'The Hills': A Beginner's Guide

Maybe you've seen this Lauren Conrad character on magazine covers at the checkout counter. Maybe you've come across a "Heidi and Spence Split!!!" headline on some gossip blog. Maybe your kids can't stop talking about it.

Regardless, if you haven't watched it, you're probably wondering: What is "The Hills" and why should I care about it?

In short: It's MTV's 2-year-old, ultra-popular reality show about four rich, beautiful 20-somethings trying to find themselves in Los Angeles.

The dialogue will make you appreciate the talents of Hollywood's back-at-work writers and the "reality" it depicts is clearly contrived by producers.

But it's a fascinating look what qualifies for fame in the age of TMZ and how banal the lives of the supposedly fabulous can be.

And it's coming back with a batch of new episodes tonight. So lest you be struck dumb at the proverbial water cooler Tuesday morning, read on to get up to speed on the women of the "The Hills" without sitting through one of MTV's mind-numbing marathons.

The Popular Blonde: Lauren Conrad

It all started with Lauren Conrad, the 22-year-old petite blonde who co-starred in the first two seasons of MTV's reality-soap about privileged west coast high schoolers, "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County."

In 2006, after leaving Laguna to pursue a degree from L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Conrad was approached by MTV producers interested in making her the star of a reality show based on her hooking up, going out and furthering her fashion career (pretty much in that order).

And so, in the first season of "The Hills," cameras followed Conrad as she moved into a tony L.A. townhouse with her latest best friend, Heidi Montag (more on her later).

When she wasn't agonizing over whether her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Jason Wahler, was the love of her life or the scum of the earth, Conrad spent her days at FIDM and the offices of Teen Vogue, where she interned, and her nights on the town at L.A.'s hottest clubs.

At the end of her internship (which conveniently coincided with the end of the "Hills" season) Conrad was presented a choice: spend the summer in Paris with her Teen Vogue editor, or waste away in a beach house with Wahler. She picked the guy; their relationship ended for good soon after.

Seasons two and three of "The Hills" focused on Conrad's epic falling out with Montag and her search for a suitor, most notably in playboy Brody Jenner. But her off-screen activities are what's getting her the most attention.

She parlayed her "Hills" gig into a fashion line in which she has full creative power. She paraded her latest collection down the runway at L.A.'s fashion week earlier this month, though critical reception was far from favorable -- New York Magazine called the Paris-inspired line "sadly kind of tragique."

She told The Wall Street Journal that she also wants to launch a line of furniture and eventually, a charitable foundation. She also scored the cover of the business bible and celebrity tome Us Weekly in the same week.

So, while the minutiae of Conrad's every day life may seem yawn-worthy on screen, Conrad's real real life is pretty sweet.

The Popular Blonde's Best Friend Turned Arch Nemesis: Heidi Montag

As Brenda was to Kelly in "Beverly Hills, 90210," Heidi is to Lauren (except she's a bottle blonde as well).

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