Against my better judgement today, though I do believe it was one of the greatest decisions I have made in a long time, I watched the entire second season of MTV’s The Hills online today.
And as I watched each episode with the same excitement and emotion that engulfed me when I first watched The Hills when I was a 17 year old boy in Sixth Form, it dawned on me that The Hills turns 10 years old this year.
The first season of the MTV reality drama first aired in 2006 and was a direct spin-off of MTV’s then biggest show ‘Laguna Beach: The Real O.C’, The Hills focused on former Laguna cast member Lauren ‘L.C’ Conrad and her big move to L.A with her cast mates Heidi, Whitney and Audrina all with her and each finding themselves and finding work and love in L.A.
Adam Divello, the mastermind behind The Hills said that he wanted to follow Lauren to L.A and make a show around it. “She wants to be a fashion designer, and I thought it was so aspirational, this little girl from Laguna Beach who always wanted the boy but always lost him to the bad girl. She was kind of every girl”.
Those sentiments were echoed by the cast who would always say The Hills was a younger, sexier and ‘more relatable’ version of Sex and The City and in some ways it was. For you had the protagonist Lauren and her three friends each learning what real life is like for women working, in relationships, trying to build careers etc.
There was a element of innocence with The Hills, the cast didn’t intend on becoming bigger than the show itself and use it as a platform for their media careers- the cast just were. And for the most part the show did look and feel ‘real’. That feeling began to wane in the later seasons but between season 1- 4 at a stretch, the show didn’t feel orchestrated or staged.
Each episode was full of blank stares to one another, dinner dates which looked like the lasted 2 minutes (where they were never seen to eat ANY food!) and each scene was filled with indie rock music to reflect the mood of the character at that time. This became such a thing that in my own life I would be wondering down the street and think ‘If this was an episode of The Hills, what song do you think they would be playing right now?’
Another thing to mention about The Hills, which I think is why it holds a really special place in my heart, is that this was the last reality show before the the social media juggernaut came and changed the way we watched and experienced television. The only mention of social media during The Hills was of ‘MySpace’. Other than that, all the cast were using flip phones, sidekicks, first generation Blackberrys and on nights out there was always someone with their digital camera at hand. It was a different world back then.
This cast were not tech savvy, they didn’t have thoughts of trending topics or hashtags on their mind when they were being filmed. The shows that came after The Hills, such as Jersey Shore, the popularity of Twitter and trends was apparent in the way they spoke to each other and just conveniently came up with phrases that became hash tags the next morning. The Hills never had that, there wasn’t that experience of watching an episode with the rest of the online world and live tweeting your reaction to Spencer bringing flowers to Audrina at Pinkberry or Lauren telling Heidi that the best thing to do is forgive and forget her.
Even when Lauren had to deal with the rumours spread about her having a sex tape with her ex Jason, none of this was confronted addressed online- the rumour was spread via the gossip blogs and Lauren took to Tyra Banks to clear her name. Things like that just wouldn’t happen today.
On some level I’m grateful of that, The Hills was a show that remained just on TV .Sure the cast members became huge stars in their own right as the show progressed and would grace the covers of US Weekly and People magazine, but even so there was a air of mystery about them. You didn’t know what was going on in their lives and if you wanted to know, you had to watch the show. And in that, Divello achieved the goal he set out which was to make The Hills an aspirational show for 16-25 year olds- find me someone who aged 16-25 didn’t aspire to be as wise and level headed as Lauren Conrad and you would have found a LIAR!
The fact is the show and its cast were so aspirational that it’s the reason I got a t-shirt made that says ‘What would Lauren Conrad do?’ Its as if I have an inside joke with all of my peers who grew up watching Laguna Beach and The Hills and and thats between us and no-one else.
Despite it airing a decade ago when social media and hash tags and trends were just that and nothing connected to Twitter, The Hills has left a lasting print on pop culture. It was the last show people would talk about over the water cooler and not on a twitter timeline, the feud between Heidi and Lauren garnered t-shirts saying ‘TEAM HEIDI’ or ‘TEAM LAUREN’, it started a conversation about the true authenticity of reality shows and asked whether there was more to it than met the eye? GIFs of Lauren, Hedi, Whitney and Audrina are used constantly today on social media and iconic moments and phrases from the show, “HE’S A SUCKY PERSON! HE’S A SUCKY PERSON”, continue to be shared across Facebook, Vine and dubsmash, with some viewers having gone as far as to create video compilations on Tumblr of the breakdown of Lauren and Heidi’s friendships at the hands of Spencer.
Once the show’s cast members started to become bigger than the show itself, the quality began to slip. That was when you knew there were producers orchestrating things behind the scenes because the cast became quasi celebrities, the premise of the show was lost. They were no longer living in The Hills, they were The Hills. Lauren left the show through Season 5, Heidi completely transformed herself with plastic surgery, and attempted a pop career, Whitney moved to New York and Audrina.. well she had Justin Bobby.
But for a short time, The Hills was the biggest show MTV ever had, it set the trend for reality shows after it.I owe a lot of my growing up years to The Hills because now when I am out wit my friends at dinner, I don’t want to sit there and talk- I want stare blankly at them for seconds at a time and discuss how there is just so. much. DRAMA.