Paramount // 2006 // 225 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ian Visser (Retired) // February 13th, 2007
First, there was the wildly successful teen drama Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. Now MTV presents The Hills -- The Complete First Season, a series chronicling the adventures of popular Laguna cast member Lauren Conrad as she starts life out on her own.
When the big city calls, a girl's gotta answer. After high school graduation, our heroine Lauren moves from Orange County to Los Angeles to assume her new intern position at Teen Vogue magazine and a place at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising). Lauren moves into a fabulous apartment with her O.C. pal Heidi and begins the difficult task of juggling work and school.
But life is about to take a further turn. Lauren's former flame Jason (Laguna Beach) has also moved to L.A. and now wants to rekindle their previously stormy relationship. Can Lauren balance work, life, and love in a new city?
MTV presents all ten episodes of The Hills on a three-DVD set. This first season's episodes include:
1. New City, New Drama
2. A Change of Plans
3. An Unexpected Call
4. Lauren and Jason, Take Two
5. Jason's Birthday
6. Boyfriends and Work Don't Mix
7. Somebody Always Has to Cry
8. You Can't Just Be with Me?
9. Love Is Not a Maybe Thing
10. Timing Is Everything
If you're over the age of thirty or don't watch much television, you may not realize what a hit MTV has these days with its on-going series of "docu-soaps." 8th & Ocean, Laguna Beach, and The Hills are hugely popular among the young folks, and fans follow the lives of their favorite (or most hated) characters with the same intensity as the most rabid Star Trek or 24 fan.
Shot documentary-style and utilizing hand-held cameras to film cast members, The Hills purports to trace the lives of Lauren and her friends as they make their way in the world of Hollywood. Unlike other reality shows, The Hills doesn't follow a typical format of one-off episodes, but instead is an open-ended effort that captures life as it unfolds.
Or so you would think.
Rather, Laguna Beach and The Hills represent something new in reality television, as far as I can tell. Previous to these efforts, reality television was presented in such a way that, as much as you enjoyed watching the shows, you didn't necessarily want to be on them. Watching people eat rats on a deserted island or be submerged in slime is fun, but few people would want to change places with the contestants. The joy of watching came from witnessing others endure hardships and drama while remaining aloof from it.
What MTV has sparked is something else: reality television that is fueled by the viewer's desire to actually become the participants. With MTV available in every home across the entire country, the portrayal of these young, glamorous people now pollutes each American child with the notion that being rich and beautiful is what is desirable, regardless of what your behavior may be. It no longer matters if you live in Arizona or Minnesota, or if you are a good person or a bad person. If you want to be popular and attractive, you must follow the conceits set out for you by MTV and its marketing department.
What I find so insidious about these efforts is the attempts to not make the shows look like reality television. The Hills is devoid of the obvious game-show characteristics that so many of its ilk share, whether it be Survivor or Fear Factor. But that doesn't mean that it is real, in any sense. Does anyone believe that Lauren got a job at Teen Vogue simply because of her professional qualifications? Or could it be because Teen Vogue found a marketing opportunity that would allow it to get in front of its ideal demographic each week (note that Lauren appeared on the cover of the magazine following the debut of the show)? The addition of nothing but young, extremely attractive people to the roster suggests that MTV spent a great deal of time in the casting portion of the show looking for people with the right "look." Nobody has this many good-looking friends, and it's tough to stomach the idea that this little group is a spontaneous mix of random strangers.
The women of The Hills are, for the most part, vacant beyond comprehension. If you needed any further proof that a privileged existence devoid of responsibility manifests itself as sloth, look no further. Of the main female characters, only Lauren and her fellow intern Whitney manifest anything that appears to resemble decency or ambition. Lauren is otherwise surrounded by a gaggle of dimwitted females who appear content at their low-paying "Hollywood" gigs, whether it's answering phones or licking envelopes for party invitations. As long as there are over-sized Gucci sunglasses and blonde highlights available (and somebody else is paying for them), these ninnies seem content to waste their lives pool-side.
The girls' male counterparts on The Hills fare no better. I cannot think of any argument more convincing for mandatory military service than this collection of scruffy-faced slackers. Almost indistinguishable from each other in attitude or behavior, the male mopes of The Hills live a life of unrestrained leisure, existing at the convenience of Dad and his American Express card. Swaddled in a never-ending procession of vintage tees, hoodies, and crooked baseball caps, the men of The Hills are not so much opponents of the women as they are enablers of their vacant behavior.
Chief amongst these conspirators is Heidi's boyfriend, Jordan. Jordan's advice when Heidi wants to quit her job? Do it. When she wants to drop out of school? Do it. With support like that, who needs an Oxycotin addiction? Watching the women shape their lives around these morons makes one yearn for an in-home visit from a no-nonsense life coach. Even Lauren (other-wise confident and self-sufficient) withers before her "bad-boy" guy Jason, who seems more than willing to jerk Lauren around if it keeps her from growing a spine of her own.
