"The tugboat, for its size, is the most powerful craft afloat. And the Starr Tugs are the power behind the docks and waterways that make up the Bigg City Port."
From the makers of Thomas the Tank Engine
comes a short-lived
sister series. Set in Bigg City Port in The Roaring '20s
, it chronicles the adventures of the Star Tugs, a fleet of Thomas-esque boats with faces
as they compete for contracts with their biggest rivals, the Z-Stacks.
What really sets this show apart from Thomas is the maturity of the stories. There are dangerous perils that the Tugs have to deal with, such as being crushed by a wayward ocean liner, or the risk of being scrapped.
Clips from the show were later redubbed and used as segments for Salty's Lighthouse
This show provides examples of:
- The Ace: Hercules, the largest and strongest of Captain Star's fleet.
- A Father To His Tugs: Captain Star.
- Alliterative Name: Names to be exact, with the Z-Stacks being named Zorran, Zebedee, Zak, Zip and Zug, working for Captain Zero.
- Australia Gangster: Johnny Cuba.
- Batman Gambit: Zorran pulls this in "Warrior". He says rude things about Warrior in front of Big Mac in order to make Big Mac so angry that he forgets his barge is still loading and becoming too heavy to stay afloat.
- Big Brother Mentor: The older tugs often act this role to Ten Cents and Sunshine.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Warrior and Big Mac in "Warrior" when they stop Izzy from capsizing after he runs aground.
- Zebedee of all characters in "High Winds" when he helps the Star Tugs dock the Princess Alice liner during a windstorm.
- Grampus in "Regatta" when he plugs a hole in Lillie's hull with his face to keep her from sinking.
- The Blank: The ghost tugs.
- British Brevity: The show ran for 13 episodes.
- Catch-Phrase: Hercules tends to call everyone "m'dear" and "sweetheart."
- The Charmer: Word of God says that Hercules displays these tendencies. It can be seen a little in the show.
- Cool Boat
- Cool Old Guy: OJ.
- Cut-and-Paste Translation: Aired as part of Salty's Lighthouse on TLC with American accents re-dubbed over the characters, name changes, sex changes and other edits. These stories were edited into incoherent stories utilizing stock footage from various episodes, resulting in a mess in footage continuity.
- The Dandy: Top Hat is absolutely this, and often mocked by his fellow tugs because of it.
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to Thomas the Tank Engine, and done well. Some Tugs risk their lives to protect their friends.
- Deadpan Snarker: Big Mac and Top Hat.
- Disney Death: Ten Cents almost doesn't survive the explosion in "Munitions".
- Drama King: Top Hat, again .
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Bluenose .
- Dumb Muscle: Warrior.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Zorran may be willing to play dirty when competing with the Starr Tugs for contracts, but "Munitions" shows he treats dangerous jobs with the utmost caution and respect. He also chastises Zip and Zug for trapping Ten Cents and Sunshine at a fuel depot in "The Big Freeze", because without the emergency lighthouse barge they had, both the Starr Tugs and the Z-Stacks would have lost out on contracts to supply a luxury liner.
- Everything Is Better With Explosions: Billy Shoepack thinks so. Also, many episodes have some sort of explosion or another. Given that co-creator David Mitton had once worked on Thunderbirds (where things exploded pretty much on a regular basis), this is hardly surprising.
- Expy: The Pirates in control of Sea Rogue and his uncle are clearly based on The Mysterons.
- The Faceless: Captain Starr and Captain Zero. The closest we see of any human is a megaphone. Bizarrely, in "Jinxed", when Captain Star's megaphone falls out of his window, his amplified voice still carries on.
- Five-Bad Band: Zorran: Big Bad, Zebedee: The Dragon, Zak: The Brute, Zug: Evil Genius, Zip: Dark Chick.
- Forced into Evil: The Green-Eyed Pirates force Sea Rogue to steal barges of cargo for them, threatening to sink his uncle if he refuses.
- Genius Ditz: Warrior.
- Good Colors, Evil Colors: The Star Tugs are all painted yellow with red, white, and blue smokestacks, while the Z-Stacks are all painted brown with black smokestacks.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ten Cents and Sunshine. And Zip and Zug.
- High-Class Glass: Top Hat.
- Honor Before Reason: Bluenose likes to put orders before common sense.
- Idiot Hero / Kindhearted Simpleton: Warrior is a clumsy idiot, but also a hard worker who always means well.
- Jerk Ass: Bluenose, whose rudeness nearly gets the whole harbour blown up.
- Jerkass Has a Point: In "Regatta" Zorran harasses the Stars after they rescue Grampus. He rightfully wants his timber barges that were taken by Ten Cents (even though both were used to save someone) and points out that they were technically stealing Navy property. Hercules runs him off before he can do anything about it though.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Top Hat. Zebedee may count as well, given High Winds.
