the hills season 3, episode 26, “a date with the past”

May 6, 2008

lauren and stephen surrounded by flowers

  • the featured article on radar online today is “the ballad of east and west: the battle between gossip girl and the hills,” a sort of character comparison “steel cage match.” it’s cute. coincidentally, i saw my very first episode of “gossip girl” the other night, on korean TV at like 2 in the morning. it was the episode where the rich girl has a sleepover and the poor girl gets invited and then, wooed by fancy clothes and booze, she starts mirroring the rich girl but then snaps out of it in the end. also her brother the brooklyn guy goes on a date with the bland blond girl and in parallel, his brooklyn dad flirts with the bland blond girl’s mom who seemed like the best actress on the whole thing to me. obviously, it didn’t really work for me, although i may give it another try. there was some snap to the writing and i guess it’s kind of fun and kitschy, but i don’t much get the appeal for adults and the idea that it is even comparable as a cultural force or on an aesthetic level to “the hills” is pretty laughable. although, full disclosure, i’ve never seen a single episode of “the o.c.” which i’ve always felt is a major gap in the knowledge i need to write about “the hills.”

  • (“gossip girl” is the most popular american TV show among the korean teens i teach. obviously, it’s more popular with the girls, although the other day a shy, slightly overweight sixteen year old boy told me it was his favorite show, blushingly saying, “jenny humphrey, she’s my kind of girl.” it was fucking adorable. i always ask the GG fanatics if they watch “the hills,” but none of them have ever heard of it.)

  • but anyway, all this gossip girl stuff is simpatico with this week’s episode of “the hills,” which was even more high school than usual. this was not a difficult bit of analysis to come by, what with all the references the characters make to “high school” and “ninth grade” and “senior year,” the preeminence of lauren’s high school friend lo over her college friend audrina, the reappearance of lauren’s high school crush, and the title of the episode, “a date with the past.”

  • telling perhaps that the first thing lo says about their new house is that it’s “a real house.” yes, “real,” but it’s also a set for a TV show. i wonder if there’s a room where the crew stores their camera equipment or a place set up 24/7 for tab interviews. this thread continues: the first room lauren introduces is “the TV room” – i.e. the room where they will watch TV, but will also be filmed on TV watching TV and talking about TV. note that lauren is narrating; she’s not talking about what the room could be, but what it will be, what she has decided it will be. later lo notes (in her requisite weirdly pronounced word ever episode) that she doesn’t have doesn’t have curtains yet and that she wonders if the neighbors have seen her naked. thus, in the TV house, the window functioning as a screen for voyeurs to look in. (also notice the repetition of “it’s pretty” several times as they gaze at their new digs; this is what’s important, not usability, not features, but prettiness, the quality of beauty (later, stephen will note that the house is also “awesome” and “really nice.”)

  • the thing about audrina’s guest house living being indicative of the rift between her and lauren/lo is so clearly telegraphed (with stephen even saying during his date with lauren, “you guys don’t talk about that at all? …but then again, she’s in the guest house.”) that i don’t really feel there’s much to say about it. it’s another of those things that would be a stupid, cliche device if this show was a fiction but is something more because this is real life and audrina is really lauren’s friend (or was) and she is really usurped by lauren’s closer, high school friend lo, and is really separated from them by physical space (lauren: “i don’t feel like i can go…back there.”), into, as lo diminutively describes it, “audrina’s little house” and i have no doubt that there is real tension between them. also note that the main quality that audrina likes about the guesthouse is that it’s “private” i.e. the opposite of the wired-for-sound main house. one presumes audrina will be buying some curtains.

  • as heidi so memorably noted, “all woman have fashion in common,” but even if all women are created equal, some women are more equal than others. lauren notes, “audrina and i are completely different so, you know, we shop separately.” anyone who looks at the way the two of them dress would probably assume as such, but i prefer to interpret this as the way that when you come to dislike someone, you can view relatively banal things about them (“the way she shops”) as negative and even offensive.

  • spencer’s biggest moment in the episode: getting up from a couch. also note that in the spencer and stephanie scene, the evidence of spencer’s hypocrisy that stephanie brings up is…an example from high school.

  • the scene in the kitchen before the party is great because it’s some of audrina’s best emoting. for once, lauren really doesn’t seem to be trying to be bitchy about JB, she’s just asking a question, but audrina does a face that signals that the topic is off limits, which lauren reads and interprets as such. lo, forever the interjector, then makes a smart ass remark mocking JB and audrina makes this great weird look at lauren and then away when she realizes lauren will offer no support. later, there’s a shot of audrina finding out that lauren talked to stephen and she looks genuinely surprised and happy at being surprised, saying all big teethed and joyful, “oh, you did?!” but then lo shuts her down again by saying, “they’ve been talking for a while,” i.e. we, lauren and lo, BFF 4eva, have already had a conversation about this and you are out of the loop, audrina. this triggers a totally sad sigh from audrina. the wardrobe is great at distancing her, too; lauren and lo, the blondes, are wearing cocktail dresses in pink and bright red. audrina, her hair and eye makeup darker than ever, is wearing a gray sweater thing.

