In the current issue of TIME, I preview MTV’s The Hills, which returns for season 4 later this month and which, God help me, I like:
It all sounds shallow, and, O.K., it is. The surfaces are precisely what make The Hills entrancing: it is possibly the best-looking series on television. It doesn’t just look better than life. It looks better than TV. Where most reality shows use garish close-ups to show hot emotions, The Hills uses middle- and long-range shots in wide-screen, giving it a cooler feel and framing the subjects like art photography. It’s full of liquid L.A. sun, in love with the way light plays on surfaces–car bodies, plate glass, glossed lips. And who hasn’t imagined his or her life as a TV show, every minor drama magnified, every view airbrushed, a Natasha Bedingfield song ripping hearts out every time you sadly adjust your sunglasses at a red light?
All together now: “I haven’t!” Well, congratulations—The Hills is probably not the show for you. But what I think has made The Hills impervious to every hard-to-dispute charge of fakeness thrown at it is that the show works because it’s fake. It’s the video equivalent of soundtracking—putting on your iPod and experiencing your life as though it were a movie, with a perfectly curated soundtrack adding poignancy and lift to every otherwise mundane moment. (I’m pretty sure someone else coined the term “soundtracking,” though I can’t find the reference.) If it were real, who would want to watch it?