The embodiment of every asshole to ever breathe excited machismo into a microphone on “Cops” can be found in Joe Mazilli. And his tucked-in muscle shirts don’t work any miracles on A&E’s new real-life series “Runaway Squad.”

“Runaway Squad”

Mondays at 10 p.m.
A&E

Mazilli, a retired NYPD detective, takes to the streets alongside a team of experts in search of a weekly runaway teen. Mazilli became involved with this cause out of his work on the police force’s “Pimp Squad,” where he uncovered the funneling of many female runaways into prostitution. With 5,000 runaways dying each year, according to Mazilli, it’s a cause that has been drastically overlooked. Very few wouldn’t sympathize with a theme involving the search for 15-year-old Tayvela, last seen after a beating from seven gang members. But the subject matter of the show is not where the issue lies. Rather, it’s the terrible construction of “Runaway Squad” that’s up for debate.

Basically, if “Runaway Squad” were a chocolate mousse, Mazilli and his band of fellow histrionics slop a tablespoon of over-dramatization equivalent to fish sauce into its creamy base, polluting what once had a lot of potential. It’s an overpowering flavor, and it should certainly taste fishy to viewers. Comments like “It’s up to us now” and “I don’t back down from a threat” are just eye-roll inducers.

The sad truth of the matter is that you want to be impressed by Mazilli. Anyone who spends nine years infiltrating the mob and earns the Medal of Valor must have some serious backbone. But honestly, he seems a lot like an ape with an over-stimulated pituitary gland, breathing testosterone and playing with guns. Moreover, the annoying background he gives (running with a tough crowd until “my brother convinced me I was going to end up just like them”) is literally the most vague and predictable bit of personal history ever.

The most difficult thing to stomach about “Runaway Squad” occurs when Mazilli finally does find Tayvela, then decides that playing therapist between daughter and mother would be appropriate. Not to re-invoke the ape imagery, but watching his attempts to manipulate the two women’s psyches into a healthy, loving and communicative mother-daughter relationship is a lot like watching a pair of hairy hands slap a Band-Aid on an emotional gunshot wound. This girl needed a ton of psychiatric help, not a session with Mazilli’s bare arms and silver chain necklaces.

Perhaps the highest point in the entire episode is the minute-long conversation the other investigators have about the merits of coffee versus tea versus cocaine as they shmuck around the office before Mazilli walks in. That’s a single minute of humor, but sadly it doesn’t justify the creation of the entire show. Basically, unless you lack any sort of TV taste buds, steer clear of “Runaway Squad.”

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