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Washington Heights: TV Review

Washington Heights Cast - H 2012

The Bottom Line

A perfect fit for MTV's audience, featuring cast members who are actually likable and sincere.

Airdate

10 p.m. Wednesday, January 9 (MTV)

Producers 

Gigantic Productions

It's another MTV series about teenagers —Dominicans in New York City--who party, hook up and fight. Only this time it works.

On the heels of MTV's disastrously tacky (and boring) Buckwild, the network has launched another series about teenagers who spend a lot of time drinking, partying and fighting each other, but this time it works. The stars of Washington Heights are all mostly of Dominican background, and while that's played up as a big part of the series, young adults are young adults.  Race isn't really much of a factor here. In fact, the group reminds one a lot of another bickering close-knit group of young people: the cast of Laguna Beach.

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The difference is, Washington Heights is a docu-drama for the 2010s and the recession, where hair extensions are traded in for thick-framed glasses, tennis skirts for high-waisted shorts, and privileged white kids from the O.C. in their late teens through early twenties for their Dominican counterparts in a less privileged area of New York. Some things never change though, as both groups seem to find ample time to not work (visibly, anyway), pursue careers in poetry, singing and art, have endless brunches, and cry after alcohol-fueled drama. Kids will be kids!

Washington Heights certainly shares more with series like Laguna Beach and The Hills than the travesties of Jersey Shore and Buckwild because the youth portrayed actually seem (at least to start off) sincere. Like Laguna Beach, Washington Heights has a primary narrator who is one of the group: In the former show it was (initially) Lauren Conrad, and in this incarnation it's JP, aka. Audubon, an up-and-coming hip-hop artist who seems to have genuine talent.  

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The tightly knit group also consists of JP's female best friend Reyna, who is beautiful and full of drama, as well as his male best friend Jimmy, who dreams of a career in baseball. Jimmy's father is in prison, something Jimmy also knows a little something about, since he was involved with drugs to help with the bills after his father went to jail, but was caught and also incarcerated. Now though, he's trying to turn his life around, with the help of his suburban girlfriend Eliza. So The Hills, maybe, this is not.

As of the first two episodes, only Reyna brings the drama (which affects Jimmy and Eliza primarily, but also the whole group by making things awkward), while the others all appear fairly level-headed, and talk a great deal about their relationships (as is expected). The mature, poetry-writing Frankie has a crush on artist Ludwin, who is in a very negative relationship, while Taylor and Rico, two quiet mainstays of the group, flirt on and off with each other. These will-they-won't-they relationships are the bread and butter that shows like Washington Heights trade in, and they are reminiscent of the best kind of MTV docu-dramas.

The appeal of Washington Heights is firmly within the MTV demographic, though. While the cast members are likable enough and their struggles (most of which, outside of relationships, we don't see -- as mentioned above, they seem to find lots of time to party and go to nail salons, but no actual work is ever shown or alluded to) are engaging enough, there are only so many "likes" peppered into conversation that a person of a certain age can tolerate.

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Additionally, there are plenty of aspects of the show that border on the cliche, from the voiced over "we don't have much in our pockets, but we have big dreams," to the a refrain that talks about "bright lights, big city." But Washington Heights isn't asking anything big from its audience, either. It plays a little bit, in spirit, like the HBO series How to Make It In America. It is in that way that it feels both fresh and familiar -- the scene is new, but the story is old. There's drama, but not as much trash. Which, unfortunately for it, may not make enough headlines to warrant the success it probably deserves.