From the network that gave us The Hills and Jersey Shore comes a show unlike any of its predecessors. Sure, MTV’s Washington Heights follows a similar reality TV formula – documenting six friends who were born and raised in Manhattan’s northern-most neighborhood – but unlike Lauren Conrad and Co., J.P. and his friends have heart, and they wear it almost as proudly as they wear their love of the Heights.
For the cast of Washington Heights, this isn’t just a place where they live: it’s a culture, it’s a lifestyle, and most importantly, it’s home. J.P. and his friends – Reyna, Frankie, Ludwin, Fred, Rico, Jimmy and Taylor – grew up in the Heights, just a few blocks away from one another. An aspiring rapper, J.P. (who goes by the moniker Audubon) conceived the idea for the docu-series three year prior to production.
“New York City has never been portrayed this real or this hard,” J.P. told Celebuzz. “And it’s not HBO. It’s not a movie. There were shows that glamorized the sex of the city, the clothes and the clubs, but our show is about culture. That’s what makes it completely different. There’s never been this much culture on TV before.”
“The show hasn’t taken off, and I feel like we’ve already made history just by being an all-Hispanic cast on television,” he added. “And three out of the four creators are Hispanic. I’m proud of us already!”
However, the docu-series does fall victim to a few reality show tropes. In the first episode, and explosive fright between Reyna and Eliza fractures the group for a majority of the season.
“It’s like when you’re walking down the street and there’s always a little Chihuahua barking at the Pit-bull,” Rico joked of Reyna’s feisty attitude.
The two have yet to resolve their differences. (“Sometimes, she has that face and I just want to slap her,” said Reyna.) But according to the cast, that’s not indicative of the entire series.
“That’s the first and last time a big fight happened between us,” said J.P. “That messed up everything. I wasn’t talking to Jimmy for, like, four months after that fight. That fight sucked. I hate reliving that moment, but things happen… I’m glad we get that out of the way in the first episode so by the end of the season, people will have forgotten about it. That’s not what the show is about.
Instead, the series aims to highlight the Heights the way J.P. and his friends see it: as a cultual Mecca.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Frankie, a performance poet. “People are usually inspired by people from similar walks of life, so I can’t wait for people to see what inspires us because hopefully, it will inspire them.”
“We motivate each other to do better,” added Fred.
Before joining the cast, Fred, now an aspiring fashion designer, was working in real estate – and admittedly, he was miserable.
“I wasn’t chasing my dreams, I was chasing what my parents wanted me to do,” he said. “And when I would hang out with J.P. or even Ludwin, who was like, ‘All I want to do is paint,’ I realized that I should be going after my dreams the same way they were going after theirs.”
“I just couldn’t see myself in a retail store or at a restaurant,” added Reyna, an aspiring singer. “I want to wake up loving what I’m doing.”
“That’s why I recently quit my job,” laughed Fred.
In part, that’s the appeal of Washington Heights. It follows a group of optimistic young people as they aspire for something greater than their circumstances — no alcohol-induced fights, sloppy hook-ups or smush rooms necessary. In the Heights, these kids struggle with real problems. Jimmy nearly ended his promising baseball career selling drugs after his father was sent to prison; Ludwin feels suffocated by his girlfriend’s insecurities; and J.P. see’s his mother’s financial struggles first-hand.
Meanwhile, MTV’s other midseason reality series Buckwild – which follows a group of wild friends in West Virginia – is more of the same from the network that turned GTL into a household name. Some might wonder if the artistic renaissance represented in Washington Heights could also lead to a cultural shift for MTV; one could only hope.
“You’re going to feel like you’re watching friends,” said J.P. “You’re not going to feel like you’re watching these people that you can’t identify with. You won’t be like, ‘Who the hell are these people?’”
Washington Heights premieres Wednesday, January 9 at 10PM EST on MTV. Will you be tuning in? Tell us why or why not in the comments!
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