When Judge Ian Visser was an intern, he didn't get to go to Paris or New York. He got to go across the street to get his boss a ham-on-rye and a Coke.
Our reviews of The Hills: The Complete First Season (published February 13th, 2007), The Hills: The Complete Second Season (published August 15th, 2007), The Hills: The Complete Fourth Season (published March 23rd, 2009), The Hills: Season Five, Part One (published October 12th, 2009), and The Hills: Season Five, Part Two (published April 27th, 2010) are also available.
Drama, drama, drama…
Facts of the Case
Life continues to be complicated for our young Hollywood heroine, Lauren Conrad (Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County). This third season of MTV's hit reality show opens with Lauren dealing with allegations of a sex tape and her attempts to discern who started the rumors of its existence. On the job front trips to Paris and New York, as well as the departure of Lauren's friend and co-worker Whitney from Teen Vogue, will all take their toll. And while Lauren's love life ramps up with new flirtations, the reappearance of not one but two of her old flames causes mixed emotions.
I'm beyond criticizing the social and cultural shortcomings of The Hills at this point; pretty much every complaint I had in Seasons One and Two still apply: The show is full of vapid, selfish people who apparently have little to do but gossip amongst themselves and make the same work/relationship/life errors over and over and over again. The only difference is that Season Three sees the addition of even more cast members, meaning that the show has no intention of remaining anything but an un-ending series of conflicts and heartbreaks.
What does require some attention is the rapid pace at which the show has discarded any semblance of real life, even one that is manufactured for a television audience. Where once the on-goings of Lauren, Heidi, Whitney, and Audrina attempted to mirror the lives of regular people (work, school, etc) the show has largely given up on the pretense that anything being portrayed is at all based on the world that we actually live in. More than ever, The Hills plays as pure fantasy, and the result is something that demands an investment of time and emotion but provides nothing in return.
Watching 570 minutes of Season Three reveals just how tightly constructed the show really is. Each episode is divided into a repeating series of elements that I have dubbed the "Event-Situation-Analysis" construct. Every episode features some "event," such as a night out at a club or a blind date. At this event comes the inevitable "situation," by whence a conflict erupts that involves cold looks, snarky put-downs, or crying in the bathroom. This is followed immediately by the "analysis" portion of the formula, where the affected characters rehash the previous night's events, usually in the form of gossiping about how awful the other parties are. This construct is repeated over and over for the duration of the entire series, the individual pieces of the formula separated only by aerial shots of Los Angeles and a short burst of sugary pop music.
The problem with this formula is that it requires a constant stream of conflict in order to maintain it. And that conflict is clearly being manipulated on The Hills. Too many times we see opposing parties miraculously show up at the same event or party, or have reservations at the same restaurant, even in a city as big as Los Angeles. As the show progresses the coincidences grow more and more difficult to tolerate, such as when Heidi runs off to Las Vegas and her boyfriend Spencer somehow manages to locate her hotel and location within minutes of his arrival. Amazing!
The result is a show that prohibits any kind of emotional involvement. How are we expected to invest in a program in which no event feels spontaneous or legitimate? When Whitney and Lauren jet off to New York or Paris, does anyone believe this is the average work day for a junior stylist and an intern? When the house Lauren, Lo, and Audrina rent comes with both a pool and a full guest house, are we to believe this is on the salaries of a record company receptionist and said magazine intern? I have no problem with fantasy, but when viewers are asked to commit to characters participating in a phony situation that is represented as real, it starts to feel more like dishonesty than vicarious fun.
On the technical side, MTV continues to treat The Hills like gold. The packaging of this third season is as impressive and beautiful as ever. The 28-episode season is a combination of two half-seasons, and result is a release that is almost double the length of previous seasons. MTV should be commended for not being greedy and splitting the season into two individual sets (HBO, pay attention). The video image is top-notch, and only when footage is taken from low-light or dark environments does it become understandably grainier. The audio track is very good, with the pop music and dialogue being clear and easy to understand, but there are still no subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The Hills: The Complete Third Season isn't exactly packed with special features, but it does contain some extras for fans. A collection of twenty-four deleted scenes are included, varying in length from a few seconds to several minutes. Four cast interviews are also included, featuring Audrina, Lauren, Heidi, and Whitney discussing events and situations that unfolded over the course of the season. Also included are two commentary tracks, one featuring Audrina, Lauren, and Whitney, the other with Heidi only. These commentaries only cover a handful of scenes, not entire episodes, and little insight is gleaned. Wrapping up the features is multi-part "documentary" series about struggling fashion designers. This series is actually a thinly-veiled ad for Pepsi's clothing label, and smacks of the marketing techniques that only major corporations believe will actually appeal to the youth demographic. Lame and unrelated to The Hills in any way, skipping this entire segment of the bonus features won't cause any regret.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One aspect of real life that is ignored on the The Hills is sex. Considering that the show's cast is composed of attractive twenty-something's who binge drink on a constant basis, this absence is a curious one. It's hard to argue that MTV is shy on this topic; most of their shows exist solely to sell sex to young viewers (A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, I am looking at you). Yet nowhere on The Hills is sex, or even its existence, even hinted at. On occasion a cast member may mention a "hook up," but it's never explained or elaborated on. People featured on the show are clearly in relationships, but this deliberate ignorance of the issue is just one more example of how an element of life with real consequences is ignored to create an imaginary construct.
Too many manipulated events and situations give The Hills: The Complete Third Season the distinction of being the least "real" show within the reality genre. As the show enters its fourth season, it's hard to view the series as anything but a carefully constructed mirage designed to cross-promote products aimed at the precious 14-24 female purchasing demographic.
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