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"The tugboat, for its size, is the most powerful craft afloat. And the Star Tugs are the power behind the docks and waterways that make up the Bigg City Port. This is TUGS."
Captain Star's Opening Narration

From the makers of Thomas & Friends 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, and one episode was nothing but fifteen straight minutes of explosions that caused actual damage, nearly killed one of the main characters, ambiguously killed a named character with a voice, and outright killed one other character who didn't speak, but had a name.

Clips from the show were later redubbed and used as segments for Salty's Lighthouse. See also Theodore Tugboat, a Spiritual Successor created by TUGS co-producer Robert Cardona.

This show provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Hercules, the largest and strongest of Captain Star's fleet.
  • Alliterative Name: Names to be exact, with the Z-Stacks being named Zorran, Zebedee, Zak, Zip and Zug, working for Captain Zero.
  • 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.
  • Broken Aesop: The original edit of "Munitions" has a very odd one; at the end, Captain Starr blames the accident equally on Ten Cents, O.J., and Bluenose- even though the episode itself showed that the incident was entirely Bluenose's fault. It's especially bizarre because the Aesop of "not all authority figures are reasonable and you shouldn't just follow orders without thinking about them" comes across perfectly well in the episode itself, only for Starr to suddenly claim that "Bluenose was right in his way". The TV edit corrects by stating the incident was more clearly Bluenose's fault. There has been some speculation that this had to do with an extended version of the episode.
  • Character Catchphrase:
    • Hercules tends to call everyone "m'dear" and "sweetheart."
    • Warrior says "Sufferin' stacks" when surprised or startled.
  • Clothespin Nose Plug: The garbage-carrying barge Lord Stinker wears a clothespin on his nose.
  • Cool Old Guy: O.J. is the only paddleboat still working at the harbor, and according to Captain Star "he had given many years of good service, but time was catching up on him". Despite his age, he still is one of the most reliable tugs in the Star Fleet.
  • The Charmer: Word of God says that Hercules displays these tendencies. It can be seen a little in the show.
  • Crash-Into Hello: In "Sunshine", this is how the title character meets Ten Cents.
  • 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, some Tugs risk their lives to protect their friends. Add to that several recurring or minor characters nearly being outright killed onscreen (with one actually being killed), not to mention the liberal use of pyrotechnics, you have a recipe for a show following in the tradition of the Gerry Anderson series.
  • Disney Death: Ten Cents almost doesn't survive the explosion in "Munitions". Big Mickey also seems to sink into the ocean in the same episode after the munition explosions knock him into the drink, but the narrator confirms he was saved this way in the TV version.
  • Dub-Induced Plotline Change: Aired as part of Salty's Lighthouse on TLC with American accents re-dubbed over the characters, name changes, sex changes and other edits.
  • 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.
  • The Faceless: Captain Starr and Captain Zero. The closest we see of any human is a megaphone. Bizarrely, in "Jinxed", when Captain Starr's megaphone falls out of his window, his amplified voice still carries on.
  • Firefighting Episode: In the second half of "Munitions", when a naval ship called Krakatoa is being loaded at the loading dock, an impatient Bluenose starts a fire, which quickly spreads through Bigg City Port. Sunshine and Warrior help the Fire Tug put out the fire, while Ten Cents tries to get Bluenose and an oil barge that caught fire out of the way.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Honor Before Reason: Bluenose likes to put orders before common sense.
  • The Horseshoe Effect: Captain Starr and Captain Zero usually couldn't be further on the opposite sides in terms of business and management ethics. However, while Captain Starr can also be rather impatient and sometimes even unfairly harsh to his tugs when they do bad business, Captain Zero does occasionally take ethical methods when it gets better results, and isn't against praising his tugs the rare times they manage a profit.
  • It's All About Me: In "Quarantine", the ship Nantucket lowers its warning flag after being quarantined for a possible diseased cargo. All the tugs except Zorran are suspicious however. They are proven correct since Nantucket had simply got impatient and disobeyed orders to keep the flag up so he could be towed, not caring the least if he was a serious health hazard to others, or that he got a very ticked off Zorran quarantined with him as a result.
  • Jerkass: 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.
  • 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 seems to go this way when he topples over into the ocean in "Munitions", though this depends on whether you're watching it on TV or video.
    • Krakatoa, the tramp steamer from the same episode, does go this way when the payload she is carrying blows her to pieces, causing her to capsize.
  • The Klutz: Warrior. 90% of the time he is known to be a gigantic buffoon due to his attempts to be a hardworking tug often translating into inherent clumsiness.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In "Regatta", a tramp steamer accidentally takes out Lillie Lightship due to the crew being unable to see her. It then promptly crashes into the rocks and begins sinking.
  • 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. Hercules bears a strong resemblance to Clark Gable.
  • No Focus on Humans: All we ever see of the humans are megaphones.
  • Noodle Incident: It's not entirely clear what happened between Captain Zero and Johnny Cuba, but Zero is still pretty sore about it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Same Language Dub: Aside from the Macekre that is Salty's Lighthouse, the show had a specially made American English dub of "Sunshine", in an effort to sell TUGS to North American markets. Among the cast were Charlie Adler (as Sunshine, Zug and Izzy Gomez), Michael Bell (as Top Hat and Hercules), Rob Paulsen (as Ten Cents, Zorran and Zip), Alan Oppenheimer (as OJ and Warrior), and Ed Gilbert (as Captain Zero), with the characters given appropriate New York Area accents to fit the setting.
  • 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, possibly as a result of his mouth sitting right at the surface of the water.
  • Suicide as Comedy: Boomer, in an extremely light-hearted example.
  • 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.
  • Vehicle Title: Unsurprisingly, a show titled TUGS is about tugboats.
  • Villainous BSoD: After Bluenose's stubborn attitude and insistence on all his orders being obeyed leads to the harbor almost being destroyed, he shuts down completely, unable to so much as whimper.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Tugs


The Z-Stacks

Never a dull moment with the Z-Stacks.

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