Is it really possible that these people have become role models for American youth? Idle, bored, and concerned only with their own comforts, following the cast of The Hills is akin to watching paint dry. Their biggest life decisions revolve around which kind of pancakes to order for brunch, or which Chanel bag works best with their shoes. There is no indication of any ambition or drive on anyone's part, other than scoring blinged-out paraphernalia or getting access to the newest Hollywood club.
This isn't to suggest that there isn't a healthy dose of schaudenfreude going on with The Hills. Watching these pampered idiots attempt to deal with the "real world" (or at least how it represents itself in Hollywood) can be entertaining as all get-out. Heidi is a particular victim here: apparently unaware that pay is commensurate with effort, she wiles away her day chatting on the phone at her "event planner" gig, ignorant of her own inability to do anything even half-right. Never is the show more pleasing than when, immediately following Heidi's claims that she is on her way to the top, her boss send her across the street for a sandwich.
Unfortunately, one suspects that the intended audience of The Hills doesn't recognize the failings of its cast. I imagine that even if they are recognizable to the average 17-year-old, they manifest themselves as sympathy, not disdain. While watching the show, I tried my hardest to generate some similar respect for the cast's situation. After all, we were all young once and many of us probably still look back on some of the decisions we made and wince. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get there. The pampered excess of the cast and their unwillingness to invest effort in anything except their own comforts rendered any sympathy DOA. Rather, I found myself growing increasingly angry at these people, who have the resources to do almost anything they could want, yet squander it on a pathetic lifestyle of idle comforts and materialism.
The ultimate failing of The Hills lies in its inability to generate any tension concerning its cast and their futures. This isn't a rags-to-riches story; there are no rags to speak of, period. If Lauren can't cut it as a Teen Vogue intern, we know she won't be forced into stripping or be tossed out onto the street by her landlord. Instead, there is a nice house waiting for her back in Orange County, and probably another MTV-created series if she wants it. If the show would have endeavored to put Lauren at some kind of risk for failure, maybe the proceedings would have carried some sense of gravity. As it is, following the lives of the cast is like watching a shipwreck survivor tread water two feet from shore...even if he stops paddling, he won't drown.
And unlike Laguna Beach, The Hills has none of the cat-fighting that has become that show's hallmark. Watching girls cry because of their uncaring boyfriends doesn't hold the same fascination as the beach-side machinations of back-stabbing girls. As a result, we spend long periods of the show watching people simply doing stuff, like shopping, getting manicures, and having their hair done. This may appeal to the average teenager who dreams of appearing on My Super Sweet 16 (and thank you again, MTV), but it only further demonstrates the vapid lifestyle which these people have adopted for themselves.
Look, I can admire a certain amount of mindless entertainment. I own both Resident Evil movies and Cobra sits on my DVD shelf right next to The Conversation. But The Hills and MTV don't simply promote the temporary enjoyment of mindless fun. Rather, they encourage it as something to be adopted as an identity and lifestyle. And for that, MTV should be ashamed of itself.
MTV presents The Hills in a three-disc set. The ten broadcast episodes are spread across two discs, and the third disc contains bonus features. I really must praise MTV for their packaging on this set; it is downright beautiful. The three slim-cases are decorated with gorgeous photography, and each comes with a full episode list and description. Fans of the show will find this package to be very appealing to the eye.
The Hills is presented in a widescreen format, although the ratio isn't specified on the packaging or discs. If I had to guess, I'd call it 1.78:1. Shot only a couple of years ago, the image is solid and presents the colors of Los Angeles quite well. The palette of show changes frequently from brightly-colored day scenes to night shots highlighted by neon, and the image handles it all without any noticeable problems. A crisp 2.0 Dolby Digital audio track clearly captures the peppy pop music and conversational dialogue of the show.
There is a considerable amount of bonus material accompanying The Hills; MTV knows what its viewers want, and gives it to them in spades. There is a lengthy series of deleted scenes, interviews with each cast member, excerpts from MTV's "The After Show" recap series, and featurettes on the girls' apartments and shopping trips. Also included are a number of previews for additional MTV fare. If you are a fan of the show, the bonus features will add considerable depth to your enjoyment of this package.
The show doesn't wear out its welcome, I'll give it that. At 20 minutes an episode, you can finish The Hills in just over three hours, making it as disposable as last year's Kate Spade handbag.
It's tempting to call The Hills a frothy, harmless show for the teen set. But those most susceptible to its message of rampant consumption and self-absorption probably aren't capable of recognizing the larger damage adopting this kind of thing as entertainment can do. Yes, that may sound alarmist...but spend an hour watching this show and tell me if you want your little girl to grow up to be just like Heidi.
The Hills -- The Complete First Season, is found guilty of corrupting the morals of America's youth, and is sentenced is to 400 hours of community service.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ian Visser; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 225 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Cast Interviews
* Featurette -- The Hills Premiere Party
* Featurette -- MTV Movie Awards
* MTV.com The Best of The Hills: The After Show
* Official Site