Creatively speaking, MTV’s efforts to pass the baton from “Jersey Shore” to newer generations of reality soaps in different locales has gotten off to a rather rocky start — and the year’s barely a week old. First there was “Buckwild,” the “don’t try this at home” mind-number about West Virginia louts, which premiered last week. And now the channel travels north to “Washington Heights,” a series that attempts to approximate the look and feel of an urban scripted serial, and winds up possessing all the depth and feeling of a beer commercial.
Focusing on a striving group of young friends — primarily of Dominican descent — in a diverse New York neighborhood, the program is heavily narrated by one of them, JP, an aspiring rapper who in the early going finds himself caught between two longtime pals, baseball-playing wannabe Jimmy (mumbling to the point of being subtitled) and brash but beautiful Leyna, who doesn’t like Jimmy’s girlfriend Eliza, yielding “drama” (or so they hope) and one highly promotable brawl.
“These ain’t the Hollywood Hills,” JP says at the outset. “We ain’t got much in our pockets, but we got big dreams.” And an apparent fondness for Dickensian cliches.
The concept of having mutual friends who don’t like each other is somehow completely new to JP and everyone else in their circle, which means throwing Jimmy/Eliza/Leyna together. The other characters, meanwhile, grapple with equally stale questions about professional yearning or unrequited crushes, with poet Frankie’s creative longing for Ludwin taking center stage in subsequent episodes.
Kicking off with back-to-back hours, the show consistently produces a “Who cares?” response. Even a sequence in which Jimmy takes Eliza to meet his incarcerated dad — which in theory should be an emotional home run — produces at best a bloop single.
MTV’s latest programming wave represents what amount to line extensions, albeit without the helpful adhesive of something like Bravo’s “Real Housewives” umbrella to connect and market them.
Admittedly, the network will never run out of twentysomethings willing to put their lives on camera, whatever the zip code. Yet when the result is as tepid as “Washington Heights,” the number of their peers eager to watch might well be another matter.