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A Tale of 'The Hills'

MTV's larger-than-reality phenomenon, The Hills, is about to return with its fourth season. Spot-on reflective of this twenty-something generation of self-made celebrity, the show's cultural impact is undeniable—even if many of its fans (including myself) don't claim to even find its cast of characters particularly loveable. It's all about our evolving sense of voyeurism, you see—we initially tuned in to witness the private heartaches of the popular kids' table, but as its cast has grown more and more famous, we've become more interested in catching the surprisingly mundane social dramas of young Hollywood and debating how much of the production is actually real.

One could even argue that we've made The Hills into our very own generational epic.

In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Tony DiSanto or MTV Networks goes as far as to give the show Dickensian dimensions. ''It's almost becoming like a novel at this point, like this generation's A Tale of Two Cities or Oliver Twist," he says.

Quite the statement—but to a demographic that usually prefers snarky, three-paragraph blogs to investigative essays and blurry Youtube-clips to polished documentaries, The Hills can feel poignant, dreamy, and one-of a kind: Its seemingly private window into the lives of the rich is glistening and meticulously produced, from its sitcom-esque opening credits to its candle-lit VIP rooms and sun-tinted L.A. landscapes. Somewhere between witnessing Britney shaving her head and Lindsey climbing panty-less out of a car, we have begun hoping for Hollywood to re-instate a shred of its old magic. It's a call that MTV happily answers

If The Hills wasn't so original, it could easily feel almost retro: today's celebs, from Rosie O'Donnell to Miley Cyrus, maintain their own Myspace pages and spit out blurry, obviously self-produced video content into the entertainment vacuum. No-one is holding their webcams, and it shows. The Hills, however, involves multiple cameras and production team members in each shoot. The show takes its time, often spending several episodes to untangle story lines that never quite land anywhere and showing its starlets chitchatting over Pinkberry and cocktails (frequently, not much is said). A single 30-minute episode takes several weeks to film.

Because Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag and other main players on The Hills have become arguably as recognizable as Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and the like, the avenue of their fame also represents something truly unique. This weekly reality drama is the only place in which we see the objects of our curiosity both be themselves and act unaware of the constant presence of cameras.

In the case of The Hills, of course, both are likely to be an illusion—but knowing that's the case only deepens its allure.

For more on The Hills' glossy appeal, see Rolling Stone's May cover story.