the hills season 3, episode 22, “when spencer finds out”

April 13, 2008

heidi montag

  • sadly, i watch “the hills” on MTV overdrive instead of on real television. don’t get me wrong, i’m glad that i can watch it that way and they’ve really improved the technology since last year for a far superior viewing experience, but i am not one of these internet-TV convergence lovers and i miss watching it on a regular TV with regular commercials, live. anyway i don’t know what the ad packages are like during the television airing of the show, but i have to say how extremely weird it feels that my viewing of this week’s episode of “the hills” is sponsored by “juno.”

  • i know, talking about the movie “juno” is so three months ago, but whatever. my experience watching “juno” was, like my experience watching “the hills,” affected by the fact that i downloaded it from the internet instead of seeing it in a theater. everybody talks about how the first fifteen minutes are the worst part of “juno” and i totally agree and thus when i watched juno for the first time, after that nauseating first fifteen minutes, i just turned it off. in a pre-tivo/torrent world, this wouldn’t have happened. if i had been watching juno on TV, i would have just changed the channel and forgotten about it and then maybe caught it a year or two later. if i had been watching it in a theater, i would’ve sort of grinned and bore it because i am way too middle class to ever walk out of a movie i’ve paid for, but i probably wouldn’t have been able to recover from that first fifteen minutes and enjoy the movie because i hold a grudge like crazy.

  • when i eventually rewatched it a few weeks later, skipping the first fifteen minutes, i went on to enjoy it. it made me cry, the first time a movie had done that in a long time, although i attribute that crying way more to things external to the movie, to personal circumstances and a desire to cry about something, than to the movie itself, i would feel remiss not noting that it made me cry since that is a popular way for many people to note the emotional impact of a movie or TV show or other pop culture manifestation. so it made me cry and i enjoyed it. that doesn’t mean i think it was great or unimpeachable or worthy of an oscar (especially an oscar for writing), but whatever, i’m being honest.

  • anyway let’s get to the part where i skip all this meandery subterfuge and get to comparing “juno” and “the hills”

  • stylistically, they are totally disparate: the glossy, costly minimalism of “the hills” vs. the muddy, middle class maximalism of “juno” (LOLitteration!) obviously you know which side i trend to. yet i was not prepared for how much the dialogue would piss me off, how noxious i would find it. two of my favorite TV shows ever are “gilmore girls” and “the west wing.” i am the kind of person who liked “studio 60” and was pissed off when it got canceled. thus, i have no problem with stylized, idiosyncratic dialogue; i, in fact, lap that shit up. but i hated the way juno talked. i have no explanation for this.

  • (although i had a weak theory for a while about why this bugged me, which had to do with repetition. like in real life, people, even smart people, repeat the things they say. when they think they have said something clever or interesting, they repeat it even more. but “juno” and her clever friends, they never repeat anything and i found that unnerving. my other theory about this had to do with the way my little brother and his friends appropriated things from the movie “napoleon dynamite.” personally, i hated the idea of “napoleon dynamite” and didn’t see it for about a year after its DVD release, after which i hated the actual movie as well as the idea of it. but my brother, who is three years younger than i am, loved the movie and all his friends did too. a snapshot of them from this period would have revealed them making the sort of odd references and conversational allusions and having the sort of conversational tempo and back-and-forth that sounds a lot like “juno.” but the main difference is that they were taking these things from a popular movie, the way tons of other teenagers around the country were, whereas juno’s statements are all so subcultural and “original” and could have seemingly come only from her. if you want to hear the way “indie” teens really talk, don’t listen to “juno,” listen to kids now as they appropriate their favorite soundbytes from “juno” and integrate them into their regular conversation.)

