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Cara McDonough Headshot

'The Hills': Why I Miss It

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I was sick recently, and, as all other activity was clearly beyond my energy level, sank onto the couch for a rare bout of absolutely mindless television consumption.
 
Free from the guilt involved in trying to productively occupy my time, I tuned in to the MTV show "Teen Mom."
 
The show is a spinoff of the network's hit program "16 & Pregnant," and follows teen mothers made famous by that show as they raise children while only a few years out of childhood themselves.
 
I'm a mother of two, and I think my expected response should have been something along the lines of pity. Or perhaps shock at the fact that a mere 17-year-old was raising a child, just like me, while navigating the rocky landscape of teen angst and emotion. While trying to complete high school.
 
But I felt something very different.
 
The show's structure revolves around narrated voiceovers and an excess of inane conversations between characters: "I just don't know what's happening, you know?" says one tearful mom to her friend, attempting to make sense of the latest drama with the father of her child. "I know," murmurs her friend in return. 
 
Watching, I almost immediately felt nostalgic for a similar, yet in my humble opinion, far superior, reality series.
 
So I retrieved a few seasons of "The Hills" from our DVD collection, and spent the remainder of my sick day immersed in the best drama of all time.
 
I'm a 34-year-old woman, but freely admit that when Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten" ("The Hills" theme song) comes on my car radio -- when I've uncharacteristically strayed from my public radio addiction -- I turn it up loud and ache for the sunny streets and celebrity-studded clubs of Los Angeles, a place I have never lived, yet somehow feel I know.
 
Reality show "The Hills" ran from 2006 until 2010, launching the careers of its star, Lauren Conrad as well as Audrina Patridge, Brody Jenner, Whitney Port and the now-missing-in-action Heidi and Spencer, to name a few. The show had its critics, and understandably so.
 
The non-believers were always quick to point out the lack of intelligent conversation, vacant stares and seemingly meaningless lives of these LA party girls, glamorized without question, perhaps promoting a skewed set of values to young viewers.
 
But criticism aside -- and disagreeing with some, come on, those girls had jobs - the true draw of "The Hills" was its ability to capture friendship in all its doom and glory. And although my life is far from the southern California coast as you can get -- both literally and in mindset -- I identified with those heated and over-emotional moments, as so many "Hills" fan did.

In the fourth episode of Season Three, Heidi is inconceivably engaged to the irritatingly pompous Spencer, further driving a wedge -- perhaps for good -- between her and former BFF Lauren, Audrina's new boyfriend Justin is being a jerk (this will become a theme) and Brody is throwing a beach party.

A day in the life of the privileged, sure. But at episode's end, as Lauren and Audrina sit on a bench overlooking the water, alcohol laden juice concoctions in hand, engaging in a tipsy declaration of love for one another while lamenting personal struggles, I am telling you, I have been there.

Not there on that beach, obviously. Although this summer while attending a wedding in San Diego, I did turn the stereo in our decidedly unglamorous sedan to a Top 40 station, with the volume up high and the windows down, while cruising from event to event.

"Are you, um, pretending you're in 'The Hills'?" asked my husband, eyeing our kids in the backseat and my overflowing diaper bag on the car floor.

"Yup," I replied. "I am."

What I mean is there. There in the throes of friendship, with the girls (now women) who have populated the most important segments of my life.

The time my high school friends and I mobbed a mall kiosk to get the cartilage of our upper ears pierced -- mine didn't last and the thought now makes my stomach turn, but it was all solidarity at the time.

Ordering oversweet, specialized martinis at college in Boston, talking life plans and love lives, launching into premature nostalgia for our university years before they'd even ended.

The close quarters and outrageous social schedule that defined my early twenties in North Carolina, a time marked by new friends and instantaneous closeness as we bonded over first real jobs. We made plans over daily phone calls while driving home: "Are we going out tonight? We should TOTALLY go out tonight!"

I've carried these friendships into adulthood -- as well as made new friends through my family -- and the structure of my life has changed: marriage, children and an inability to start drinking margaritas at 5 p.m. and keep going until two in the morning (most of the time).

Yet the need to maintain these crucial relationships remains, happily carried out over nights out with mom friends or talking over coffee or wine with childhood friends during much anticipated and too infrequent visits.

Despite claims that the show took extreme liberties with the term "reality," my attachment to "The Hills" lies in its seemingly raw moments of friendship, of which there are many; Lauren's emotional goodbye before Whitney moves to New York City, or her much buzzed-about reunion with Heidi at a Hollywood party, after years of turmoil.

My life now, with my husband and two small children, is nothing short of wonderful, but my days often end with a slight backache and inability to do anything but watch the television lineup on offer.

For me, that lineup once included "The Hills," and with that unfailing dose of entertainment, a reminder that I used to compare outfit choices with my roommates at 9 p.m., the night wide open for adventure and heartfelt conversations.

And also, the much-needed reminder that those moments are still ours for the taking.

My friends and I will always have Brody's beach house. Or something like it.