming around the Docklands redevelopment, there’s a whole lot of shiny glass skyscrapers, and a whole lot of futuristic DLR, which now seems somewhat quaint.
You get a perfectly serviceable DD 2.0 English audio track, which coming from nineties BBC television is probably NICAM digital stereo. The dialogue is mostly clear, the action comes across well, and explosions are suitably beefy. I always remember the show’s theme song to be exciting and whetting the anticipation as it starts, only to deflate once the muted brass kicks in. That hasn’t changed. One disappointment might be the lack of subtitles for those rare moments when actors mumble their lines.
You get 13 discs split across two Amaray fatpacks, each containing two seasons of Bugs, and the second also housing the bonus DVD. The Season 1 and 2 case has one disc on each face of the case, and one disc either side of two hinged panels. The second case has three hinged panels, with one disc on either face of those, plus the bonus disc at the back. Both Amaray cases fit inside a card slip case.
The discs present their content with animated menus.
Season 1 Disc 1
Here you’ll find background info for the main characters, the allies and the villains, and the organisations for all 10 episodes in the season. Suffice it to say that if you’ve never seen the show before, it’s a whole lot of spoilers.
You get a Photo Gallery for the season.
There is a trailer for the short lived Crime Traveller series.
Season 2 Disc 1
It’s the same again here, the background info for the characters and organisations in season 2, another photo gallery, and the Crime Traveller trailer.
Season 3 Disc 1
Ditto! Spoilerific background info for the characters and organisations in season 3, another photo gallery, and the Crime Traveller trailer.
Season 4 Disc 1
Things finally differ for this final season, with character bios for the main characters again, another photo gallery, but this time the spoilers are more logically organised in episode synopses.
Available in this collection alone, this extra disc has a 46:23 interview with writer and series consultant Stephen Gallagher. 16 minutes are devoted to Bugs, and the rest of the time concentrates on his career in general. Given the title, you might expect things to be the other way around, but it’s still an interesting conversation. The interview was recorded in 2005.
Incidentally, the end credits to season 4 promise more goodies at www.bugs.co.uk, which as you might expect is a dead site now, but surprisingly it remains intact at the Internet Archive, if you want to have an explore. It’s not Geocities either.
This is one instance where nostalgia didn’t serve me well. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed Bugs. It was a laugh; it still has that Saturday evening, family drama entertainment vibe. But this time, I was laughing at it just a little bit, as it hasn’t aged all that well. It’s a little corny now, not helped by some questionable acting performances. I hate to name names, but Jesse Birdsall may have been the best thing about El Dorado, but that is hardly a testimonial to have on your CV, and it shows here. But generally there is a sense that no one is taking this show all that seriously, they’re having too much fun, and that does make the suspension of disbelief a little harder. Performances in shows like this have to be rock solid to sell the ridiculous conceits. The opening episode is the worst offender of all, which given that it’s the pilot is no surprise. I just couldn’t believe how smug everyone was! It gets better thereafter, but the sense that Bugs should have stayed in the nineties never really goes away.
The biggest problem that Bugs has is that over its four year run, it never discovered its identity. It reinvented itself year on year, which made investing in the show a lot harder. The first season, despite that opening episode is still my favourite. It’s when Bugs was the tech thriller that I enjoyed so much, a weekly TV version of Sneakers, all gadgets, and indeed gizmos, and all sorts of fancy technology. The downside was that it kept remaking the same story. An up and coming tech company would have some kind of fancy prototype, and there would be someone attempting corporate espionage, and they’d call in the Gizmos group to up their security. It might be genetically engineered bio-weapons delivered by micro-drones, a revolutionary airline navigation system, a self driving car (how prescient!); algae based foods, performance enhancing drugs and so on. There’s a uniformity of plot that you didn’t notice when watching one episode a week. But it is fun, and you do get the impression that this is what the show’s premise should be.
Then season 2 came along, and it introduced an overarching plot-line, using the most impactful villain from the first season. Only the problem is that Season 2 goes all sci-fi, reinventing the show as if it’s set in the near future, and redrawing the world map in the process, divorcing it from the ‘real’ world in a way that the first season never did. Suddenly, the British have a space shuttle program, tazers work like rayguns, and the Gizmos group have to deal with stealth fighters, nuclear fusion power stations, gold eating bacteria, ancient room temperature superconductors, remote controlled dogs, and a rogue AI loose on the Internet. It’s just far-fetched and silly, and is almost my least favourite of the seasons
Season 3 does away with that nonsense for the most part, aside from a lingering cliff-hanger, and it is probably as good as Bugs ever got (I still prefer the first season though). It’s yet another reinvention, as Beckett’s financial woes gets the team beholden to the government. They start working for Bureau 2, and intelligence work turns out to be a lot more interesting and varied than the tech thriller of the first season. The third season of Bugs can almost be seen as a proto-Spooks, given some of the cases that they investigate. They might be protecting a visiting dignitary from an Eastern European warlord, preventing the forgery of un-forgeable bank notes, dealing with former Soviet nukes, traitors in the intelligence community and so on, and it really gets interesting, about as complex and as diverse as this show ever got. The downside is that show’s overarching story now focuses on the character interactions, not a grand villain. This is where things become about relationships, and Bugs was pretty poor at relationships. When characters started batting eyelids at each other, it got quite juvenile and childish, and it was a distraction, not an enhancement to the story.
It got worse for the final season of Bugs, where the interpersonal ‘drama’ took up more and more screen time, the action and excitement comparatively diminished. It’s a sad demise for a show, but for the final season, Bugs was more a soap opera than a tech thriller. What’s worse is that since Season 3 introduced Bureau 2, the characters of Jan and Alex, the cast broadened out, and especially in Season 4, the focus began to shift away from the trio of Ed, Beckett, and Ros. The climax of Season 4 centres on the relationship between Alex and her fiancé Adam, and it’s pretty hard to care about them. Of course Season 4’s biggest weakness is that two Eds aren’t better than one. Craig McLachlan departed at the end of Season 3, and was replaced by Stephen Houghton. Aussie to Geordie doesn’t work, and the characterisation changed so drastically that it really does kill the season flat. They should have just introduced a new character. And it’s this one aspect that leaves Season 4 my least favourite of the lot, despite the stupidity of season 2.
Of course Bugs has dated due to its technology, and the fact that the Docklands doesn’t look futuristic anymore (you can see the Millennium Dome under construction in one episode). DAT tapes, CRT monitors, mobile phones that you can only talk on, Windows 3.11 and other such objects are very much of their time. But it’s the silly things that stick out, especially the Star Trek medicine. Someone gets infected; Ros takes a blood sample, looks under the microscope, and comes up with a cure in a matter of hours, despite not having a medical degree. Then again, Bugs has turned out to be remarkably prescient in a couple of areas, not just the self-driving car. In one episode, computers are infected by a Trojan hidden in spam e-mail (not too common an occurrence back in 1998), and in one episode Ros stops a bad guy doing bad things with a supercomputer by using a DDOS attack.
Bugs is still fun on occasion. There are more than a few episodes which certainly help pass the time with a smile on your face. It’s just that it was a flawed series from the beginning, and it compounded those flaws by continually trying to reinvent itself, losing sight of what worked in search of something new (sounds like a certain operating system). As a result it just hasn’t aged as well as the shows that inspired it, shows like The Avengers, and The Persuaders.