  • “juno” and “the hills” have been praised as feminist works and derided as anti-feminist works. i’m not going to get into that whole thing since my intellectual background leaves me more qualified to discuss third wave ska than third wave feminism (also remember that i think “the hills” is largely humanist art), but i will say that they are both womanistic in the sort of tangible way that we can actually measure: screen time and plot precedence. michael cera is in “juno” for what, like 2 minutes? jason bateman’s character literally disappears from the film when he does something the women controlling the plot (both inside and outside the screen) disagree with. i have talked in the past about how men on “the hills” aren’t important before, so read that if you need to. let’s just say that if you think heidi choosing spencer makes spencer an important character, you’re wrong. it’s wasn’t heidi choosing spencer that was important, not really, it was heidi not choosing lauren. spencer was just a catalyst, something that was used to set much larger and more important events into play. female relationships trump everything, as the slow (faux?) dissolution of speidi and heidi’s yearning for a female friend illustrate. (this use of men as objects and status symbols is more palatable on “the hills” where the men are basically douchebags and losers than in “juno” where, come on, it’s fucking adorable michael cera acting adorable and jason bateman is playing the one character in the movie with a shred of complexity and who actually talks and behaves like a genuine human being. also, while i am ranting about actors i’ll just say that i have hated jennifer garner in basically everything but i thought she was fantastic in “juno,” one of the best parts.)

  • onanistic analogies:

    • “the hills”: “the devil wears prada” edited by gordon lish

      • or, an episode of the “clueless” t.v. show adapted for the screen by david markson and directed by a 50-50 collaboration of madonna and guy ritchie, with madonna twisting guy’s balls when she doesn’t get her way making the ratio more like 67-33.

    • “juno”: a judy blume novel rewritten by mark leyner

      • or, an episode of “degrassi” adapted for the screen by napoleon dynamite and then script-doctored and directed by amy sherman palladino as she is repeatedly hit in the head at a moderate speed with a foam covered yet still solid baseball bat

        • (or, a YA adaptation of “the return of jezebel james” set in suburban oregon instead of new york)

  • other bizarre “hills”/”juno” “connection”: both “juno” director jason reitman and lauren are currently blogging about…their love of hockey? i don’t really have any words for this one.

  • ok, i’ve got that out of my system, sorry

  • it is amazing how fast heidi and spencer are talking in that scene of theirs. the other thing that strikes me is that they arguing about the terms of their relationship, they are arguing about the definition of their relationship. this happens all the time to real couples in real life and it is complicated then but here it is exponentially more complicated. spencer and heidi have three relationships: they have their relationship as it is presented to us in the world of the show (time-delayed a few months) and then they have their other public relationship, which they are actively presenting to the tabloid press, and then they have their own private relationship, whatever the hell that is. and i have said it before and i am sure i will say it again, but it seems impossible to me that these different relationships do not react with each other and rub up against each other and things from one plane slip into another and there is, as juliana hatfield put it, “identity confusion.”

  • like, in this scene, spencer is asking if they are really (!) in a relationship because a lot of girls are asking him to go out. so let’s say we believe this scene is completely fake, just part of the plot. yet there is something completely real about it, too, under the surface. because, let’s face it, spencer pratt is kind of famous now and i have no doubt that has increased the amount of women that want to have sex with him. sure he’s famous as a villain, but i don’t think that matters; lots of famous people are assholes and are famous for being assholes and this doesn’t reduce the amount of people that want to have sex with them. anyway, spencer has this fame and on the one hand he knows that heidi is the only reason he has it and on the other hand he knows that there are a lot of woman who would want to have sex with him. he knows this and i am sure heidi knows this too and that there is a tension in their “relationship” because of it, a tension that manifests itself in how they are behaving in real life and how they are physically performing in their scenes together and etc.

  • along these lines, in the usweekly report on the launch of heidi’s fashion line, a reporter inquires as to the state of heidi and spencer’s relationship. heidi responds, “i mean, you know, we’re up, we’re down…it’s just the routine.” of course, the multiple meanings of the word “routine”: the daily grind, the quotidian, the habitual, as heidi intends it, but then there is also the theatrical sense, the performance, the choreographed moment.

  • (a simple logistical thing that undercuts the whole scene, though is that isn’t this spencer’s condo? like, legally? when they moved in, it wasn’t a joint lease, it was something he already owned or was leasing or whatever, right? so i get that if the relationship goes badly the traditional mores or whatever is for him to leave, to be a man, etc. sure, fine. but the idea of her forcing him to move his possessions and furnishings out of the house he owns is kind of weird; they are not married, this is not common property.)

