“You’re selfish, you’re self centered, all you care about is yourself.” ~Audrina Patridge, “The Hills” Season 5.
“The Hills” is everything everyone wanted from television but never knew how to articulate. It’s not reality TV, but is so much easier to watch. Conversations take place that are purely blunt exposition. Brunches take place but the food never comes. Establishing shots of commercialism—here established through shots of cars, billboards, and girls with legs in clothes—constitute roughly 16 of the show’s 20 minutes. Episodes begin to feel more like a vehicle through which to play trendy pop-rock songs than an effort to convey a story in three-act structure with discernable payoff and reward. It is a show devoid of substance; an intrepid balance of vapidity constitutes the foundation of the entire show.
You, the audience, are skeptical at first, but ultimately convinced through the show’s commitment to its own reality. You know what the established values are in this created world as well as which characters will find which things offensive and why. You accept this even though you, as a human being, cannot think of anyone you’ve ever met in real life who would act in such a manner. On “The Hills”, that’s just how it is. It’s like how you know that Macondo is Colombia, even though it’s never said; like how we accept without scientific fact that the gypsy Melquíades ages indiscriminately and can transcend the physical realm at will to sell ice and stuff. So, too, do you accept the very existence of this whimsical city known as “Los Angeles” and the creatures of magical realism who inhabit it. Justin Bobby is one such character: a burping sock puppet of a young man whose most prominent personality trait seems to be that he gets haircuts. On “The Hills,” however, he is “real.”
It goes on for five masterfully crafted seasons. You believe that a clique of 19-year-olds are getting into 21-plus clubs, and that all of these unpaid interns can afford dishwashers in their houses, and that Spencer’s beard is made of real facial hair rather than just fleshy shavings from the fresh bodies of his recent victims. All of this occurs without a storyline to distract you from the unabashed fluff. There is not a single scene to which you would have to devote any attention in order to get the gist of it. Instead, you hold a yelling conversation with your friend in the other room about who can drive you to Stop & Shop later, or when you can borrow Hadley’s car, or who you think Spencer killed recently to augment his fleshbeard. Yet you can still know that Whitney has accepted her job in New York City and is going to have brunch with a boy she met at a launch party for a ‘zine (and by brunch I mean a glass of water at a table for two). Oh, is Hadley back now? Then let’s go over and get her keys; we should go today because it’s Wednesday and we’ll get 20% off if we bring our own grocery bags. Oh, for the love of God, quick come back in here—Justin Bobby just came to dinner in a stupid hat; no, not that one, a different one; it’s more stupid this time. Ask Peter if he’ll stay for dinner because then I’ll get enough stuff to make eggplant parm for the whole house. Oh my God, Aurdina, get a FACE, what are you even. And thus constitutes your viewing experience of “The Hills.”
A herculean feat holds together this wackadoodle universe of tanned, leggy whimsy; for five seasons, producer Adam DiVello never slips up once. Even if he had, you never would have noticed. You would have kept watching and talking and realizing that no one is going to drive you to Stop & Shop because you’re a lousy, leech-like moocher of a friend who’s always asking for rides. You should have just convinced your mom to let you have the Volvo after spring break, you lame freeloader—that is, if the production team of “The Hills” hadn’t brought your world crashing down around you in season six. You are left staring at the show’s shattered remains, your tears mirrored a million times over it in the fine, sparkly shards of your beautiful “Los Angeles.” Because season six is when you witness the subtle unraveling of the meticulously fabricated reality this show had nurtured for five years. Season six is when shit goes down and the noxious ooze of reality TV leaks into “Los Angeles.”
