the hills aftershow
August 27, 2007
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during the second season of “the hills,” i watched an episode of the web-only aftershow and found it somewhat charming. mtv came up with a genius concept; instead of being shot in a studio, the show was filmed in the living rooms and the bedrooms of the girls who made up its audience. the host wasn’t that great and the girls weren’t TV ready, but there was an intimacy to it. the stars of “the hills” didn’t visit, they made a phone call and all the girls gathered around the speaker. it was nice, the warm and fuzzy flannel pajamas version of interaction between media and audience.
now the aftershow has gone primetime and everything that made it good is gone, has been steamrolled and glossed over. while the previous season, though hosted on mtv’s overdrive video site, was a close facsimile of actual youtube user-created content (a single camera, a postage stamp sized window, bad lighting, a homey location), this season is a big budget, high production behemoth. mtv tries to have their cake and eat it too vis-a-vis the whole youtube, user-created aesthetic, and that’s where things go down the toilet.
the show opens strong. what seems at first like it could be a normal highlight montage quickly becomes a video mashup, with a sample of whitney saying “red flag” being dropped in rhythmically to footage of audrina and justinbobby and eventually being looped, over and over, to another loop of justinbobby herking and jerking his hair around silently. it’s funny, it’s startling, it’s a great hard open.
(although, edit, i found out trawling youtube that this is not a new thing, that it’s called “the hills: video remix.” the absolute apex of the technique can be seen here:
it’s kind of the anti-emoticlip.)
then there’s the overview of what’s going to happen in the show, done in these solarized flipbooks with cartoon speech bubble captions . it kind of looks like old animated .gifs from 1993. it seems such an awkward attempt at playing with the texture of video; the open already set the viewer up for standard resolution video and then there’s this weird stylization for no apparent reason. the hills is about gorgeous images, beautifully rendered – this doctoring makes a mockery of them and doesn’t gain anything tangible for it. later, one of the hosts draws on the image in what i must see as an attempt at a perez hilton style sight gag, but instead it comes across way more monday night football and, trust me, that is not a nice accessory to be wearing, hills.
the bulk of the show takes place in a carefully dressed auditorium, in front of a live studio audience. the stage is done up as some sort of coldly hip simulacra of a living room, with three brightly patterned couches and a weird modular coffee table, like something out of a bauhaus ikea. the table is covered with brightly colored drinks in oversized martini glasses that nobody ever touches probably because they’re filled with toxic chemicals so they shine brighter.
there are two hosts, a fangirl and a fangay, the both of them awkward and slightly endearing with regards to their awkwardness, but kind of loud and annoying also. on the two other couches are a carefully selected group of nicely dressed, attractive girls and one metro guy. in theory it all fits perfectly, but in practice there’s no charm, no elegance to it.
what’s great about the hills is how to the point it is. it’s so condensed, content packed; there’s no time to meander, to screw around. this is the opposite of that. it’s bulky and awkward and and a half hour and what do you learn from it? the only informational tidbit that has stuck with me from the entire thing is that justinbobby plays drums for a band. great.
halfway through the show, there’s another little video piece, the scene with heidi and spencer cut together into a monster movie parody. it’s good for maybe half a chuckle, but again, it’s not user-created content, it’s a simulation of it, with all the interesting outsider art aspects that define it rounded out by some MTV intern on final cut pro. this is the having the cake and eating it too thing. either go whole hog one way and use actual user created content, like home videos of the show’s viewers or maybe those things on youtube where people put their favorite song behind a homemade montage of the show, or go whole hog and give us well made original content: deleted scenes, raw footage, backstage stuff (like those tours of their apartments that the girls gave online during the first season). this middle ground bears no fruit.
the one sign of life later in the show is the only moment where actual fans are allowed on by webcam, in a four way split screen. they’re yelling and excited and it’s unruly and it’s not really anything like the hills at all, it’s not subtle, but at least is something that feels like something that could be real, all these girls in their homemade tee-shirts, the older ones obviously drunk, the younger ones drunk on the excitement of being on TV.
in the player is my cover of “the modern age” by the strokes. i am going to continue to post strokes covers with some of my hills posts in order to make apparent their aesthetic resonances. for example, the lyrics to this song begin, “up on a hill.” how much more can these things have in common?
also, i just got a myspace and i have 0 friends. it’s sad. if you like the music, please add me.