  • high school: lauren asks lo not to “get all ninth grade on me.”

  • brody jenner brings a juicer to the party as a housewarmin gift. also, his new girlfriend! sometimes you’ve just got to love him. great reaction from lauren. justinbobby brings his new haircut, an elaborate outfit, and puts his hand through the flame of a tiki torch. there is also something i really like about justinbobby and brody jenner becoming best friends, about JB becoming “one of the boys.” maybe some sort of web buddy-comedy, triangulated between “rob and big,” “entourage,” and “jackass”?!

  • stephanie: “i think we got some boys on campus.” lauren: “where?…i think they’re, like, workers.” oh lauren, not pretty. this is why i prefer when “the hills” as a.stanley’s maligned “classless utopia.” although an insight into both lauren’s character and the structure of the show came in an aftershow interview when she noted that her biggest turn-off with guys is if they’re rude to waiters…i.e. how they treat the help. just playing, but perhaps this is the reason we always see waiters delivering food and the reaction that the characters have to them (lo’s usually chirpy thank you’s, heidi and spencer’s self-absorbed indifference…). note that stephen colleti is weirdly effusive towards the waiter on his date with lauren (i have never seen someone so excited about calamari).

  • when describing the motions of lauren’s face, i sometimes feel like i’m writing stage directions for a beckett play. smile on, eyes off, etc. related: this great youtube video. also, watch these infomercials in which lauren sells contact solution or some method for cleaning your contacts or something. first, lauren wears contacts? is this some clue into her eyegleam and glint, the way her eyes catch ours? the videos themselves are weirdly overlong and infomercial-y – not particularly viral. the camerawork is awkward, this kind of handheld talking-head stuff that just looks like some high school video project. lauren seems to speak more in each of the videos than she does in an entire episode of the hills, which is kind of disconcerting. also, interesting that lauren is hawking contact solution after her original arch-enemy (kristin cavallari) shilled for lasik eye surgery. makes me think about lauren or heidi getting their eyes insured by lloyds of london like betty grable’s legs.

  • heidi and spencer are truly made for each other, no matter how they pretend they’re not: i love how heidi’s attack on stephanie (“if you are feeling guilty and asking for permission, that’s because you feel you’ve done something wrong”) is a total echo of spencer’s (“you’re making yourself cry, thinking about what you did.”) his and hers insults, like monogrammed bath towels. and what i love is the way that their sort of post-bush rhetorical strategy works, that their complete lack of logic and ability to make a coherent argument always beats stephanie. spencer makes her cry and heidi convinces her to stay in and watch a movie instead of going to the party. since mccain and barry have already made their “hills” references, maybe HRC can hire heidi and spencer as consultants in a last ditch effort to save her campaign. imagine spencer as the new mark penn, that spin master, that devil, he. he could probably implicate BO as having been in a sex tape within the week, all without getting off the couch.

  • when stephanie says to heidi, “i don’t know how this all started,” and when she pretends to lauren she doesn’t know who stephen colletti is, it’s obv. totally bullshit because she could just, like…watch the previous two and half seasons of the show on DVD. she could even get them on her ipod so she could watch them at the gym. it’s like when lauren asks stephen if he’s met justinbobby and he feigns ignorance of who JB is, says, “with the bike?” and she confirms, says, “with the bike.” like he hasn’t seen every episode of the show. the show is sort of straining here from its self imposed restrictions, the fact that it can’t acknowledge that it’s a show and that the characters can’t acknowledge that they’re on it and have seen it. i still believe that’s the right thing to do, though, and that everything that makes the show popular would disappear if this rule was broken. the frosting of artifice seeps into even everyday conversation, where stephen has to pretend he doesn’t know who justinbobby is, even though he does, but he’s pretending this in a real conversation with lauren where real feelings (on her part, mostly) are involved and where she probably hopes to exchange some real emotional trash stuff with him, but he’s pretending because they’re being filmed for a scene, but this detachment based on artifice and television form really isn’t inauthentic because it’s just paralleling his emotional detachment and disinterest in lauren, who is still authentically crushing on him like they are still in high school.

