Has 'The Hills' Has Gone Downhill?

Something seems wrong about "The Hills."

This wasn't always the case. There was a time, about two seasons ago, when it was believable that Lauren Conrad and her coterie of cuties really were bumbling around Los Angeles in search of good girlfriends, better boyfriends, the perfect parties and the hottest handbags.

Their jobs and internships at Teen Vogue, Epic Records and Bolthouse PR seemed slightly trivial, considering their fledgling reality TV careers, but the Kool-Aid was palatable enough that it was possible to drink in each 22-minute dose of drama and think that maybe, just maybe, if MTV's cameras and crew disappeared, these girls and boys would still lead the exact same lives. They weren't household names; "The Hills" hadn't reached critical mass.

No longer. Conrad and her fellow "Hills" compatriots -- Audrina Patridge, Heidi Montag, Spencer Pratt and Whitney Port, among them -- are now, for better or for worse, bona fide celebrities. Their faces are on the covers of magazines. Their images litter blogs across the Internet. They attend so many events and walk so many red carpets, they've probably worn down multiple pairs of Christian Louboutins doing so. (Well, with the exception of Pratt. The recent stint he and Montag had moonlighting at a Taco Bell drive-thru window most likely didn't require designer stilettos.

But some say "The Hills" fails to chronicle this, very real, part of their life, turning the lens instead on comparatively menial happenings -- i.e. Conrad eliciting relationship advice from her personal trainer -- or situations that when compared to reality, don't quite make sense -- i.e. Montag's mom acting shocked upon finding out that her daughter and Pratt are living together. (No less than a dozen blogs follow every last move Montag makes -- could it really be that her mom doesn't read any of them?) Both were highlights of last Monday's episode.

It's not reality TV -- critics have noted instances of producers forcing scenes and situations instead of letting them play out on their own. In fact, it seems wholly removed from reality. At a time of political and economic turmoil, "The Hills" makes no mention of voting or curbing shopping sprees, despite the fact that its stars have voiced their political affiliations in interviews outside the show.

Why doesn't MTV doesn't focus on the reality of these burgeoning stars' lives? Watching Conrad tear up over something Perez Hilton drew on her face or wring her hands before her high-profile gig presenting at last month's Emmys would be far more interesting than watching her wonder if she, Patridge and her high school BFF will ever get along as roomies, considering she probably banks enough from her clothing line and appearance fees that if the show didn't exist, she could ditch them both and buy her own mansion in the Hollywood hills.

Maybe the Kool-Aid had a shelf-life. Maybe a little less artificial flavoring could fix it. Either way, right now, to many viewers it's patently unpalatable.

Sheila Marikar

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