“The Hills” is not a reality show—there is too much exposition and not enough action for it to be one. With reality TV, you have to draw on your own understanding of humanity in order to construct a framework within which you can assess the behavior on screen. But “The Hills” is not reality TV—it’s better. Truly achieving the mindlessness on which reality TV prides itself, “The Hills” feeds us everything we need to know without requiring any extra effort of mental processing on our part. The dissonance between the faux-reality of “The Hills” and the dramatized reality of reality TV is brought into sharp relief when the locus of the show shifts from diplomatic H.B.I.C. Lauren Conrad (LC) to I’d-rather-be-in-Miami whore Kristin—a figure steeped in the confrontational, slap-happy behavior which serves as the model of femininity on reality TV, and who crosses over in the demonic sense from beyond the pale of Laguna Beach (R.I.P. MTV’s Laguna Beach, 2004-2006) to call everyone in LA a cunt to their face. Asserting her new reign over the show, Kristin even begins delivering the “last time on ‘The Hills’…” voiceovers at the beginning of each episode. Kristin is the antithesis of the surreptitious, controlled conflict of “The Hills” personified by LC; she instead demands action with her abrasive demeanor. The show becomes a whole new nightmare now.
Kristin’s return to the show is not a move of her own making, but one made by those who write and helm the show, and who look to take it in a whole different direction, which is exactly what the viewer get. Heidi pays to get her face molded with her own ass-fat and physically can’t cry when her mom weeps upon seeing her. Spencer is getting into crystals. Lo, the Ugly One, is still showing up to brunch. Darkness has descended upon “Los Angeles.” It’s not an abrupt derailment, but a more terrifying route of subversion so calculated that you wouldn’t be able to put your finger on why you were ending each episode short of breath and close to tears. Anxiety is welling up within you, but so stealthily that you would think to blame it on yourself; you would begin to question your own sanity.
Enter the prophet Audrina.
Audrina is a cardboard cut-out of a mannequin of a real person. She seems as though she doesn’t know what to do with her face when she’s listening to someone talk, which is puzzling as the primary acting requirement for this show is to know how to nail a reaction shot when one of your best friends calls one of your other best friends a withholding whore in so many words over a trendy brunch of a glass of water with lemon—actually, hold the lemon, please; they didn’t write food into this or any other scene. Sweet Audrina cannot keep up with the acting ability of her fellow Los Angelians. She reacts just as you would when the world around you beings to slip from your grasp of the familiar and no one around you seems to acknowledge that anything is amiss. Audrina is our tragic entry point to begin unraveling the madness. She could never fully immerse herself in the charade and adapt to it because she wasn’t aware to begin with of the extent to which the show was a fallacy.
Audrina is confused by the severe break of the show’s canon, and her genuine humanity amidst the charade is a powerful reflection in which you finally understanding just how far down the rabbit hole you’ve gone for the past five seasons. You, the compliant, catatonic audience, finally sense that something is deeply flawed with the way in which these people are conducting themselves.
Audrina is just five shades too tan from being the hero of a Philip K. Dick novel, grappling in every scene with what’s real and what’s not. Behind that blank stare (that blank, blank stare), you now know that a battle rages, stretching her to her mental limits to determine the ramifications of what is real, what her job is, and why Heidi married Fleshface and converted to Paganism. Audrina’s questioning is poignant and inspiring despite its original motivation. Her dazed queries of “what” and “why” with slackjawed, glossed insouciance do not match the intensity she has awakened within you. You, the audience—hungry for an explanation of this surreal nightmare—needs solace from the overwhelming shame and humiliation of awakening to see the madness that you have allowed to go on before your very eyes. From her pool house (Audrina lives in LC’s pool house; this is very important), Audrina has inspired the vast, faceless mass of MTV/Netflix viewers whom she will never personally know. Audrina is our Truman Burbank who unwittingly reveals to us the canvas cloud-printed horizon of the world in season six without ever realizing that she has achieved understanding. A tragic figure who finds the divine runes outlining her universe, Audrina will never know the language in which to read them. In her ignorance, we are enlightened.
The engaged reader will ask, “But Caroline, season six of “The Hills” aired in 2010 and the series began in 2006. Why now with this heartbreakingly beautiful analysis?” That is a great question.
With the flicker of Audrina’s humanity, the beast consumes itself, and the audience begins to panic. The prophet Audrina has gazed into the abyss and we, too, have followed her into ruination. We have all been adulterated by the carnival of nonsensical evil that is “The Hills”, but the truth is, we were asking for this sinisterly compelling escapism all along.
In the words of LC, “You know what you did.”
Caroline Symons, class of ’13, is co-president of the sketch comedy group, The Limit. She is available for a talk-back regarding any piece of hers at any time, as she does nothing constructive with her life.