  • and in terms of high school, we can’t ignore that stephen colletti, unlike everyone else on “the hills,” is actually an actor, as in a real actor, not a reality performer (heidi dreams of academy awards but has never actually been in a movie or another TV show). in march, stephen, reprised his role as a minor character on the CW teen drama “one tree hill,” which was about high school students for its first four seasons and which i haven’t seen but seems like a rural version of josh schwartz dramas like “the o.c.” and “gossip girl.” some people on the internet speculate that stephen’s involvement in the episode and the fact that he is spending time with lauren again (after dating another actor, hayden panettiere) is that he’s trying to raise his profile and impress the producers of the show so that they’ll bring him back in a larger role in the sixth season. (also, apparently he is also in some (pilot?) (indie film?) called tinsletars in which he plays a “hollywood executive” named “lou masters.” oh steven, don’t do it…)

  • it’s great that the thing that lauren is most proud of in her 2.3 million dollar house is a flower. the mini-scene with her showing stephen her flower is great because, in the same way that the guest house thing is an obvious fictional device made real, this a romcom/teen movie cliche made real. she’s thought about this scene before the party, she’s set it up, she’s practiced what she’s going to say and how she’s going to hold the flower, how she’s going to move around it, the blocking, how she’s going to look at stephen, what the lights are going to be around her, where the cameras will be; she’s made this scene, this fantasy, she’s, as she said to lo, “built it up.” and then stephen casually breaks the fantasy; he says the flower’s just going to die, that it’s gonna last for “about…three days” and then it’ll be gone.

  • it’s kind of funny, then, that on stephen and lauren’s date, they are surrounded by flowers, and in the midst of these flowers, stephen totally breaks her heart again (for the XXth time? i stopped keeping score). he sets her up with the line about lo (who lauren, sticking to the high school theme, has said is “stuck in senior year” and who lauren has reminded that “we’re not 18 anymore), he says, “she’s kind of like everybody else who wants to see us together,” and you can see the hope rise in lauren’s eyes, like, yes, everyone, my audience, they want to see me happy with a boy and i want that boy to be you. he strings her along a bit, talking about family, before absolutely crushing her with the word platonic. her reaction shot is sad and wonderful and priceless. in that instant she is right back in high school and all of her adult success, her fashion line, her starring role in a TV show, all of the power she has in the social sphere, over her friends and their relationships, none of that means anything at all because underneath it all she still can’t get the boy she wants to like her to like her. stephen’s rejection lets her know that, underneath her success, she is still the person she was in high school and she is still the person that he might toy with for a minute but would never take seriously enough for a real relationship. she is sad and alone and crushed and the whole thing is beautifully tragic. on the car ride home, she clings to this little pearl of a high school memory about she and stephen: she repeats it, reiterates it, expands it, wraps herself in it. it’s a quotidian memory – it’s not about anything exciting or romantic in the capital R sense, it’s about routine and stability and timing, how stephen always got her home by her curfew. eating comfort ice cream with lo in the kitchen (again, making real a cliche perpetuated by every other woman in every other romantic comedy ever), lauren says that, “hanging out with him, i feel like I’m in high school. but I’m not in high school anymore.” that’s a good, strong statement that smacks of growth and confidence, but i think it’s belied by the sad way she’s attacking that container of ice cream. i think the true lesson for lauren, whose high school years were filmed and shown on television, who capitalized on that success in the years of her nascent adulthood to become the star of her own show, is that high school, with its thrills and disappointments and well-worn tropes, its break-ups and make-ups and cliques, its banality and idiocy and epiphany, is never very far away – it’s just over the hills.

  • sorry things took so long this week. i honestly thought i was just going to stop doing this. this is not some melodramatic plea for attention, it’s just getting harder and harder to write these and i enjoy it less and less. i feel like i’m constantly butting my head against the notion of the “recap.” i used to labor under the illusion that i was doing something special and different than, like, the people at TVGasm or Television Without Pity do. they, i thought, were basically just summarizing shows and adding in jokes, imbuing summary with their personality to own the show in some way and get some attention. in an elitist, haughty way, i thought they were kind of coarse and low class and i was different. i thought that i was doing something a little more interesting, a sort of gonzo obsessive performance art pseud-y criticism thing (kind of like the current incarnation of baugher, which i used to think was just a mean person making really obvious jokes but has recently become more intensely weird and obsessive and interesting). i don’t think that anymore, this has basically become me doing recaps of the show, which i accept, but i am still butting my head against the wall, trying to figure out what is interesting and what is not interesting and what is worth saying and what is not and what expresses the blogging persona i have tried to create and what doesn’t.

  • the other thing is that i’ve gotten myself into this groove of writing a 3 to 5000 word post every week and the knowledge that i have to write that much about something i’ve already written probably over 50K words about becomes more and more stressful and difficult and so i avoid it and that makes it more stressful and difficult. i need to get myself into the habit of writing eight 500-word posts instead of one 4000 word post; that’s how blogs are supposed to work, right? but i don’t know how to work like that and i can hardly cough in 500 words and i like long blog posts (mmm…clapclap) and i’m always happy when other people write them. so, crisis. (the other thing is the constant little jiminy cricket in my head telling me that stressing out about all this and defining myself by writing about a TV show for the handful of people who read this regularly is really silly and ridiculous and i should just go to the beach more often and work on my tan and try to be happier in the corporeal world instead of the digital one)

  • but anyway, then barry talked about his goal of brokering peace between heidi and lauren and i was charmed and inspired to continue. yes we can.

