We’ve come a long way since The Hills’ Lauren Conrad chose her relationship over a career-advancing trip to Paris in a reality TV twist on The Devil Wears Prada. The hotly anticipated premiere of The Hills: New Beginnings came and went on Monday night without any of the characters getting drunk, having a screaming match at a club, or pensively gazing at the Pacific Ocean after making a life-altering decision. They are all grown up and honestly, it’s a little bit boring.
The most notable difference between MTV’s reboot of The Hills and the original is the absence of LC and her mascara-soaked tears. And yet, though the rest of the gang is back together (save for Kristin Cavallari and Lo Bosworth), the show barely resembles its predecessor. Production values are higher, highlights are less tacky. Side note: the women of The Hills truly know how to make a television comeback; they all somehow look more radiant than they did ten years ago. Whether the change is due to low-rise jeans going out of style, a decrease in binge-drinking, or an increase in Botox is unclear. Brody Jenner is married. Audrina Patridge is divorced. Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, who bill themselves as one of the media’s most-hated couples, are living in domestic bliss with their toddler son Gunner.
Monday night’s premiere began promisingly with Audrina, Heidi, and Whitney back together again, nursing glasses of champagne and exchanging parenting advice. It was amusing to watch notorious party girl Heidi lament the anxieties of being a helicopter mom who can’t leave her child alone for a night out. Audrina is the first to cry—seven minutes into the episode—while discussing her divorce from BMX rider Corey Bohan, with whom she shares a child.
There is something comforting about seeing these familiar characters on screen working through surprisingly normal problems (although this is admittedly not why people watch reality television). And then there’s also the amusing way the show seems to poke fun at how run-of-the-mill the lives of its stars are, in spite of the clearly abnormal circumstances of wealth and fame. Spencer Pratt and Frankie Delgado, for example—once notorious womanizers—judge Brody Jenner for not being ready to be a father. “What’s wrong with you that you don’t want to have kids?” Frankie scoffs. Because now, having a family is cool, and wanting to party all the time is not.
The show’s juiciest source of drama for New Beginnings will likely be the tension between estranged siblings Spencer and Stephanie Pratt. Stephanie, who has appeared on U.K. reality TV show Made in Chelsea and acquired a dubious British accent since The Hills ended, has had a fraught relationship with her brother and his wife, famously revealing that she found out about her nephew’s birth from the Daily Mail.
Another tense moment came when Spencer confronted former BFF Brody about not being invited to his 2018 wedding to Kaitlynn Carter. Judging by the dramatic pauses and emotionally-charged looks exchanged during the revelation, this will not be the last we hear of the snub. It was also revealed that Jenner is a DJ—is this something people knew about? Is it a real career or just a rich-kid side hobby? Audrina seemed extremely concerned that poor Kaitlynn would be left to raise a child all alone with Jenner traveling the world due to his strenuous DJing schedule.
A new addition to the cast, Brandon Thomas Lee, made a brief introductory appearance. I am just going to say right now that it is weird how much younger he is than everyone else. And it pokes holes in the “reality” notion of reality TV, because it seems inconceivable that this rich 23-year-old model, son of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, actually hangs out with a group of thirtysomething parents who have all been friends for over a decade. His house also seems to be larger and nicer than those of his castmates, which maybe explains why they are so eager to befriend someone 10 years their junior. One of the most delightful parts of the premiere episode, however, is witnessing Pamela Anderson in action as a mother. Spoiler alert: she disapproves of Lucky Charms cereal and accidentally burns her son while trying to cleanse him with sage.
The biggest disappointment of the episode was that Mischa Barton did not appear until the 40-minute mark. Yes, we had to wait a full 40 minutes for Marissa Cooper, the pleated-denim-skirt queen of The O.C., to grace us with her presence. Barton’s distinctive vocal fry, crackling in voiceover, is sure to inundate viewers with waves of early-aughts nostalgia. She only got about five minutes of screen time between commercial breaks, during which she updated Stephanie on her traumatic 2017 revenge porn lawsuit. MTV, if you are reading this: please give us more Mischa.
Barton’s role on the show blurs the line between reality and scripted television. She is after all famous for being an actor, and the show that shot her to stardom, The O.C., inspired Laguna Beach, which became The Hills. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, president of Entertainment for MTV Nina L. Diaz explained the decision to cast Mischa, saying, “We loved the art-imitating-life aspect.”
Diaz also emphasized that a revival of The Hills was inevitable. “The idea was always—we’d be crazy not to bring it back,” she told THR. “The Hills was an iconic series that indelibly shaped the landscape of unscripted TV. It truly is a pop-culture phenomenon.”