Netflix UK TV review: Beat Bugs
James R | On 02, Aug 2016
Season 2 of Beat Bugs is on Netflix UK from Friday 18th November.
This summer, all you need is… animated insects singing covers of songs by The Beatles? That’s the premise behind Netflix’s new kids series, which lands on Wednesday 3rd August – and you won’t bee-lieve how well it works.
The show is the brainchild of Josh Wakely, who years – and millions – acquiring the rights some of the world’s best known songs. After winning over Sony/ATV Music Publishing through the sheer strength of his idea, the result is quietly mind-boggling: permission to play around with any Lennon/McCartney track he could name and use it to make a TV show.
The concept, perhaps, isn’t all that bizarre on the surface: jukebox musicals are commonplace in both cinemas and theatres. With musicians and labels always on the hunt for new ways to make money, amid the constant rows over revenue from streaming services, applying the same principal to the small screen seems surprisingly logical (Republic Records will, naturally, be releasing the soundtrack of the show alongside its premiere). But Wakely isn’t a spreadsheet and numbers guy: he doesn’t just stitch a bunch of tracks together. The songs inspire the images, power the plots and even dictate bits of dialogue.
Each episode follows the misadventures of five garden insects – Jay, a beetle (see what they did there?), Kumi, a ladybug, Crick, a cricket, Buzz, a fruit fly, and Walter, a slug – as they get into scrapes loosely dictated by a different pop classic. Episode 1, for example, sees the confident Jay hop into a catapult and get trapped in a jar, needing his friends to bail him out. “I thought you never needed anybody’s help in any way,” observes Kumi, wryly. “Those days are gone,” he replies. You can already feel the urge to start singing along.
The visuals are suitably vibrant, with Wakely and his team ramping up the brightness of the landscapes and the colours of the main characters. By the time we meet Lucy (of Lucy in the Sky Diamonds fame), who is recruited to help Buzz drift off to sleep, her kaleidoscope eyes really are trippy to behold – a far safer taste of the psychedelic 60s for your littl’uns than getting them high on acid.
It’s not only the big hitters that get an outing, either, with Carry That Weight prompting an amusing encounter with some extremely united ants and Blackbird taking a sad song and making it better by finding time for a cute bout of animal rescue.
Throughout each 11-minute chapter, Daniel Johns dissect and reworks the tracks into background music, incidental cues and full-on musical numbers. With guest vocalists include everyone from Pink (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds) and The Shins (The World) to Sia (Blackbird) – and thanks to the witty, delicate use of instruments and words – Beat Bugs is the most creative use of The Beatles since the 2006 Cirque du Soleil show Love.
Like that dazzling circus act, Beat Bugs uses All You Need Is Love as its theme tune, an upbeat sentiment that gives an overall theme and identity to this strange universe. The individual bug characters may not always feel fully fleshed out, but with 26 episodes to develop them, the chance of seeing strawberry fields and yellow submarines brought to life in a new way is more than enough reason to keep tuning in. (Sure enough, a second season has already been commissioned.)
The result is something closer to a visual album than a series and that’s no bad thing – in fact, it makes a refreshing change to the norm. When was the last time you sat down to enjoying listening to some music with your kids? Unique and inspired, Beat Bugs is a wonderful way to introduce your children to The Beatles. Even better, you’ll be rediscovering them too.
All episodes of Beat Bugs are available exclusively on Netflix, as part of a £8.99 monthly subscription.