- The Jinx: Boomer.
- Jump Scare: A surprisingly horrific one in Munitions when Ten Cents gets a burning petrol barge out to sea. The barge explodes before Ten Cents even has a chance to get clear and it's only through Grampus's aid that he makes it home.
- Killed Off for Real: Big Mickey the Crane, though this depends on whether you're watching it on TV or video.
- Large and in Charge: Hercules and Zorran. Basically the larger the tug, the more status they tend to have. The small Harbour Switchers Ten Cents, Sunshine, Zip and Zug are almost like the babies of their families. And the huge ocean liners are treated like royalty.
- Last of His Kind: O.J., the last paddleboat tug in Bigg City.
- Meaningful Name: The tramp steamer "Krakatoa" from the episode "Munitions".
- Meaningful Rename: Before Boomer was, well, Boomer, his name was Captain Harry. Unfortunately, like the urban legend goes, renaming a ship gives bad luck...in this case, bad luck to Boomer himself.
- National Stereotypes: Izzy Gomez has a mustache and sombrero, sleeps a lot, has a very goofy accent and is notoriously cheap.
- The Needs of the Many: In Munitions, Ten Cents takes a burning petrol barge out to sea, whilst Sunshine uses a fire barge to contain the fire. When the petrol barge explodes, Sunshine is about to leave to help Ten Cents, O.J. tells him to stay at his post, despite how much it destroys them both.
- New Transfer Student: Sunshine from "Up River". Not a school per se, but has a different paint job until he's accepted at the end of the first episode.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In "Up River", Billy Shoepack uses his dynamite to free Sunshine from a log jam. Unfortunately, the force of the explosion turns the logs into a massive battering ram heading straight for Bigg City.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Zug's voice and appearance is very similar to Peter Lorre.
- Noodle Incident: It's not entirely clear what happened between Captain Zero and Johnny Cuba, but Zero is still pretty sore about it.
- Now Which One Was That Voice?: None of the voices for the characters were credited, only through investigation and crew confirmation were any voices identified. Patrick Allen (Captain Star) is a particularly easy voice to identify.
- Oh, Crap!: Happens twice in "Up River":
- First, when Big Mac realizes the logs trapping Sunshine have caught fire.
- Second, when Warrior gets stuck on the wrong side of the barricade.
- Ominous Fog: "Ghosts".
- Quintessential British Gentleman: Top Hat, again.
- Re-Cut: The TV versions of four of the episodes differ from the VHS versions.
- The most infamous example is the episode "Munitions", which, depending on the version, decides whether or not Big Mickey the Crane lives or dies.
- Scenery Gorn: "Munitions" features a ten-minute sequence of explosions, enough to make Michael Bay proud.
- The series has quite a few spectacular explosions.
- Scenery Porn: The harbor, the docks, the boats...
- Ship Tease: No pun intended, between Hercules and Lillie.
- Shout-Out: The Line "Goodnight Vienna" is a direct reference to Ringo Starr's album of the same name.
- At the time, Ringo Starr was cast as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine, TUGS sister show.
- Zug looks and sounds like horror legend Peter Lorre.
- Sixth Ranger: Near the end of the series, Grampus the submarine joins the Star Tugs.
- The Smurfette Principle: There are three female characters with lines in the show (Lillie, Sally and Pearl). The liners are always referred to as "she" but that may just be because of the nautical term, as they don't appear to be sentient like the other ships.
- Speech Impediment: Grampus lisps when he talks.
- Spiritual Successor: Co-producer Robert Cardona would go on to produce the Canadian series Theodore Tugboat.
- Suicide as Comedy: Boomer, in an extremely light-hearted example.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Captain Starr speaks mostly in a calm and controlled way but Captain Zero yells at his tugs and shakes his megaphone whenever he speaks.
- Theme Music Power-Up: Not exactly the theme music, but there is a dramatic piece of music played whenever a Tug is acting heroically.
- Track Trouble: In "High Tide", when Top Hat, Zebedee, and Zak come across a narrow canal with a railway bridge above it, the high tide causes Zebedee's steel rig to damage the bridge. While Zebedee and Zak leave to get help, Top Hat uses Zebedee's steel rig to prop up the bridge whilst Puffa travels across it. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, the steel rig sinks and the bridge collapses, forcing Top Hat to catch the Goods Engine in Lord Stinker the Garbage Barge when it comes across the bridge.
- Upper-Class Twit: Top Hat and Bluenose.
- Violent Glaswegian: Big Mac.
- Watch Where You're Going!: In "Warrior", The Shrimpers say this to Warrior when he cuts across them. Warrior apologizes and tells them that they should look where they're going.