  • the spencer-stephanie pratt domestic dispute was also great. he is so good at being an asshole on TV that it’s hard not to believe he’s an asshole in real life too. it was classic sitcom fare; this is the one instance where “the hills: aftershow”‘s genre parody of a scene is actually really good. watch.

  • compare these two lines: 1. “It’s not an apartment, it’s a condo.” 2. “It’s not a house, it’s a condo.” my fiction is coming true and it is creeping me out.

  • i love the idea of “operation: win heidi back” – the military connotation of other operations, desert storm or iraqi freedom, is too rich in this land of women. we know spencer is informed on the art of war, even if he hasn’t read “the art of war”; we know from interviews and from glimpses of his bookshelf that he has read books about the CIA and the delta force and the situation “over there.” he watches lots of documentaries on the history channel, i’m sure. as for the battle, day one’s operations seem to involve eating take-out and watching “24.” the war is confidential (“like i’m gonna tell your little snitch…”) and yet at the same time aired on television. the outcome may be predetermined/scripted/sculpted/edited/color corrected. the revolution will be televised. the gulf war did not take place.

  • of course, “the hills” is the anti-“24.” “24” takes as its form representing one day in the life of its main character, but it’s not an average day, it’s not the boredom and simple pleasures of the quotidian, it’s an exercise in artificially cramming a lifetime’s worth of major events, of plot, into 24 hours.

  • spencer is an example of “the hills” being the opposite of that, a show about nothing. spencer, in this episode and in all the others, is constantly on the couch, either watching television, playing video games, reading a book, or reading something on his laptop. he is the consummate consumer of media; he never seems to actually be doing anything and he doesn’t have a “job” (and when steph weakly asks about him getting a job in this episode, it seems to be one of the moments where the show is really testing my suspension of disbelief in order to match up with classic dramatic tropes).

  • this week, further proof that the sole reason kimberly exists is to support and expedite the plot: she’s working the door at lauren’s birthday party so she can conveniently have a scene with heidi at bolthouse later and reveal that stephanie attended the party. poor kimberly. she will never have a last name, she will never be a complete person, she is just “kimberly.” what do her parents think? when i was in college my friend alicia and i wrote a song about alex h. from laguna beach and how she was better than alex m. and how we wanted to know more about her life and what her last name was (the chorus started something like “oh, alex h., what is your whole last name”) and how we thought it unjust that the chyron always identified her as “kristin’s friend” even though she had been on the show a lot and needed no such identification.

  • the party scene was fun. i liked the three shot sequence of lauren, then audrina, then heidi pretending to dance. i would really like to do some sort of statistical study of adverbs signifying authenticity (truly, truthfully, genuinely, honestly, really) and how often they pop up on the show. also love audrina and the end telling lo “smile!” like she is trying to help her hit her mark.

  • after heidi met up with kimberly, the spencer-heidi phone conversation was really hollow and wooden and lame. spencer just wasn’t convincing at all. it makes sense though, because he’s only existing in audio in that scene, he’s cut off from the visual dimension and visuals are so important to the effect of “the hills.” it’s the same kind of thing as when audrina called lauren in paris to tell her about brody being with a girl and how fake that seemed.

  • i liked when lauren said “you’re very blue today” to brody. they always seem to be talking about color, i remember when they started a conversation by talking about eye color and how it can be misleading and elusive. they have their usual sexless sexual tension but the most interesting part was when they were talking about steph pratt. brody asks, “do you really think she’s being genuine and sincere?” he is asking a reality star this on her reality show on which he is also a star, great. then he tops himself by asking, “do you ever think for one second that spencer and heidi are trying to get her in to be friends with you to…i don’t know…do something.” with that line, he exposes how overblown this issue has gotten, how trivial these things are, because, really, what are they going to do? this is not some jacobean revenge tragedy, it’s not like they are going to poison lauren or trick her into losing her inheritance or marry a man in drag or something; the most powerful weapon they have had so far was to imply that maybe she might have been in a sex tape.

