It's a question that shows from "Fame" to "Beverly Hills 90210" to "The O.C." have faced: Is there life after high school? For MTV's sun-dappled, baby-oiled reality show "Laguna Beach," the answer is, yes, and it's in L.A.
Leaving the gated communities and oceanfront drama of Orange County behind, former "Laguna Beach" star Lauren Conrad gets her very own spin-off Wednesday night with "The Hills" (10 p.m., MTV), an "unscripted" look at the life of young, subsidized lovelies in the City of Angels.
The latest in MTV's growing stable of money porn, "The Hills" finds Lauren sunning poolside at her "Melrose Place"-style apartment complex, enrolled in fashion school and licking envelopes at Teen Vogue, where one editor warns that "you need to have a lot of experience in writing and fashion and publicity if you want to be an intern [here]," and then promptly offers Lauren the job. Apparently experience doesn't matter when there's a camera following your every move, especially when that camera has a direct line to Teen Vogue's target demographic.
Like "Laguna Beach," "The Hills" features a cast of long-locked bathing beauties and a rotating gaggle of spiky-haired young men in distressed denim. The adults include Teen Vogue's West Coast editor Lisa Love, who acts the villain with her best Anna Wintour impression.
Many of Love's readers weren't alive when MTV launched its first (and arguably the first) reality series, "The Real World," in 1992. Back then, the trend-setting network pinned its hopes on seven seemingly middle-class Americans, many with bad skin and worse fashion sense. Since then, the network has transformed itself from a mirror of teen life into a hub for faux glamor ("Tiara Girls"), wannabe models ("8th & Ocean") and Daddy's super-spoiled brats ("My Super Sweet 16"). It's now a network where Lauren's roommate can say, "I want to be the fun, party PR girl in L.A.," with a straight face, because she knows that with the celeb-status bestowed upon MTV reality stars, she's on her way. Never mind that skeptical college adviser. Never mind college, really.
Compared with the superhit "Sweet 16," "The Hills" is more refined in its celebration of materialism, though no less celebratory. It provides all the pleasures of escapist TV -- money, celebrity, romance, bikinis -- but steers clear of the crass entitlement so central to that other show. Lauren is never going to say, "I'm a princess," or "everybody wants to be me."
She'll just think it.