Watching the third season of The Hills on DVD, I totally get its immediate appeal, in much the same way that I understand why people like crack, without actually having to try it myself. Sure, there are a bevy of well-manicured chicks who occasionally appear in bikinis. Mainly, though, a special group shout-out is owed to Mark Petersen, Rachel Morrison, Dave West, Hisham Abed and Dave Jones. Who, you ask? Why, The Hills‘ credited cinematographers, who make the show and Los Angeles in general look like, especially to every land-locked Midwestern teenager, the most gorgeous, alluring and exciting thing, like, ever, almost to the point that the tedious “narrative” — gossip, back-stabbing, boy troubles, shopping and dreadfully inane fretting about nascent-career woes — can be turned off entirely, allowing one to gorge on and bask in the refracted glow of magic-hour lighting, crisply presented new fashion trends and way-cool clubs. Hell, I’ve lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade, and it made me want to move here!
Briefly, for those in need of a primer, The Hills revolves around Lauren Conrad (above center), who graduated from MTV’s high school-centered Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County to another reality show even more centered around her in much the same way that Tiffany “New York” Pollard from Flavor of Love did, except with less acrylic nails, breast implants, morally repugnant self-centeredness and screeching, bitchy histrionics. The third season of MTV’s hit show charts Lauren’s job at Teen Vogue but also, in large part, the dissolution of Lauren’s friendship with Heidi Montag. Heidi, of course, is at the same time dating Spencer Pratt, whom I previously knew only for being mocked for his “flesh-colored beard” by Joel McHale on E!’s The Soup. The two move in together, and clash over decorating.
Nasty rumors of a sex tape pop up, and Lauren’s attempts to discern who started gossip about its existence lead to much acrimony. Other characters include Audrina Patridge (above left), Whitney Port (above right) and Lo Bosworth — the latter of whom rooms with Lauren in a posh little NoHo house, while Audrina takes the guest cottage out back, leading to drift and separation.
If the (constant, cartoonishly over-the-top) drinking and all the woot-woot! partying of The Real World are just too much for you, The Hills presents itself as a slightly tonier alternative. Yes, there is a modest effort to track the professional lives of in particular Lauren and Heidi, but there’s also time for lots of drinks at posh bars and restaurants, where the subjects all appear in gorgeous, perfect lighting and sometimes glare at one another under the strains of the latest emo-pop tune. Not unlike Snoop Dogg’s awful, blissfully short-lived, family-oriented reality show — which, if anyone saw it, featured awkwardly staged incidents in which it was painfully obvious the participants were either goaded into taking part, or decided to play-act, in an attempt to create a fantasy construct of reality — much of The Hills is utterly false. In contrived fashion, its players cross paths at parties and other events to ratchet up the tension. When Spencer returns to his apartment looking for Heidi after a protracted spat, there’s a camera waiting inside, to capture his reaction when he somehow intuits that she’s actually out of town, gone to Las Vegas for work. So… it’s off to Vegas, to track her down!
There’s an awful lot of manufactured drama, in other words — talking and wheel-spinning. A small handful of very concrete things happen, and most of the series deals with the protracted discussion about slights, both perceived and real. This might be OK if one could muster a true rooting interest in any of the participants. But The Hills falls victim to the same sort of bullshit rubric that’s plagued The Real World for the last God-knows-how-many years, namely that the “reality” on display seems so far removed from the lives of most of their peer set, and so everything is just one big Mardi Gras-style, name-brand jerk-off of downtime fun and invented-angst navel-gazing. It stretches credulity that a record company receptionist and magazine intern, just striking out on their own, could afford the digs that Lauren and Audrina have, but in a society where aspirational carrot-dangling passes so often for entertainment, it’s not exactly shocking, I guess. Again, the value of the the superb production value can’t be overstated; despite the fact that what The Hills is selling is patently false, it sells it quite well.
Attractively housed in a sturdy cardboard slipcover with four discs in turn stored in slimline cases with different “cover girl” photos of cast members, The Hills: The Third Season is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital stereo audio track. Nice motion menus give way to a whopping 28 episodes, doubling the offerings of previous seasons. Two dozen deleted scenes include such bon mots as Lauren’s reaction to Audrina shaving her cat (like, literally… that’s not a metaphor) and Heidi talking to a friend about her trip home to Colorado, where her parents meet Spencer for the first time. This makes for some small amusement when said friend asks her, “What do you love about him?” and instead of answering in any specific fashion Heidi asserts that Spencer is the perfect living embodiment of every positive trait she can think of… oh, and much hotter than Justin Timberlake.
Other bonus supplemental features include eight “fashion life” promos, and around 40 minutes of audio commentary from the girls over scenes that span the entire season. Lauren, Heidi, Audrina and Whitney also sit for separate interviews (collections which run 12, 11, eight and seven minutes, respectively), and while there’s a hell of a drinking game to be concocted revolving around every time the words “frustrated” or “awkward” are deployed, a couple of the girls actually come off as a bit more articulate and reflective than they do when caught up in the vapid spin cycle of the show itself, and its seeming encouragement and perpetuation of the inane. There’s also a two-minute promo for “The Virtual Hills,” a bizarre interactive feature that I gather users can launch from MTV’s fan site, but seems as if it were designed in the late 1990s, before the latest generation of SIMS games. Overall, The Hills is kind of like a jumbo-sized carton of Twinkies. It kind of looks good, feels soft and comfortable, and is there for you, never judging you. Too much, though, kind of rots your soul, and leaves you feeling bloated and (in this case, mentally) fatigued. Nevertheless, to purchase the set via Amazon, click here. C- (Series) A- (Disc)