  • but the great thing is that brody is making this remark from inside the aura, wrapped in the very drama he’s deflating: he goes on to talk quite seriously about how heidi and spencer are always planning “schemes,” like they are fucking boris and natasha.

  • line of the episode: spencer: “lauren is the crazy one who hates heidi because of me, who’s now friends with you.” or “i’m sorry that you’re making yourself cry.” or maybe stephanie’s line: “water under the bridge….is that the expression, water under the bridge?” it was a very good episode for the pratts

  • i liked the whisper scene. it seemed like a nice tweak of the style of the show the way “the whisper song” was a tweak of the style of the ying yang twins. it made it so powerful when stephanie raised her voice to say “he just wants me to feel guilty” and of course showcased how lauren changes the tone of her voice to show emotion.

  • lauren, diagnosing spencer, says, “you know, it’s probably because, you know, when like, there’s certain things you’re sensitive about, and he had a really big problem with brody being my friend, and it’s probably just that…” it is such a good diagnosis probably because it is also an exact description of her emotional issues re: friends/betrayal.

  • for thematic reasons, i’m going to talk about the last scene in my discussion of episode 23.

  • bonus: the mtv “remote control” blog, which tends to be a waste of time, linked to a really good video blog about the show this week. the videos are produced by newnownext, which is a blog for logo (viacom’s gay network). so, it’s a corporate blog, but it’s one that is actually written by real life human beings. their videos, which are called “the heidi chronicles” are really great because they are the exact antidote to “the hills: aftershow”: really lo fi, just these two funny guys reading text messages off their cell phones in front of a wall covered with tabloid cutouts and pinups of girls from “the hills.”

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2 Responses to “the hills season 3, episode 22, “when spencer finds out””

  1. Jared Says:

    My experience watching Juno in the theater, FWIW, was not as bad as you think yours would have been. Yes, the first 15 minutes were cloying and unfunny, but most of my anger was directed not towards the movie itself but towards that half of the audience that thought “honest to blog” was such a hilarious joke that they laughed over whatever the next line was. So once these people got over how totally awesome it was to be watching a smart, funny movie that, like, gets how they and their friends feel to be totally smarter and cooler than everyone else, well then the real movie starts and it’s probably a little better than it deserves to be.

    Sorry, my main point isn’t hipster-mocking. My point is I think the contrast between Juno and The Hills and Napoleon Dynamite is very interesting if you think of them as depicting three different strategies for relating to pop culture. (And every work of art is first and foremost a lesson on how to experience that work of art. The medium is the message, etc. etc.) The urban/suburban/rural settings are important here–The Hills comes from within the culture industry, Juno is somewhat insulated from it, N. Dynamite is from so far away you have to get it by mail order. Of course the divisions aren’t set in stone. Everyone who discusses The Hills, or blogs about it, or buys US magazine to read about LC or Heidi, is engaged in co-authorship, or is complicit (if you want to put it that way). Conversely, even (or especially) Hollywood stars are snarky and cynical about the industry.

    Everyone is simultaneously inside and outside (even Jackie Harvey) and must constantly negotiate their position. The Hills people try to construct and enact (as we all do) a seamless (or minimalist) persona out of a million previous personae (fictional or not); Juno’s pregnancy is such a crisis because it forces/allows her to become a (re)productive member of the culture industry instead of remaining forever ironic; Napoleon’s triumph is a radical reformulation of a distant (both spatially and racially) culture. I agree that ND is the weakest, because it relies on the Romantic myth of the mystical creative genius, but it’s pretty genius to create an entire alternative system of cultural references for teenagers who feel themselves left behind in the race to master cultural references.

    p.s. To make this schema work for ska, just replace “culture industry” with “Jamaica.” Skatalites=The Hills; English Beat=Juno; Reel Big Fish=Napoleon Dynamite. The difference is that here, increased distance from the center (Kingston->London->LA) means a weaker (rather than stronger) claim to authenticity, for those who still think authenticity is a meaningful concept.

    p.p.s. Speaking of which, you still haven’t answered my criticism of your Frey/Kerouac post. I’ll just take that as a tacit admission that I’m right.

  2. Jared Says:

    Wow, that was longer than I’d planned.


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