MTV's popular reality show "The Hills" — about blonde, breast-enhanced 20-somethings and their romantic partners — ended its six-year run Tuesday night with an intriguing finale. For years, critics have questioned the sweeping camera moves and tidily dramatic plot lines that played more like a soap opera than "reality." As if addressing this debate, the finale's last sequence began by showing what appeared to be a real Los Angeles street with the Hollywood sign in the distance — until the camera pulled back to reveal that the action had actually unfolded in a sprawling movie studio with the famous vista nothing but a paper backdrop. "Did 'The Hills' just get smart?" as one critic suggested, or was the "unveiling" just a winky gesture that proves nothing conclusively? (Watch the final scene below)
The finale cleverly admitted to deception: "It was a smart and clever to break the fourth wall and acknowledge how fake 'The Hills' often was,” says Andy Dehnart, the editor of Reality Blurred, as quoted in The New York Times, though enough of the show's "alleged veracity" has "remained intact for apologists to cling to." That last scene was also cleverly ambiguous: Much of it "appeared to be filmed on a real street in front of the real Hollywood sign, so on some level, the producers have left open the possibility that those final few moments were just a joke at critics' expense."
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Sure, but it undermined the fan's experience: Instead of allowing longtime viewers, and cast members, vaguely genuine, if saccharine emotions, the show went for an expediently shocking gimmick, says Ben Mandelker at B-Side. "I suppose this was MTV's response to all those people who questioned the 'reality' of the series — What's real? What's fake? Where is the line? — but it felt a bit tacked on."
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And it was ultimately deflating: "I wasn't so much insulted by 'The Hills' finale twist... as I was annoyed," says Brooke Bizzell Stachyra at iVillage. Sure, I knew the producers played a part in the story lines, but I preferred to believe that the characters' relationships were grounded in some sort of authenticity. "Knowing that so much of the show was outright fake was not 'a wink' [as producers described it]; it was a letdown."
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