Regular airtime: Wednesday, 10pm ET (MTV)
Cast: Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag, Audrina Patridge, Whitney Port
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When America first met Lauren “LC” Conrad, a pretty, blond SoCal product, she was starring in the first season of Laguna Beach. A high school senior during taping, she hooked up with guys and got into petty fights—usually mostly with Season Two’s breakout star, Kristin Cavallari.
Then she graduated and virtually disappeared. Although she appeared in Season Two, Cavallari’s star flew past LC’s, as the former became one of Maxim‘s 23rd hottest women of 2006, linked to Matt Leinart and Nick Lachey, while the latter struggled in San Francisco, eventually dropping out of college and returning home.
The Hills puts LC back in the spotlight. It follows the 19-year-old after a move to Los Angeles. She’s changed, a point made in the series’ first moments, when she’s introduced as “Lauren,” no longer known by the nickname that served her so well in Laguna. Lauren is attending classes at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and working as an intern at Teen Vogue, not to mention dealing with friends who just want to party. The new Lauren works hard at Vogue and goes home early to get ready for her first day of school, while her roommate Heidi, who is also starting school in the morning, stays out. Lauren says, “I’m not going to mess up my internship and, like, do something shady, like, go to a party.” At this point, Heidi, looking extremely perplexed, offers a quarter-hearted, “Yeah.” Lauren wants to be taken seriously.
And so she poses a critical question: can anyone truly “grow up” on reality television? By setting up her maturation as a story point, The Hills strives to distance itself from the Laguna Beaches of the reality television genre.
Thus, the drama in the first two episodes revolves around whether Lauren will get her internship at Vogue, a decidedly grown-up tension, if it was actually “tension.” During the interview, West Coast editor Lisa Love asks her if she can write well. Lauren’s answer—“Um, well, I enjoy writing”—is hardly satisfactory. You can almost see the internship slipping out the window. And yet, she gets the job. Was there ever any doubt?
Almost immediately, she screws up at work, sneaking Heidi, her boyfriend, and two other kids into a party and letting them sit in the VIP area she is assigned to guard. Typically, such an indiscretion would result in, at best, a stern lecture, or at worst, a firing. Yet Love, set up to be a Left Coast version of Miranda Priestly, calls Lauren into her office the next day and meekly asks her to “behave” in the future.
Our heroine avoids the harshest punishment because of her unique position. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (compared to Heidi and the rest of the gang, Lauren seems rather responsible), it’s tough to see how The Hills will teach viewers anything about getting older when Lauren is so stunted by her situation. Granted, teaching America’s youth has never been MTV’s number one goal, but one might think that a show about growing up might seek to tweak this formula.
In fact, The Hills’ breakout star will not be Lauren. In the first two episodes, Heidi, with her half-charming, half-I-can’t-believe-she-just-said-that bravado, stole the show from Conrad just as Kristin stole Laguna Beach. Heidi is not sensational, exactly; she’s not calculating or vindictive (at least not outwardly so). She’s just more entertaining. This is a girl who explains with total seriousness to the FIDM admissions officer, “I just want to be the cool party planner.” This sentiment is antithetical to Lauren’s new life philosophy, but infinitely more watchable. And now that Heidi’s on MTV, she might be famous without even trying. At least she’s honest about the limits of her aspirations. Or maybe she’s thinking ahead with more acumen than we yet see.