Monday, May 24, 2010

Guilty Pleasures: I Totally Watch(ed) Laguna Beach

Also from the category of Things I Watched During Law School When I Hated My Life:

Before Speidi's Reign of Terror, before any of these way-too-young girlies had ever even HEARD of Botox, before living in Los Angeles was even a twinkle in Ms. Lauren Conrad's eye, there was a docu-soap (emphasis on the soap) depicting the "real life Orange County" that possessed all the trashy fun of The Hills, minus the plastic faces and scary overtones of domestic violence.

There was . . . Laguna Beach.

It started off innocently enough: executive producer Liz Gateley, a former lawer, wanted to make a reality show that was filmed more like one of those crazy-rich-kid dramas on what's now the CW.  You know, pretty people with problems!  Originally the show was to be set in Beverly Hills, but the MTV powers-that-be eventually settled on Laguna Beach, an Orange County suburb by the sea that started off as an artists' community.  Laguna forbade shooting within the high school, but no matter, because who the hell cares about watching kids in class anyway?  If you remember high school like I do, it's all about what happens when you run into your crush in public, when you don't get asked to the dance, and where you stay in Cabo on spring break!  (Okay, maybe not that last one.  For me, spring break was called Easter break because I went to a Catholic high school, and for me "staying in Cabo" translated to "watching TV in my basement, fighting with my little sister and making out with my boyfriend.")

Anyhoozle, season 1 followed a nice girl named Lauren (or LC), as she pined after her childhood buddy Stephen, currenly in the manicured-talon clutches of the "evil" Kristin (famous for her "Stepheeeeen" whine).  Lauren was sweet if a little dim and had a fun group of friends, including shopaholic daddy's girl Lo, master of white guilt Trey, and puffy-faced Dieter.  Also Christina, a televangelist-type minister's daughter with a singing voice like a crow with laryngitis and Mormon Morgan who resembled a tanned chipmunk.  Most of the gang were seniors, though Kristin was a year younger, so season 1 ended with them departing for college.  Season 2 was set to follow Kristin and her clique during their own senior year.


Lauren was nooooot happy in college.  After one semester, she came home to Laguna and commuted to a nearby school.  Stephen stayed in San Francisco, but came home so much I wouldn't be surprised if dude flunked out.  Apparently he wasn't over Kristin, or Lauren for that matter.

Here's the thing about the return of these two: I'm sure Lauren's homecoming had something to do with the fact that she could be on TV if she stayed in Laguna.  However . . . I dunno.  I think if she HAD been truly happy, she would have stayed in San Fran.  I mean, she's not the first to go away to college and find out it's not for her.  Stephen, however, UGH.  I never thought he was a bad guy (especially when compared to one Spencer Pratt), but wannabe famewhore just radiated through this guy's pores like oil on average-looking teens.  In short, Lauren never struck me as particularly calculating (even during all her years on The Hills), but Stephen was gunning for more camera time.

But enough about season 1.  Granted, it was cute, but fairly boring.

Season 2, however, was fucking EPIC.  You had Kristin as your main narrator, and while Lauren was sweet and relatable, Kristin was . . . kind of a bitch.  But in a fun way!  Girl had a stronger sense of self than most high schoolers, and preferred being the player to being the one who got played.  And Kristin's circle of friends were TV gold: her loyal sidekick Alex H., drama queen Alex M., and . . . Jessica.

Here's the thing: Jessica was in love with mumbly "heartthrob" (though I never saw the appeal, he always seemed stoned to me) Jason.  For a while he reciprocated, then fell for the charms of Alex M.  And no one could really blame him, seeing as Jessica was Fatal Attraction-level obsessive psycho.  I'm not talking insecure high school girl who gets screwed over by the bad boy (because that's fairly typical at that age).  I'm talking constant henpecker, no life to speak of, super-duper uber annoying, wouldn't ever shut up about JasonJasonJason.  We've all known this girl.  TV GOLD.