  • “Late in life, another literary critic, Roland Barthes, became obsessed by the fact that he was a fake and he used to ring up Alain Robbe-Grillet, the famous novelist and say, “But Alain, I’m a fake, aren’t I?” And Robbe-Grillet used to say – soothingly, wisely – “Of course you are, Roland. Of course you are. But, Roland, it’s all right. You’re a genuine fake” – i am, in the words of spencer, “1000% sure” that lauren and lo have had this exact same phone conversation. aww, BFFs!

this week i recorded a cover of “when you wish upon a star.” i had the synth riff sitting around for awhile and really liked it but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. i started to do a cover of “flashing lights” but then i decided on this instead.

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8 Responses to “the hills season 3, episode 26, “a date with the past””

  1. guiltypleasures Says:

    I hope you don’t stop. I don’t think that people, by which I mean me, check your blog obsessively after each new episode hoping you’ve weighed in because you’re just another stop on the rounds from TVGasm to TWoP. I probably wouldn’t read a third (or a fourth, if you count EW’s recap) more-of-the-same thing and they don’t go anywhere near considering the psychic effects of how the performers on this show must internalize what they present as their reality like you do, which is something that can’t really be ignored if you go beyond the first level of thinking about The Hills.

    Oh, and re: Lauren’s comments about thinking “they’re workers” on campus — I had the same reaction at first, but on a second viewing, I think maybe Stephanie was saying, look, there are finally boys on campus for once (since I assume most FIDM students are women) and Lauren was suggesting they were workers versus enrollees, not workers versus dateable men. I hope anyway.

    And one last thing: Did you read in the Rolling Stone piece that, at least during the first season’s taping of The Hills, Tracy Morgan also lived in the same building? Weird.

  2. songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

    “Did you read in the Rolling Stone piece that, at least during the first season’s taping of The Hills, Tracy Morgan also lived in the same building? Weird.”

    somehow i missed that. my god, that would be the best show ever…

    i watched it again and you may be right about the “workers” thing. thanks!

  3. Sienna Says:

    I hope you dont stop writing your weekly analysis. I have enjoyed them more than the actual show this mini season.

    I do have one question though. A lot have been written about the Stephen and LC relationship after this episode aired. He is protrayed as her eternal crush and the editors gave us tons of reasons why she would still be drawn to him. What about Stephen? Why come back to her life after all these years, he could have made an appearance without taking her out to a romantic dinner. Why continue to hang out with her when he is aware of her feelings for him? I found Mr. Colletti to be quite the douche, he is just more charming but not as charming as Brody.

  4. Jared Says:

    About the recap thing: I read TWoP once in a while, and I usually don’t find them too condescending. I think they’re basically a more active version of TV watching–if you love a show then you want to be as involved as possible, examine it in detail with your friends, and that’s what they do for certain shows. And that’s totally fine. But there are a lot of shows out there that people watch just to make fun of, and TWoP does that too. Unfortunately The Hills is one of those shows, but I feel like all that negativity is just a reflection of how a large section of the show’s audience actually watches it.

    It’s pretty easy to be haughty and dismissive of the show (see any post ever on Defamer or Radar), or on the other hand to get so caught up identifying with the characters that you forget that it’s actually a show. Actually hate-watching and aspirational watching are mirror images of each other, and neither is very imaginative. This is the only site I’ve found that actually takes the show seriously as a show.

  5. songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

    i think you are mostly right when you call him a douche, sienna. the reason he would come back and have a romantic dinner with her instead of just a casual off camera coffee is because he knows that he can get on TV by doing that and that it will get his name in the news for five minutes. also, removing cameras from the equation, maybe he just wanted to fuck with her because, well, he can.

    thanks jared. keep fighting the good fight yourself. you might also want to check out zigzigger, who is linked to on the right. he’s on a break now but i think you might enjoy his stuff. he’s done a few posts about this season of “the hills,” one of which is here: http://zigzigger.blogspot.com/2007/10/hills-is-real-too.html.

  6. Jared Says:

    That’s a good post; I’ve read a little zigzagger but hadn’t been that far back in his archives.

  7. peace Says:

    speaking of GG, have you seen this blog? it’s kind of like your obsession, but all about one episode:
    ggs1e16.tumblr.com

  8. Anaheed Says:

    If you’re sick of doing this blog, you should stop, but that will make me sad, because it’s smart and good and I love it.


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