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Earnest Pettie, Online

Editor of Pophangover.com, Damn You, Autocorrect!, and the whole Pophangover Network

Washington Heights Is The Best Reality Show You Haven't Watched

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Washington Heights is the best reality show you haven’t watched. Remember everything you hated about The Hills? Remember the vapid young people with no drive who got to use their wealth to live lavishly and party all the time? Well, MTV’s Washington Heights is the opposite of that, with the exception of the partying all the time. It is the story of a group of motivated young friends who weren’t born with the means to make their dreams come true but are refusing to let that hold them back. 

Let me introduce you to the crew. First is JP, an aspiring rapper/singer known as Audubon and ringleader of this crew. He also narrates and takes a creator’s credit on this show, which I think speaks to a cleverness on his part. You know all the times you and your friends sat around and said “this would make a great show?” Well, he said that and then did it.

Next is Ludwin, an aspiring artist, whose biggest fan is Frankie, another integral member of the group.Frankie is a spoken word poet. Remember spoken word? From the 90s? It still exists in Washington Heights! All the slang we forgot about still lives there too! They still use “mad” as an adjective!

Ludwin is good friends with brothers Fred and RicoFred wants to make it as a fashion designer, andRico is interested in acting. Rounding out the core are sometimes-singer ReynaTaylor, baseball hopefulJimmy and his girlfriend, Eliza.

Although the show deals with the relationship drama that all reality (and all TV) shows deal with, this is really the story of a group of young people trying to figure out how to become who they are to be. In that way, it has much more in common with the first season of The Real World than The Hills.

Eliza vs. Reyna: Girl drama. Thankfully there’s little of this.

When you come from a tradition of wealth and power, as did the kids on The Hills, getting the internship or job you want can be as simple as having someone you know call in a few favors, pulling a few strings. Even when that isn’t possible, you have mentors and role models who can point you in the right direction and set you up for success. The Washington Heights crew don’t have that. They come from broken families, many with members who have been or are locked up in jail. During taping, Ludwin’s brother showed up, having jumped bail on a drug charge, and both of Jimmy’s parents had seen jail time, his father still locked up. When that is the world you come from, how do you get out of it? That is the drama that drove this series.

Over the course of the season, we got to experience the joy of JP’s beginning to make money from his music as he performed in the backs of stores and restaurants. We saw muddle-headed Jimmy make a bold decision to take his talents to Florida to try to start a career in baseball. Even lackadaisical Ludwin, the artist, eventually gets his stuff together to try to better himself. None of these guys has anyone to show them the way, so all they can do is depend on each other to keep themselves going and moving forward.JP even voices the feeling to a friend that he feels the group is depending on him to lead them onward.

The downside with Washington Heights is that it doesn’t reveal as much depth in the women on the show.Frankie, the poet, spends most of her time cooing over Ludwin in pursuit of a relationship that can only result in reams of bad poetry being written. The Frankie & Ludwin ”romance” almost threatens to take over the show, which makes not knowing more about Frankie feel criminal. Reyna, occasionally sings, but we know little about her outside of her drama with another girl, Eliza, whose main connection to the group is that she’s Jimmy’s girlfriend. We do get to see Reyna take her first steps toward becoming an independent woman, getting her first job and trying to move into her own apartment.

Speaking of apartments, can we talk about their living quarters? You want to talk about real? Their apartments had hallways so thin the camera crews seemed unable to be in them at the same time as the cast. One of the apartments was painted a shade of red I’m positive has been unavailable since 1973. And they clearly don’t get home furnishings from Ikea. It’s more likely they got hand-me-down sofas from Aunt Kia. It was refreshing to see real, lived-in homes that look more like what I know than the Real Housewives' homes.

As much fun as I had watching this group of ambitious friends grow up, I’m not sure if I want the show to come back for another season. Seasons two of TV shows tend to suck because the awareness the show generates tends to alter how people behave on and toward the shows. Now TV stars, the reality that motivated these people’s actions is replaced by produced scenarios that ruin the fun. Case in point, once the Jersey Shore kids began making a million bucks a season, living in that house became their job, and their jobs on the shore became their jobs within a job! How could anyone, most of all the Jersey Shorekids, take that seriously? It may be better to let Washington Heights end than to see these kids become caricatures of themselves.

This originally appeared on Pophangover

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