Film and TV

What I Learned Re-Watching The Hills 10 Years Later

We've all been there.

A sizeable head cold left me laid out in bed, browsing my TV for something to keep my mind occupied. Since Hulu knows me better than I know myself, my recommendations featured The Hills right in front. I watched the show in real time while living in New York, but now that I live in Los Angeles, I was curious to see the places they went and compare with my experiences.

I, like many others, jumped on board with Stephen Colletti, Lauren "LC" Conrad, Lo Bosworth, and the rest of the SoCal crew in 2004 during Laguna Beach: The Real O.C. on MTV. The parallels were intriguing, as I was a west-coast kid in the same graduating class as its subjects. As a middle-class high school student in Arizona, I watched as the teenage children of the 1 percent bounced around their beach town, tackling topics that were universal: love, friendship, parties, and carefree childhood days succumbing to the allure of college life to come. In the midst of a reality boom, this was at least one thing that felt like ours. 

Of the ensemble, Conrad resonated the most with viewers. A year or so after graduation, she was picked as the focus of the Los Angeles-based spinoff, The Hills, which premièred in 2006. Over the course of six seasons, they followed her life pursing a career in fashion, with a new set of friends that had fancy jobs and even fancier apartments. Once LC opted to leave in the middle of the fifth season, Laguna Beach castmate Kristin Cavallari was brought in as the protagonist — or rather antagonist, most of the time. Heidi Montag, Spencer Pratt, Stephanie Pratt, Audrina Patridge, Justin Bobby Brescia, Lo Bosworth, Brody Jenner, Jason Wahler, and more also came in and out of the show, most of them with a solid arc. #Speidi, anyone?

Now, let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room. It's widely known, and confirmed by the cast themselves, that the show was pretty far from reality. Among other things, they've revealed staged confrontations and completely fake relationships. Hell, they even ended the show in 2010 with the scenery pulling away behind Brody to reveal a studio lot and crew. When you break it down logistically, there's no way an organic situation could arise when you need to wrangle crew, mics and location clearances well in advance. The fact that they had become celebrities was never addressed on the show itself, although MTV has flipped that on its head with the latest season of Teen Mom featuring the producers and effect of fame.

That said, let's just toss the glaring fake-ness aside and pretend to live in a world where everything on The Hills was real. It certainly didn't stop me from being fully engrossed in the show for an aggressive (impressive?) eight days. Thanks to Hulu's commercial free option (did I mention I love Hulu?) I was able to bang through half a dozen at a time in 20-minute intervals. Pro-tip: if you're binge watching and let the next episode autoplay, they'll cut out the theme song for your sanity. Sorry, Natasha.

Full disclosure: I actually worked at the same record label as Audrina (based in New York) during the show's run, which pulled back the curtain a little. However, it also made watching the show a lot more fun. Here was my life, albeit on a different coast, and this show had followed. Even with that exact similarity in my case, there were common themes that resonated with everyone growing up during that time.

I'm coming in fast on 30, so within the first few episodes I thought to myself, Man, you couldn't pay me to be in my early 20s again. The uncertainty, insecurity, and having to learn your lessons for the first time makes it a trying, but exciting time. Here are some things I learned that brought me back to my 20-year-old self almost 10 years later. 

You Don't Need to Negotiate
It's incredible what you let slide when you're in your early 20s and don't know any better. Specifically with romantic relationships, these girls dealt with commitment-phobes like Justin Bobby, constant fighting with Lauren and Jason, and unrequited love with Brody and Kristin. It was exhausting. Ladies, you have options, don't settle for misery. You probably won't meet your significant other in a bar and if you're still clubbing in a Tuesday, maybe you shouldn't try. Thankfully, most of them have ended up in stable, loving relationships, so we don't have to hear Audrina say "I'm done" for the billionth time. 

Clear Out Those Toxic Friendships
You're going to meet so many people during your life. Dealing with the drama of friends who spread rumors or make you feel less than yourself is not worth it. I've never had girlfriends talk to me the way they talked to each other. Do you guys even like each other? The person who really seemed to get that was Lauren, who had the central rift with Heidi. Any time there was talk of a reconciliation, she shut it down ("I want to forgive you and I want to forget you"), later explaining in one of the final confrontations that "it's just what it is, it isn't always fair." Amen, LC. There are plenty of good ladypals in the sea. 

Can't Stop, Won't Stop, Until You Turn 30 . . . Will Stop
It's hard to remember the days when I could be out until 2 a.m. and still bounce back at 7 a.m. to go to work or school. If I'm home any time after midnight, I am destroyed for at least half the day after. Honestly, if you're able to do that, more power to you, just don't revolve your whole life around partying. A night you can remember is much more valuable than 10 nights spent wasted. 

A Decade of Changing Trends: 
Things on The Hills that are out of style in 2016: MySpace, Sidekicks, RAZR, platform sandals, frosted tips, chunky headbands (sadly), fedoras, popped collars, instant messenger, Capri pants, and approximately 80 percent of the music featured.
Things that didn't exist in 2006 that would definitely be on The Hills now: Tinder, Waze, iPhones, Uber, hybrid cars, Snapchat, Apple Watch, Instagram, Pinterest, Spotify, laws preventing texting/phone calls while driving, FaceTime, tagging on Facebook, and a crippling recession.

Random Observations and Fun Facts:
  • Heidi was so pretty at the beginning. You slowly saw her face morph during the series, which they finally addressed after she had 10 procedures in one day. Don't think we didn't notice that nose job, too, Stephanie.
  • Both Lauren and Stephanie sported Kabbalah bracelets. Do you think they know Madonna?
  • Speaking of musicians, there's a pretty incredible cameo by Lady Gaga in her very early days. Kelly Cutrone spoke of her as "apparently [Interscope Records'] next big thing. APPARENTLY. 
  • R.I.P to the characters that you met and never saw again: Jordan, Brian, Lisa Love, Elodie, Doug and of course, Ryan Cabrera.
  • "Homeboy wore combat boots to the beach" will never not be funny. 
  • Everyone says this, but it's never, ever that easy to get around L.A. I would be more convinced of the show's "reality" if you saw extended scenes of Spencer screaming for an hour and a half down Sunset. 
  • Pretty sure we can all agree that Lauren Conrad was solely responsible for the headband Renaissance.
  • The "silent stares" editing felt even more egregious than before. See for yourself. 
  • Did you know that there was an alternate ending to the show? Watch below. It's actually much more satisfying than what aired. #TeamLC

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Ashley Harris is a longtime professional fangirl. You can usually find her out at concerts, movies, and live theatre, or glued to the latest Netflix revival.
Contact: Ashley Harris