The Locator

TV review by
Scout Davidson, Common Sense Media
The Locator TV Poster Image
Reality show mixes intense stories with teary reunions.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

In some episodes, participants' iffy past behavior has created huge problems in their lives. This is acknowledged and dealt with very clearly. For example, one woman's choice to run away from home as a teenager, experiment with drugs, and become a rock groupie is connected directly to the fact that she has become an abused single mom with no job and no way to support her daughter. Dunn only agrees to help her when he ascertains that she has overcome her addictions and is ready to begin rebuilding her life.


Occasionally, separations can be the result of violence, although this is depicted in a thoughtful and respectful manner.


Some participants' back stories include sexual elements. But they're never addressed or shown in a salacious way.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Substance use/abuse is something that has affected many of the show's participants during an earlier stage in their lives. The topics aren't shied away from but are handled in a responsible manner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although some of this reality show's participants have back stories that involve drugs, violence, and abuse, the series' overall theme is one of redemption, with participants recognizing the error of their ways and seeking forgiveness from friends and family. Their tales can be intense, but not too much questionable stuff is actually shown on screen.

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What's the story?

For one week out of each month, investigator Troy Dunn and his team of detectives take time out of their busy schedules to track down the lost loved ones of people around the country. They refer to these as "Angel Cases"; most have to do with people who disappeared after making questionable personal choices early in life and are now being sought out by the friends and family members who still miss them and think about them all the time.

Is it any good?

THE LOCATOR is as manipulative as all get-out, but it works tremendously well -- you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted to not get at least a little teary-eyed by the end of an episode. The producers do a very good job of establishing who the participants are and why head tracker Dunn cares about them. It could be argued that the show's "search" element is largely glossed over in favor of the "reunion" portion, but the sense of joy, relief, and sometimes fear that these people display when meeting their lost family or friends is palpable -- and impossible to watch casually.

The importance of family to the folks behind the show is obvious. Dunn's
mother is one of his research assistants (though the team is mostly kept
in the background), and in
many episodes he consults with his wife, Katie, about whether or not a
particular case is worth his attention -- then listens to her advice and considers it honestly. Dunn's humility and grace are worth noting; they help set The Locator apart from many reality shows. In each episode, once the reunion has begun, Dunn simply exits quietly. There's no grandstanding, no demands for fawning gratitude or undue attention. He just leaves without calling any attention to himself, recognizing that in this moment, it's no longer about him. It's a refreshing and humanizing change of pace.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the messages this show sends. Are they all positive? Do you find the series at all voyeuristic? If you were getting ready to reunite with a long-lost loved one, would you want cameras there? Why or why not? Families can also discuss what the show teaches viewers about the significance of decisions made at young ages. What ramifications can these choices have? After watching this show, do you see any of the choices you've made in a different light?

TV details

  • Premiere date: September 6, 2008
  • Cast: Troy Dunn
  • Network: WE
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-PG
  • Last updated: March 14, 2020

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