The Phenomenon That is The Hills

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Continuing its immensely popular spring run, The Hills returns with an all-new episode tonight on MTV. Over the weekend, the Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss throughout examined the obsession millions of people have with The Hills...

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Cute Lauren Conrad Pic

I still remember the first time I stumbled on The Hills, and how confused I was. It couldn't be scripted, since the dialogue was awful and the characters could barely deliver lines. But it couldn't be a reality show, because the scenes played out too perfectly. Cameras always happened to be rolling when the phone rang or the meaningful text message arrived.

It is, of course, a reality show, but a strangely innovative one.

Lauren Conrad and her friends in Los Angeles might replay scenes they've already lived through, or make carefully timed entrances into rooms so the cameras can get the right angle, but they never give a hint that they're being filmed.

The Hills, a coming-of-age follow-up to MTV's hit Laguna Beach (which also starred Conrad) drops the pretense of the confessional and the sense of manufactured conflict in favor of a new charade: pretending that the cameras aren't there.

As viewers, we're expected to keep up our end of the bargain.

Forget all about Lauren Conrad and new clothing line or her Mercedes, forget the single Heidi Montag recently released. Pretend these are normal, struggling young women, trying to make it in the cutthroat world of L.A.

The Hills' Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port.

One girl, a smart, poised journalism student in Boston - whose life must be very different from LC's - told me she likes the show because she can relate.

She's not the only one.

The Hills is an unmitigated MTV hit, and not just among the college crowd. John McCain, who won an endorsement from Heidi Montag, told Time magazine he never misses the show, and it's hard to tell if he was being facetious.

The first of the current eight-episode run of spring "bonus" installments of The Hills drew 4.8 million viewers, the show's highest ratings to date.

The day after it aired, the episode drew 1.8 million streams from MTV.com.

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