The new season of The Hills, reviewed.

What you're watching.
March 25 2008 2:54 PM

A Unified Theory of The Hills

Pretending to be yourself isn't easy.

Lauren Conrad. Click image to expand.
Lauren Conrad

The Hills (MTV) is about the lives—the square-one jobs, the rock-stupid romances, the pricey-looking highlights—of some young women living in greater Los Angeles. These are, principally, Lauren, Heidi, Whitney, and Audrina—though Audrina, being a brunette, might not really count. The Hills, one supposes, is the lives of these women in the most complete way that a television show could be. These are real people pretending to be themselves and making a virtue of banality. The Hills Premiere Party: Live and Glamorous in Gotham aired last night in celebration of the show's return. This featured Mariah Carey, whose missions were to hop octaves, make patter, show a lot of leg, and add some old-fashioned showbiz sizzle to the cold fire of this newfangled reality show.

When The Hills left off, Heidi—who now resembles an actress in a big-budget romantic comedy, not the cuddly lead but the uptight rival or the workaholic sidekick—had called off plans for her wedding to Spencer, presumably because his narcissistic shiftiness renders him absolutely unmarriageable. The show picked back up with her jaunting to her family's house in Crested Butte, Colo., where she put matters into perspective during après-ski heart-to-hearts with her mother. Spencer arrived unannounced at the ancestral home. Heidi's stepfather cast skeptical glances—eyes brimming with wariness, baffled stares garnished with pity—at the poor boy. Spencer played with his phone. They all went out to dinner. Heidi told Spencer off. Crested Butte looked like a very dull town.

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Meanwhile, Lauren and Whitney jetted to Paris. Their internships at Teen Vogue required attendance at a debutante ball. Said Lauren of the City of Light, "It's so pretty here," which counts as an incisive comment, the dramatis personae of The Hills not really being verbal creatures. They communicate in a language of dropped jaws, desperate gapes, nonbelieving double takes, and plastic reaction shots. They don't need dialogue. They have faces! Thus, my favorite among the girls is not button-nosed queen bee Lauren, but Whitney, on account of the hints of Modigliani around her doe eyes.

Lauren was on the phone with Audrina, who reported seeing Lauren's putative boyfriend, Brody, out with another girl at a prominent dumb nightclub. In retaliation, Lauren called down to central casting for a stock Frenchman to flirt with. "We should go to the Eiffel Tower," he said, for real. He gave her a ride on his Vespa, truly. He smoked almost as well as Belmondo. Lauren weathered an incident—an actual incident!—concerning a scorched gown but made it to the ball on time. Later, live and glamorous in Gotham, Mariah commiserated with a story about a 110-volt curling iron, a 220-volt outlet, and the aroma of burnt hair.

For my money, that random anecdote was the highlight of the evening. But my money's no good here. The Hills—flat as fact, intentionally pointless—presents distinct problems of critical practice. The questions it means to inspire include "Is Heidi's behavior toward Spencer consistent with her earlier statements?" and "Is Lauren hot?" We are supposed to discuss these people as we would our own friends. They're just like us, and, for that, they are stars; and I guess the episode's signature scene—it looked at once totally phony and luridly hyperreal and perfectly ultramundane—caught Whitney and a Brilliantined Teen Vogue editor in cerulean-blue light, a luscious and alien glow, in the ballroom of the Hôtel Crillon. Young zillionairesses waltzed in the background, extras attending Whitney's statement that, though she will remain forever grateful for the many doors her internship has opened, what she really wants to do is be a stylist.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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