What hath The Hills wrought? On this coast, it’s Harlem Heights, a reality series built around the fabulous lives of eight young black professionals living uptown. In the grandest tradition of Laguna Beach and its ilk, there’s not much gritty reality here—awkward gatherings come about in empty restaurants and bars, peppered with manufactured confrontations and ludicrous claims that “I don’t do drama.” (Note: People who “don’t do drama” also don’t invite estranged frenemies to birthday parties, or star on reality TV.)
Still, the juxtaposition of a fashion-plate cast with artful shots of 125th Street makes for onscreen images that are lush, indeed. And even if their forced conversations have a familiar scripted ring, the Harlem crew’s professions (editor, aspiring lawyer) and social activism aspirations place them somewhere above Speidi on the scale of global worthiness (not hard). We’ve all lived in the post--Lauren Conrad world long enough to be inured to these ultra-fake, mindless narratives; why does the manipulation of Harlem Heights feel different? It’s probably due to the occasional jarring inclusion of real insight. Among self-aware musings about the upcoming age of Obama, non-profit worker Pierre voices an interesting perspective: After the 2008 election, he says, “You can’t be like, 'I didn’t get this job because I’m black.’... It takes away excuses.” Later, as the circle of friends watches the 2008 election results (in a near-empty bar, natch), it’s all fake posturing until the moment Obama is announced as the night’s winner. Their rush of teary, screamy emotion is not only familiar to many across the country, but—what’s that word again? Oh yeah—real.
Harlem Heights premieres Mon 2 at 10pm on BET.