What I Learnt From Rewatching The Hills

The Hills is getting a shiny new reboot, but has the original show stood the test of time? Hattie Crisell dusts off her boxset and finds out...

The Hills New Beginnings

by Hattie Crisell |
Updated on

The revival of The Hills, which arrives (as The Hills: New Beginnings) on MTV UK on 25th June, is huge news for anyone who had time on their hands in the late noughties – which, fresh out of uni, included me. It was almost the first constructed reality show, preceded only by its sister show Laguna Beach, and followed the on-off relationships and friendships of a group of highly photogenic Californian 20-somethings. Brody Jenner was one of its stars; the year after it finished, his step-siblings launched a similar show called Keeping Up With The Kardashians. It’s no exaggeration to say that The Hills changed the landscape of TV.

A decade ago, I was mesmerised by every episode – from Heidi Montag’s rubbish internship in the first season (‘I didn’t realise I’d be stuffing envelopes,’ she pouted on day 1) to that infuriating finale in which the cameras pulled back to show Brody and Kristen Cavallari standing on a set, rather than a real street (I’m still annoyed about that shameless admission of fakery). Excited last week by news of the reboot, I found myself settling in to rewatch the original, expecting a full-blown nostalgia fest.

But about 10 minutes into the first season, I realised that the sensation I was experiencing was not cosy sentimentality – it was boredom. Compared with today’s TV, The Hills was… slow and underwhelming. Few and painfully far between were the episodes where something exciting happened (shout-out to ‘You Know What You Did’, in which Lauren confronts Heidi and Spencer at the club – never forget). Usually it was 30 minutes of Lauren silently rolling her eyes, Audrina gazing hopefully at Justin Bobby, and various confused-looking boys delivering unconvincing scripts.

READ MORE: 13 Lessons The Hills Taught Us About Life

The ‘constructed’ nature of the show wasn’t so clear to me at the time, but looking back now it’s clangingly obvious. The cast were pioneers of a whole new genre of acting, after all – unlike these days, when you could throw most British teens into an episode of TOWIE and nudge them in the direction of their ‘love interest’ and they’d instantly understand what was required of them. The Hills season 1’s climactic plotline was that Lauren chose to spend the summer with her boyfriend Jason at the beach house they’d rented, rather than working in Paris for Teen Vogue. Watching it again last week, I realised that a) Teen Vogue only needed her for Couture Week (the clue’s in the name: it’s not the whole summer); b) she and Jason had about as much onscreen chemistry as a couple of sponges; and c) that beach house was clearly a hired filming location.

READ MORE: The Hills: New Beginnings Is Not Going To Be More Diverse As Heidi Montag Doesn’t Know What Diversity Means

Back then, I didn’t care about any of this. I loved the sunny escapism of their LA lives, their nights at Les Deux (the ONLY place to be seen, am I right?) and the panto-awfulness that was Spencer Pratt. But having now moved on to KUWTK and Love Island (I’m nothing if not highbrow), I can see that The Hills was constructed reality Version 1.0, before they’d honed the format. These days, we expect our TV stars to have genuine connections and a sense of humour – even if there’s an off-screen producer egging them on. If you can call constructed reality an artform*, it’s one that’s evolved. Let’s hope The Hills has too.

*which you can’t really, let’s be hones

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