MTV recently announced that Brody Jenner, the less than entirely convincing Lothario from "The Hills," has scored his own spin-off reality series called "Bro-mance," wherein he searches for a new best friend to replace the hole left in his heart by Spencer Pratt. Given the fact that virtually everyone in Brody's family and circle of friends and hangers-on already has their own reality show, this news seemed almost inevitable. Yet there was still something utterly, stupidly depressing about it.
Brody is a peripheral character....errr cast member on a reality show that is in and of itself a spin-off of another reality show. If you will indulge me, he is Dwayne Wayne to Lauren Conrad's Denise Huxtable. Let me revise that: Spencer, in all his absurdity, probably has more in common with Dwayne Wayne; Brody definitely lacks the panache required to wear flip-up shades. He's more like Ron, the sidekick who was always trying to woo Whitley's friend whose name I forget.
But I digress. My point is that, even though it's nominally a reality show, and more accurately should be called a docu-soap, lately "The Hills" has been showing all the signs of a struggling sitcom. As much as it pains me to say it, I think that "The Hills" may have jumped the proverbial shark, like so many beloved shows before it. The stultifying trailer for Season 4, which starts today, only makes me fear for the worst. It also makes me wonder why LC hasn't at this point invested in some waterproof mascara.
Anyway, think back, if you will, to the days of yore, when scripted comedies with laugh tracks dominated network television line-ups. There were certain surefire signs--usually arriving sometime around the 5th season--that a series had exhausted itself creatively and was now running on fumes.
Consider the evidence I've gathered:
THEN: Remember when "Kate and Allie" relocated from their adorable, cozy, heavily-wallpapered West Village townhouse (which they insisted, curiously, on calling an "apartment") and into a sleek, soulless apartment somewhere in a Midtown highrise? No? If not, then unlike me, you clearly aren't watching "WE: Women's Entertainment" very much during at 10 am on weekdays. Allie was engaged, and understandably--moved in with her fiancé. But, in a move that in real life would be considered downright creepy and grounds for an immediate break-up--Kate moved into the new apartment as well. Viewers were understandably grossed out by the whole thing--and by the wall-to-wall carpeting in the soulless new digs--and the show was cancelled.
NOW: This season, Lauren (think of her as Allie, but more uptight) and Audrina (think of her as Kate, with a spray tan and a lobotomy) moved from their already luxurious apartment to an utterly enormous house, complete with a pool and guesthouse. They also gained a third roommate, "Lo," who also happens to be Lauren's best friend "since forever." Predictably, bitchy "Mean Girls"-style maneuvering ensued. Sorry, but it's just hard to care anymore once you figure these girls aren't paying a penny to live in any of these sprawling homes, and that their relentless whining takes place in a total voice of responsibility, other than making it to Equinox on time.
SEE ALSO: Facts of Life, Friends, Webster
2. GOING ON LOCATION
THEN: Remember when the Seaver Family went on a cruise on "Growing Pains"? It was when Mike was going out with the babysitter played by Julie McCullough, before Jesus Freak Kirk Cameron had her run outta town. Or when the kids from "Head of the Class" went to Moscow to play chess against their gifted commie counterparts? Or even when the "Facts of Life" kids went to Paris? Not unlike the apartment switcharoo in "Kate and Allie," the exotic locale is almost always a sure sign of creative bankruptcy and a temporary distraction.
NOW: The very best episode of this past season was the very first one, in which Whitney and Lauren wer--to the surprise of no one--whisked away to Paris for a few days of "work." There, Lauren had a brief encounter with a handsome, scruffy Parisian (he even smoked-how gross!) and burned her one of a kind dress with a curling iron. Unfortunately the producers squandered what actually would have been a great plot twist--sheltered OC girl tries to make it in a foreign city. It's hard to be convinced that Lauren ever had it tough making it in LA, but in Paris, it would have been a different story. Just think of how those surly Parisians would have treated her. Truly, this was a missed opportunity and an expensive gimmick. C'est la vie.
SEE ALSO: Saved by the Bell, Head of the Class, Facts of Life, Family Ties, and of course, The Brady Bunch.
3. LOATHSOME YOUNGER RELATIVES
THEN: In the last season of "Diff'rent Strokes," Mr. Drummond (or "Dad," as he was known to his adopted teenage children after the first season) finally got remarried to Maggie, played Dixie Carter. At this late point in the series, Kimberly had already abruptly left to "study in Paris" (a move later copied by Brenda Walsh), and even Arnold had outgrown his genetically-prolonged cuteness, so the series was desperately in need of some new life blood. Unfortunately, this new blood came in the form of a truly despicable, precocious red-head named Sam, Maggie's son, who proved to be the show's Jar-Jar Binks, full of one-liners fit for a Borcsht Belt comedian. Luckily us, the show was cancelled before the writers had the chance to rapidly age him.
NOW: The major development of Season 3 of "The Hills" was the arrival of Stephanie Pratt. Beyond the fact that she looks eerily like a combination of her brother and his fiancé and makes some creative hairstyling decisions, Stephanie has contributed very little to a show that doesn't ask for much from its cast members. Mostly, she just sucks up to Lauren, pretends to learn about fashion merchandising, and unconvincingly acts mad at Spencer. Next season brings yet another blonde, look-alike sibling with the arrival of Heidi's younger sister. Oy. Where is Sam when you need him?
SEE ALSO: Growing Pains, The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, Full House
4. TROUBLING PHYSICAL TRANSFORMATION OF CAST MEMBERS
THEN: My personal favorite sitcom of all time is "The Facts of Life," a show that managed to survive for nearly a decade despite a highly convoluted premise that only got worse through several overhauls (teenagers at an all girls-school get into trouble and move into a café with their dorm mother, and when it burns down they start a store selling plastic palm trees?). It even gave us 4 iconic characters: Jo, Blaire, Tootie and Natalie. Each of the four girls was a bit of a stereotype, but as the show progressed, they all kind of blurred. The cast members famously put on a lot of weight seemingly all at the same time, and started to look like busty middle-aged soccer moms, and not the teenagers they were supposed to be. Aesthetics aside, the collective weight gain only emphasized the fact that Tootie, Natalie, Blaire and Jo had outgrown (sorry) their roles, and that it was time to, um, get a life.
NOW: One of the surest signs of Spencer's nefarious influence on Heidi is her startling physical transformation from Season 1. She started the show as a pretty, doe-eyed waifish blonde, only to get basketball implants and a nose job after hooking up with Spencer. Things only worsened in Season 3, as Heidi's lips got progressively huger with each passing episode, and her already skinny frame got even more so. Occasional guest start Jenn Bunny followed in Heidi's footsteps and got a nose job, and now it looks like Audrina may have gotten implants too. Do all of Lauren's ex-besties resort to surgery?
SEE ALSO: GROWING PAINS, FRIENDS
5. MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
THEN: Kirk Cameron and Lisa Welchel became devout Christians.
NOW: Heidi Montag recently declared her intent to record a Christian Rock album.
THEN: Valerie Harper was replaced by Sandy Duncan on ''The Hogan Family"; Charlotte Rae was replaced by Chloris Leachman on "The Facts of Life"
NOW: Bitchy Boss Lisa love is replaced this season by bitchy boss Kelly Cutrone.
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