A&E has dabbled in scripted crime dramas, but still commits most of its resources to unscripted fare. So April will see the channel trot out two reality programs that ape the formula of conventional dramatic procedurals, with the first up, “Fugitive Chronicles,” seeking to create a newsmagazine-drama hybrid; and “Runaway Squad” playing like a ’70s copshow, all the way down to the laughably cheesy music. Neither qualifies as a stylistic breakthrough, but the concepts ought to feel like greasy comfort food for those weaned on “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
“Fugitive Chronicles” relies on interviews with the law-enforcement officials involved in each real-life case, as well as a more questionable narrative cobbled together from interviews (either by cops or the media) with the object of their manhunt. This would seem to preclude fugitives who were killed instead of apprehended, but given the overall level of veracity, perhaps it’s best not to overthink such things.
The program’s primary wrinkle, however, hinges on elaborate recreations illustrating what transpired, using actors to approximate the look and feel of an inexpensive thriller. It’s a cross between the tabloid topics on primetime newsmags and ripped-from-the-headlines crime stories the networks used to turn into movies, all condensed into an hour. (And even less content than that, actually, given the level of repetition bracketing each act break.)
Give A&E some credit for trying to invigorate a stale genre, but the breathless urgency of the storytelling can become unintentionally amusing in places — and almost requires turning every fugitive into John Dillinger.
Somewhat more conventional but no less cinematic in its flourishes, “Runaway Squad” features a crack team of investigators led by ex-cop Joe Mazzilli — a colorful bear of a guy who’s part cop, part counselor, the bastard child of Kojak and Dr. Phil.
In the premiere, Mazzilli and his tough-talkin’ posse (which includes his wife and son) seek to locate a missing 15-year-old girl from Long Island. They fear she’s joined a gang and is being exploited as a prostitute, though the resolution is anticlimactic in the extreme. (All seven episodes focus on kids who are 14 or 15.)
Again, “Squad” is really all about style, trying to mimic the template of old copshows without addressing any of the nagging questions that come to mind — such as how an immigrant working mom (or anyone else, for that matter) is expected to afford hiring a high-tech team with seemingly unlimited resources to hunt down a wayward teenager.
Then again, basic cable — including A&E — is full of programs cast in a similar mold devoted to pursuing the paranormal or locating criminals (some of them rather shockingly petty). Against that backdrop, allocating space for something with the good intentions of calling attention to runaway teens — even an hour as banal and exploitative as this — is less objectionable, if not necessarily more entertaining.