Spun off from MTV’s Laguna Beach, The Hills chronicles Lauren “L.C.” Conrad’s move to L.A. to begin a career in the fashion industry. Ostensibly, it’s about growing up: L.C. struggles to balance a demanding internship at Teen Vogue with going to school at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. She must juggle her professional responsibilities with her personal life, in the form of L.B. regular Jason, whom she starts dating midway through the first season, now available on DVD.
Can anyone possibly grow up with a TV crew in tow? I mean really grow up, not the “I’ve-never-met-a-gay-person-but-they-really-aren’t-that-bad” sort of revelations that occur every season in the Real World. L.C. and her friends are actually worldly. She’s wealthy and spoiled, yes, but she’s also seen more in the way of “experience” than the entire cast of Denver.
Still, L.C. has to work at becoming an adult. Moving from the O.C. to L.A. was a necessary step. Yet the cameras force her to be a “character,” the same person the viewers know and, presumably, love. You can take the girl out of Laguna, but as long as MTV follows, you can’t take Laguna out of the girl. Granted, Lauren asked for the exposure, and it’s certainly helped her –- there’s no way she would have gotten an internship at Teen Vogue without the MTV gig. Unlike most reality television personalities, she appears to want a “normal life.”
Oh well. Everything about The Hills reminds us of the status afforded by appearing on MTV, everything, from the people in the show to the DVD packaging, reeks of privilege. In addition to the standard deleted scenes and cast interviews, the special features include footage of the girls at the MTV Movie Awards and the The Hills Premiere Party.
These featurettes offer a view into L.C.’s world that we don’t see in the show. Even though the cameras are still in her face, she no longer bears the burden of being the designated star. While Whitney, Adrianna, and, especially Heidi shine in Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg, Conrad looks like she’s playing dress-up. On the red carpet before the premiere, she says, “I literally expected a little square and one photographer, so, this is insane.” Cut to the next scene, where Heidi gushes, “I think that it’s so fun… It’s a great atmosphere, all people who love us and support us.” Heidi explains she had a shoe disaster early in the day, but “Lauren saved the day once again.” It appears that Conrad gets to play den mother here.
Such “range” might begin to explain how Lauren is repeatedly cast by MTV. IN truth, her evident desire to “improve” herself makes her one of the least compelling reality television personalities ever. She’s pretty and rich, with the perfect smile and occasional pettiness that should make her a perfect fit for the format, yet her shows are regularly hijacked by minor characters. Kristin Cavalleri became the star of Laguna Beach and Heidi Montag takes over the first season of The Hills (and she’s currently weaseling her way into the hearts of millions with her turn as star in Season Two).
Yet MTV keeps handing L.C. the keys, knowing full well that by the end of the season, the Q-ratings of her cohort will vastly exceed her own. In the first season of The Hills, it took about two episodes before Heidi took over, announcing near the end of the season, “Life in Hollywood is so good.” One rationale for Lauren’s casting may be American viewers’ love of underdogs. She’s the girl next door to whom you return after you realize that your affair with the supermodel won’t work out. When she tells Jason that she’s not mad at him, she’s sad, and we’re sad with her. We don’t share Heidi’s irresponsibility (she skips out on her first night of working the line at a club to hang out with her boyfriend inside) or Jason’s gall, but we could be Lauren. In a world of outsized personalities and My Super Sweet Sixteens, Lauren’s apparent familiarity is refreshing.