[4 August 2008]
Lauren Conrad isn’t an anonymous 20-something trying to make it in Los Angeles. But she plays one on TV.
The attention she receives by having her every move taped and shown to millions has reaped rewards in the form of fashion lines, product endorsements, numerous walks down the red carpet and sleazy Internet rumors. But the third season of The Hills would have you believe that Lauren is the lowly fashion intern she almost surely never was.
By ignoring Lauren’s fame, the producers have abandoned any idea of producing a documentary and moved into full-on soap opera territory. If you were expecting the show to have even a shred of reality, don’t even bother to watch. If you can accept The Hills as pure contrivance, however, it quickly becomes addictive.
In the world of The Hills, there are approximately two clubs and three restaurants in all of Los Angeles, the better for the show’s bitter rivals Lauren and Heidi to meet “by chance”.
A few cosmetic surgeries ago, Heidi played the part of Lauren’s best friend, the flighty yin to her more earnest yang. The honeymoon ended when Heidi hooked up with designated super-villain Spencer. A sleaze with Machiavellian ambition, Spencer has a hatred of Lauren that borders on obsessive. Heidi and Spencer (aka Speidi) and Lauren spend all of their time apart complaining and crying over each other.
Reading the gossip rags is the only way to find out why the hate between Lauren and Speidi has heated to the fire of a thousand suns. Just before the third season aired, word began to spread of a sex tape featuring Lauren and ex-boyfriend Jason. Lauren blames Speidi, Spencer in particular, for the rumors. Heidi and Spencer don’t admit to the dirty deed, but they don’t exactly deny it either.
Lest the audience become confused by all of the drama, The Hills helpfully provided Lauren with a Greek chorus of girlfriends.
Whitney, Lauren’s co-worker, and Audrina, her neighbor-turned-roommate, exist only to ask Lauren questions about plot twists that occurred when the cameras weren’t rolling. They do so with such wooden, mannequin-like deliveries that it begs the question: are Whitney and Audrina the most boring people alive or are they simply smart enough to hide their inner selves from the masses?
For what it’s worth, my guess is that Audrina is the former and Whitney the latter. My assumption appears to have been proven true by Audrina’s expanded role in the third season. She begins dating unwashed loser Justin (aka “Justin Bobby”) and the two become the least cute, least romantic couple of all time.
Unfortunately for Audrina, her most endearing plotline of the season was left on the cutting room floor. An amusing sequence included in the DVD set shows Audrina reacting to her cat allergy by taking Lauren’s pet feline for a buzz cut. Also among the many deleted scenes is a bit where Spencer earns his title as a slime-ball by adding his phone service to his parents’ account without mom and dad’s consent.
If The Hills was fake, rather than “fake reality”, Lauren’s longtime best friend Lo would be the player most deserving of the Supporting Actress Emmy. Lo is perky, she’s fun and she’s got very little tact. It also doesn’t hurt that her likes are similar to that of the audience – namely, eating junk food and taking jabs at the most annoying members of The Hills cast, namely Spencer, Audrina and Justin.
The break-up of Lauren and Heidi extends to the DVD set. Whitney and Audrina join Lauren for giggly, though not particularly revealing, commentaries of the season’s key moments. But Heidi offers her (few, canned) comments solo.
According to one of the many fan sites dedicated to The Hills, the “real” Whitney earned a bachelor’s degree in gender studies. Perhaps she could help in determining what the relationships depicted on the show say about roles and relationships of young men and women in the 21st Century.
Although the women of The Hills presumably plan to go into Fame, at least they play at having actual careers. The men, however, have no jobs or ambition. They spend their days decorating the World’s Tackiest Apartment (Spencer), tooling around on a motorcycle (Justin) and planning the drunken gatherings at the latest “it” nightclub (Lauren’s ex, Brody.)
Heidi was never portrayed as the most selfless person on the planet, but her high energy, party animal tendencies provided most of the bright spots during The Hills first season. Over the course of the third, Heidi seems to have the strength and confidence sucked out of her by Spencer. Although she engineers the couple’s break-up, Heidi appears so un-invested in her decision that a make-up is inevitable.
Despite the show’s conceits, Lauren appears to be a genuine, ambitious and hard-working young woman. But she consistently falls under the spell of unworthy men. She lets herself be jerked around by Brody and Jason and allows her issues with Spencer and Justin to take a great deal of control over her relationships with Heidi and Audrina.
Television viewers, however, exist in proverbial glass houses. It’s easy to criticize these women, but they’re making the same mistakes as millions of 20-somethings. Watching The Hills is a like reliving those gaffes without any of the consequences.