Then, OMG!  Lauren fell for Jason.  And in something so grainily filmed that I'm 99% sure it wasn't set up by producers, HE KISSED JESSICA IN FRONT OF LAUREN.  Another part of the reason I'm sure this wasn't staged is that the event in question took place at a benefit fashion show involving all of the cast, meaning the camera crew was going to be there anyway.  In fact, they'd done a similar benefit in season 1, minus any real drama.  Jason was drunk, Jessica was stupid, and Lauren was quite rightly heartbroken.  The Hills only wishes it were this real.

After season 2, Laguna Beach died a slow death.  Season 3 had an all-new cast of characters, but good-girl Tessa was not the compelling narrator Lauren or Kristin had been.  No charisma whatsoever.  Also, "nemesis" character was clearly just angling for her 15 minutes and was never particularly likable or interesting.  And that's the thing about Kristin: she wasn't always likable, but she was always interesting. (Think Don Draper with highlights and a bikini.)  The next year, Gateley and co-creator Adam Divello moved the party to Newport Harbor, but it never really caught on.

Even in its heyday, Laguna Beach never had the ratings and subsequent paparazzi obsession of The Hills.  Its following was "cult" at best, mostly teenyboppers and the errant adults who just wanted some shallow escapism with a chaser of pretty scenery.  But as I'm now covering The Hills for TVGasm, I must say that I kind of miss the old days of LB.  No Spencer Pratt or dead-eyed Audrina: that goes without saying.  However, with Laguna Beach, I really did get a more "slice of life, only prettier" feel that's always been missing from The Hills, even in its pre-Pratt days.  Because even with its most producer-prompted conversations (and sometimes relationships), LB WAS like high school.  I mean, my own high school was as different from Laguna Beach High as wormy week-old apples are to pristine hormone-injected peaches.  Yet I do remember the drama.  The love triangles.  The feeling that every move you made or boy you loved was totally FOREVER and was going to affect the rest of your life.  I'll paraphrase the last episode of Dawson's Creek here: "I'm not saying this is exactly how it happened.  But this is how it felt."

And because of that, I bought season 2 secondhand at my funky neighborhood record store and didn't give a rip that the hipster clerk was obviously judging me.

Like totally.

Here's MAD TV's brilliant season 2 parody.  That show was highly underrated, yo.


  1. I share your love for LB seasons 1 and 2. I always wanted to hate Kristin, but she was so good at what she was doing, I never could. Ack.

  2. RIGHT? She was just too funny and confident to hate.

    I also thought the MadTV actress was spot on in her impression. "JESSICA!"

  3. Admission: I have the first 2 seasons on DVD. (Never saw the third, because what the hell? Who are those people?) I understand the shame of evil salesperson judgment eyes all too well.

    Who would've thought that Mad TV would actually be so right on the money, though? It's every episode of LB in a nutshell.

  4. Laguna Beach! I never even heard of this! The only times I ever visited Laguna Beach were to visit Mr. Bryn's grandparents, so this is funny to me :)

    Don Draper with highlights and a bikini is surprisingly easy to imagine.

  5. I've never seen Laguna Beach either, but I hear you on having a guilty pleasure. I'm such a Real Housewives (New York and Jersey) fan, it's embarrassing.

  6. Lorelai: I also have season 1 (Christmas present from Bob, who got it on sale at Blockbuster). And Mad TV has not one but TWO brilliant Hills parodies, not to mention another LB parody that's also pretty funny.

    Bryn: I may or may not have taken a "fan trip" to Laguna Beach--basically, Bob drove me there and I took pictures and we ate at Pomodoro. I am a GIGANTIC dork. It's a pretty town, though.

    Sadako: I LOVE The Real Housewives, especially New Jersey. Those ladies are craaaazy. Caroline and Dina Manzo FTW!

  7. You should def do a Housewives post. I used to be all about Jersey though I'm kind of bored with them this season. How about a best of the crazies Real Housewives post? Starring Danielle!

  8. I loved Laguna Beach!!! My family vacationed there every year, so watching the series was like being home. :)

  9. omg. i loved laguna. the oldest fan of the show, no doubt! i had the biggest illegal aged crush on talan and dieter. i think i even added them on myspace - remember myspace? ha ha.