When I heard that The Hills was ending after six seasons, my first thought was: “Wait, The Hills was on for six seasons? SIX seasons? Who would watch such nonsense for so long?”
And my second thought was, “Well, I guess I did.”
At the start of each new season of The Hills, I swore it off, and yet somehow I always ended up hooked, watching every episode with captivated focus and minor self-loathing. For twenty-eight minutes, my otherwise sensible head was filled with burning (albeit personally irrelevant) questions: Will Heidi dump Spencer? Will Justin Bobby ever stop being an ass? And most importantly, how does Lauren get her hair to look like that?
My question now? What exactly made this show so appealing for so long? What drew viewers (even intelligent, mature viewers with their own lives (I swear)) back again and again?
As far as I can tell, The Hills’ appeal begins and ends with Lauren Conrad, whose likeability is fairly plain. She’s a pretty, California girl-next-door, to whom most female viewers can relate. She’s a good friend, helping the likes of Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port through heartbreak and fashion emergencies; she’s funny – “homeboy wore combat boots to the beach” is a classic line delivered with enough deadpan swagger to be hilarious, yet enough background giggle to make us believe it was truly unscripted. She crushes on unattainable boys – the alluring Brody Jenner is not famous for his quick wit, (though his own reality show, Bromance, was wildly entertaining for other reasons) but for his prolific dating prowess. And her original plotline was one we could all relate to: young-girl-in-the-big-city, seeking fulfillment of her dreams in both career and life.
However, after Lauren left and Kristin Cavallari, LC’s hated Laguna Beach rival, took over her role as narrator and star, the switch just felt overtly contrived. Kristin’s decision to join Lauren’s cast and Lauren’s show just reeked of unabashed Hollywood aspiration; as viewers, we were jolted from the cozy fantasy world in which The Hills was actually a show about reality.
I think that’s why I didn’t watch the final season as diligently as I had the others, but I was looking forward to seeing how the series would wrap up. And I expected that sitting down to watch the finale last night, I’d feel at least slightly sad; the end of a television show usually breeds nostalgia and a little sorrow for the loss of its characters. Instead, I laughed out loud at the blatantly scripted melodrama, the crocodile tears and the shamefully horrendous attempts at acting.
And it hit me: this wasn’t the show I’d grown attached to back in season one. Not even close. For curiosity’s sake, I found The Hills’ series premiere online and confirmed my suspicions: the first episode features nineteen year-old Lauren Conrad moving into a new apartment with a pre-plastic surgery, painfully normal and happy Heidi Montag, laughing about how small their place is, and then frantically ironing her skirt with a hair straightener because she was late to a job interview. There may have been some producer-managed prep work to make certain moments happen, but there were no meticulously scripted scenes as in the last season; instead, we were given two average teenage girls, having fun and trying to make it in a new place.
Fast forward to last night’s episode, the series finale, in which a perfectly made-up Stephanie Pratt robotically delivers lines as trite as “I guess we’re all growing up” and Kristin Cavallari, seeking a fresh start after being dumped by Brody, everyone’s favorite Hills lothario, quite randomly declares that she’s moving to Europe. Nowhere specific, mind you – just somewhere in Europe. Her “friends”’ reaction to this impulsive and imprudent decision? “Oh really?” and “Do you know anyone there?” To which Cavallari responds in her Valley girl accent, “I know, like, one person.” In Europe, that is, for those of you wondering. One person, somewhere in Europe. Right.
The devolution of The Hills can be tracked in a number of ways: a series about normal, everyday girls cannot persist if those girls do not remain normal and everyday; that is to say, if said girls become famous, lead lives that are tracked more closely by tabloids and gossip websites than by their own reality show, then the core of it all is lost. The center cannot hold (and I can’t believe I just quoted Yeats to describe The Hills. Somewhere, my high school Lit. teacher is weeping).
So, victims of their own success? Looking at Heidi Montag, a public trainwreck of horrid plastic surgery, sabotaged family relationships and a humiliating music ‘career,’ it’s fair to say she is surely a casualty of her own fame. But thinking about Lauren Conrad, who, in the time since the show first aired, has written two NY Times bestsellers, started her own fashion line and bowed out of her self-created spotlight gracefully, it’s hard to identify Hills fame as the Hills curse.
Either way, I think The Hills, like Friends, unwillingly grew out of its identity – if you watch some of the later episodes of Friends, it’s almost like watching Ross try to impersonate Ross; the characters really became parodies of themselves, much in the way that the last season of The Hills became a parody of the first, after its cast members’ fame meant sticking to the same formula was no longer an option.
It all boils down to the same conclusion: it was time for The Hills to end. Farewell dramatic arguments at random Hollywood clubs I only read about on PerezHilton.com. Goodbye staged coffee dates narrated by carefully chosen indie rock. So long awkwardly long reaction shots and bland, spacey dialogue.
It’s been real. Sort of.
Mile can be reached at MileSquared@GDPmagazine.com