Runaway Squad

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Runaway Squad TV Poster Image
Raw-but-real series gets to the heart of why teens run away.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series shows teens that negative actions have real consequences that can change the course of a young person's life. Finding teens who've gone missing is important, but the show also emphasizes the importance of parent-child communication to deal with issues that drove the teen away in the first place.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mazzilli and his squad of investigators truly care about the fate of their teenage targets and do everything in their power to bring them home. Mazzilli makes sure that the teens he rescues work through their issues with their parents to reduce the risk of them running away again.


Some teen runaways experience life-altering moments of physical violence, including beatings, rape, gang activity, etc., that aren't shown but are discussed in frank detail. Members of the Runaway Squad typically carry weapons to protect themselves in face-to-face meetings with tough characters who threaten violence.


Still images containing nudity are blurred.


Some bleeped swearing (think "motherf--ker" and "s--t") and audible words like "bitch," "piss," etc.


The Runaway Squad occasionally works with outside vendors, such as Brickhouse Security, to crack tough technology puzzles.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some cases deal with illegal drugs and/or underage drinking; a few one-time characters smoke cigarettes, etc.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this unscripted series deals with the subject of teen runaways in a frank and unfiltered way, sharing explicit details about the teens' experiences that could be too shocking for some kids. For those who can handle it, however, the show imparts real lessons about the consequences of negative decisions and the importance of positive communication between teens and their parents. Some cases deal with sexual violence, including forced prostitution and rape, and could also involve underage drinking or drug use. There's some bleeped swearing, too, including words like "motherf--ker," and audible language like "bitch" and "piss."

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What's the story?

Backed by hard-working members of his New York-based RUNAWAY SQUAD, police veteran Joe Mazzilli tracks down missing teens and tries his best to return them to their parents. But the squad isn't satisfied with tearful reunions; Mazilli also sticks around to make sure teens are really talking to their parents about the issues that drove them away in the first place. The squad includes Mazilli's wife, Gemma, along with others who specialize in technology and old-fashioned investigation techniques.

Is it any good?

With his arm-baring muscle shirts and tough-guy talk, Joe Mazzilli is quite a character. But Runaway Squad never forgets that he's got a job to do -- and neither does Joe. After all, as a former member of a police-led pimp squad that rescued teen girls -- many of them runaways -- from forced prostitution, he's seen a lot. And he knows that every second counts.

At times, Runaway Squad is so real that it borders on bleak (much like another unscripted A&E series, Intervention), and it would be tempting to cut it down to a half-hour series. No one wants to accept, for example, that a 15-year-old girl who once collected awards for singing in her school's choir could become a sex slave in a matter of months, although statistics reveal her situation is much more common than you'd think. What's refreshing here is the show's emphasis on meaningful reconciliation between runaway teens and their parents, and long-term resolution of the issues that made running away seem like a teen's only option in the first place.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role violence plays in the teen runaway problem and discuss how the show handles it onscreen. Does the show pump up violent scenes for the sake of ratings, or is merely showing the realities of the teens' harsh environments?

  • If you were a teen who was thinking of running away, would watching this show discourage you from doing it? Why or why not?

  • How real are the scenarios you're seeing? Do you think producers play a big role in shaping the arc of the storyline?

TV details

  • Premiere date: April 5, 2010
  • Cast: Joe Mazzilli
  • Network: A&E
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-PG
  • Available on: DVD, Streaming
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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