The Hills series finale marked the end of an era. The MTV docu-soap ran for 102 episodes, in six seasons over four years. A sequel to the seemingly less scripted Laguna Beach, the show at first allowed viewers to believe that a tiny bit of it was at least a little bit real. No longer. In the wake of the Hills-created fame monster Speidi, no one can pretend to believe any of it anymore.
The finale, titled “All Good Things…” premiered 13 July (and will doubtless be rerun for the foreseeable future). It concluded with villain Kristin Cavallari leaving ex-boyfriend Brody Jenner in order to move to Europe. As they said goodbye, the camera panned to reveal they were standing on a studio lot with a backdrop. The stars hugged and the crew clapped. Yes, everyone always knew it was fake.
Still, the show, like other soaps and other reality TV, prompted viewers to feel genuine emotion. This much is made clear in the three specials MTV conjured to accompany the finale. The after-show, behind-the-scenes special, and retrospective all purport to reveal how the participants really felt about their experiences, even if the experience was lightly scripted. On The Hills Live: A Hollywood Ending, interviewers asked Kristin and Brody about their goodbye. Brody said the ending was supposed to make you question “what’s real and what’s fake,” and Kristin concurred, “Yeah, we leave it open to your interpretation.” However, Lauren Conrad insisted she was more real: “When you choose to share your life with an audience, you should share it all.” Likewise invested in the show’s truths, the interviewers just wanted to know if Kristin and Brody might date again in the future.
Lauren’s view of her work on the show may be shaped by the fact that The Hills began with her and approximated a version of her life. After season five, when she left and Kristin took over the narration and point of view, the series’ tone became more cynical. Viewers lost interest, ratings plummeted, and the show was canceled. While some critics argued that viewers left because the appealing heroine Lauren did, I think the problem was increased scripting and staginess.
The trajectory began when MTV first imposed its Real World format on high school kids living their real lives on Laguna Beach. Lauren was the breakout star, apparently experiencing at least a few of the feelings she shared with the audience. As she moved to the Hollywood Hills and tried to succeed in the fashion industry, she got her own show, The Hills.
More graceful and grounded that her fame-grubbing cast-mates, Lauren was a sympathetic golden girl. She seemed open, resourceful, and sweet-natured, even in the face of a brutal fame machine. Her fellow ingénues became trendy LA nightclub fixtures, circling the drain of Paris Hilton’s world. In the face of the increasingly backstabbing behavior of her “friends,” Lauren pluckily kept trying to “make it,” like Mary Tyler Moore.
Then, Speidi happened. Lauren saw it coming and jumped. Taking her brand to fashion lines and novels (New York Times bestsellers, loosely based on her experiences), she ceded the reality field to a seemingly infinite number of Kardashians and lesser Kardashians (that means you, Brody Jenner).
While The Hills never incorporated the cast’s growing celebrity and cloying bids for tabloid attention, everyone knew what was going on. Lauren and her roommate Heidi Montag fell out over Heidi’s creepy boyfriend and eventual husband Spencer Pratt. Then Spencer sparked false rumors of a Lauren sex tape and Heidi denied he was behind it, leading to Lauren’s infamous accusation—“You know what you did!”—made at Les Deux, natch.
The plot turned increasingly contrived: when Heidi moved in with Spencer, Lauren had a new roommate at the ready, their conveniently arrived “neighbor” Audrina Patridge. Lauren magically got an internship at Teen Vogue and her blank-eyed coworker, Whitney Port, eventually got her own, less magical spin-off reality series, The City, which followed her Bambi-like adventures in New York, where Patricia Wettig and Ken Olin’s daughter Roxy suddenly showed up. Who was casting these people?
The Hills jumped the shark when producers awkwardly replaced their departed heroine with her nemesis from Laguna Beach. Kristin Cavallari magically appeared at the Speidi wedding in the fifth season finale. Kristin half-heartedly tried to steal Audrina’s ex-boyfriend, yawning while she pretended in interviews that the narrative was sort of real. Real-ish. Slumming it after her dream of movie starlet-dom faded, Kristin was careful to demonstrate she was in on the joke, saying the series needed a villain, and, as she pointed out in the Hills after-show, she was happy to play that role—for a while.
During Season Six, the surrounding publicity began to drown out the series. Viewers read tabloids first, then watched the show to see the stars act out. Stories about Heidi Montag’s 10 plastic surgeries in one day preceded the moment when she showed her new Barbie doll face on The Hills, a moment exacerbated by her mother’s visible disappointment. As The Hills became an afterthought, Heidi retreated further into crazy Spencer-land. At around that time, he devoted himself to reading crystals, dodging Heidi’s desire for children and pursuing other means to fame (I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here). Eventually, his rage fits got him kicked off The Hills.
In the face of such bad press, the show limped to a contrived “happy ending.” The finale highlighted Lauren “Lo” Bosworth’s relationship with her stable boyfriend, Audrina’s newfound freedom from Justin Bobby, and Kristin’s proposed move to Europe to get over Brody. Only Lauren seemed better off, because she smartly refused to appear on the finale. Instead, she appeared on the after-show to promote her novels. No longer a character on a reality show, she’s now telling her own stories, as fiction.