Harlem Heights

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Harlem Heights TV Poster Image
Reality series falls into voyeurism trap. Lots of drinking.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

While there's plenty of discussion about community pride and assistance, a lot of the show's focus is on the castmates' personal relationships, and lots of gossipy and competitive behavior is captured. The cast is African American; prominent African-American community leaders and business owners are featured and/or discussed.

Violence

Arguing between castmates. Some references to street violence. Jason wants to start a nonprofit for children of incarcerated parents.

Sex

Some relatively mild sexual innuendo, including references to people looking "hot" and "sexy." One scene shows a man placing his hand on a woman's thigh while sitting at a bar. Occasionally the castmates are seen in their underwear, but there's no outright nudity.

Language

Audible language includes words like "hell" and "damn." Occasional stronger choices like "s--t" are bleeped.

Consumerism

Businesses like Victoria's Secret Pink are mentioned, and various Harlem restaurants and business are visible. The series also serves as a promotional vehicle for Christian's magazine, DIME.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

No one is falling down drunk, and they're all of age -- but there's lots of drinking. The cast regularly discusses things over wine and cocktails and are frequently shown drinking in bars and nightclubs. Ashlie is a bartender. Jason is shown smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that while this reality series about a diverse group of twentysomething professionals living in Harlem includes some positive messages around community pride and service, like most reality shows, it skews more toward voyeuristic moments filled with gossiping, flirting, arguing, and drinking (lots of drinking). Expect occasional strong language ("s--t") and some screen time for well-known companies like Victoria's Secret and Dime magazine, as well as local Harlem businesses.

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What's the story?

HARLEM HEIGHTS follows a group of twentysomething African Americans living in historic Harlem as they build their post-college careers. The diverse group of up-and-comers includes opinionated law student Bridget; her cousin, fashion designer Briana; aspiring actress Ashlie; community leader Landon; and magazine editor Christian. Also joining the group are former college basketball star Pierre, budding TV producer Brooke, and Jason, a Harlem native who's turned his life around and is now working to start a community nonprofit. Not surprisingly, as these young professionals navigate their way through adulthood, relationships get complicated and personalities clash. But despite their differences, the castmates share a common goal: to put down roots and achieve personal and professional success in the Big Apple in their own way.

Is it any good?

Harlem Heights offers a glimpse into the lives of young African Americans who are both contributing to and enjoying the rebirth of a Manhattan neighborhood that has played a major role in African-American history. The show captures the fact that historic Harlem is becoming increasingly gentrified -- and, as a result, is once again a robust epicenter of African-American culture, power, and glamour. Adding to this prestige is the fact that many of the show's cast members are connected to influential African-American figures, including Harlem community leader Larry Dais, advertising mogul Don Coleman. and singer Kanye West.

But like many other reality shows, Harlem Heights tends to focus less on high culture and more on the ups and downs of the relationships among its good-looking, spirited cast. Scenes in which the men and women gossip, argue, and drink often seem endless. And while some of the castmates are inspired to help their community, most seem more focused on having fun, making money, and looking fabulous. As a result, much of the inspiration that comes from being part of the new Black Renaissance is undermined by voyeuristic moments that highlight some pretty narcissistic behavior.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about life after college. What are some of the challenges of transitioning into "real" life? Should helping the community be a factor in the choices that young people make when thinking about a career? How does this series compare to reality shows like The Real World? What message do you think it's trying to send to viewers?

TV details

  • Premiere date: March 2, 2009
  • Network: BET
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Available on: Streaming

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