‘The Hills: New Beginnings’ Team on How the Pandemic Made Season 2 ‘Raw and Vulnerable’

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The cast and crew of MTV’s “The Hills: New Beginnings” were just a few weeks into filming Season 2 when the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that just immediately, it was super frustrating because we had been so excited to get going for Season 2 and we had a ton of really interesting developments,” executive producer Alex Baskin says of the halt in production. “We were all bummed out because we were hitting our stride, and then we were sidelined for a while.”

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Production on “The Hills: New Beginnings” didn’t fully resume until November 2020, but Baskin wasn’t worried about the time spent apart affecting the quality of the show.

“The thing about this group is that there’s always story in that the relationships are always changing anyway, so you can always pick back up — it’s just at a different place,” Baskin says.

Indeed, if the cast of “The Hills” has one thing in common, it’s history. Series leads Brody Jenner, Audrina Patridge and Spencer and Heidi Pratt — alongside regulars Whitney Port, Frankie Delgado, Justin Bobby Brescia and Jason Wahler — skyrocketed to fame on the original show, “The Hills,” which aired from 2006 to 2010 and exposed both the promise and harsh reality of living and working in Los Angeles. Though the series underwent a major change when its star, Lauren Conrad, departed in its fifth season and was replaced by Kristin Cavallari, its most important pillar remained: inter-personal drama.

That certainly continued in the first season of the revival, which features much of the original “Hills” crew, along with their partners (Ashley Wahler, Jennifer Delgado, Kaitlynn Carter) and newcomers (Brandon Thomas Lee and Mischa Barton, who is not returning for Season 2). The main plot points centered around Patridge and Brescia’s on-again off-again relationship, Jenner and Carter’s rocky marriage and the Pratts’ vow renewal. But in its second season, Baskin promises that things are about to get more real than ever before.

Baskin explains that due to COVID-19, the cast formed its own bubble, not interacting with anyone outside of their families and the group. This caused them to grow closer, but also intensified any tensions between them.

“They were centrally in each other’s lives, where ordinarily during filming, the rest of their real lives continue while we’re making the show,” Baskin says. “There was no ‘rest of their real lives’ to continue, so this is really about the collision of the group. And that’s why I think that things develop quickly and intensely this season, just because the conditions forced that to happen.”

During this season, everyone has their own struggles that get amplified by COVID-19, Baskin says. Jenner and Carter cope with moving on after the end of their relationship; Patridge deals with dating in a pandemic; the Pratts, Delgados and newcomer Caroline D’Amore struggle to keep their businesses afloat, and Jason Wahler strives to stick to his sobriety while preparing for a new baby.

“The challenging part was not being able to have other people that are in our lives on the show,” Jenner says. “It was just the cast a lot of the time, which created a lot of conflict. When you’re always around the same group of people, something’s bound to go down.”

As Baskin puts it, “there was no hiding” — from reality or from the cameras — this season.

“It’s much more intimate, and they all sort of had no choice,” he explains. “Everyone had their moments that were difficult because that’s life anyway and that’s the challenge of being on the show, and there was no escape.”

This led to the taping of much more vulnerable moments, like some difficult conversations between Jenner and Carter post-breakup. Jenner says that he and Carter are “in a great place” and “really close friends” now, but the extra time spent with the cast caused feelings to be rekindled between him and Patridge, who briefly hooked up during the original “Hills.”

“You see some mingling with in the cast,” Jenner says. “We were spending a lot of time together, so I definitely hooked up with Audrina.”

One of the biggest plot points teased in the Season 2 trailer is a kiss shared between Jenner and Patridge — but it’s unclear how far the relationship went beyond that. Patridge says it was hard to start something new with Jenner while being around the rest of the group 24/7.

“Brody and I have always had a flirty friendship, and I think this season we kind of explored more of that,” Patridge says. “I think there’s a lot of moments where it was a whole group thing — where everybody knows everything. At all of our dinners when we were all together, it was definitely a topic of conversation that sometimes was not the most comfortable. I’d just sit there and be like, ‘You guys, just stop!'”

Another one of Jenner’s exes from the original “Hills,” Cavallari, also makes an appearance in the show. Though she is not cited as a main cast member, Heidi Pratt said the reunion — especially during COVID-19 times — was like a breath of fresh air in the group.

“I love Kristin, I’ve known her since ‘Laguna Beach’ so it’s always fun, because I feel like she’s always been such a part of our lives,” Heidi Pratt says. “The group loves her. It was just very refreshing to see her.”

D’Amore is also a new face in the cast, though Baskin says she has been friends with the group for years and was a “natural integration.” The co-owner of L.A. pizza chain D’Amore’s Pizza, which was founded by her parents, D’Amore had just launched her own line of pizza and pasta sauces when the pandemic hit. The show will explore her struggles with her business, as well as a recent divorce. As a newcomer, D’Amore believes she brought some authenticity to the series.

“A lot of [the cast] have admitted that last season wasn’t extremely authentic, and I’ve been told that I do bring a no filter truth serum to everything I do,” D’Amore says. “I’m not very composed and I just wear my heart on my sleeve and live every day to do my best. I think I definitely bring a different dynamic in that way.”

D’Amore warns not everyone put forth their true colors: “It was weird to see some people who are like real people, and some people who — I think when you do a show like this for years and years, your whole life, that’s your reality.”

Though the cast’s closeness certainly caused conflict, it also created more of a family environment, which Ashley Wahler says led to more transparency within the group.

“It felt so great to be able to be together, but it also was an opportunity for us to really be so raw and vulnerable with each other and create a new, family relationship,” she explains. “A lot of us were going through very challenging times and there was no other way to hide it but to just be honest and talk about it. So I think, in a weird way, that was great because it showed a lot of depth.”

As infection rates in the U.S. drop and vaccination numbers rise, Baskin is hopeful that “The Hills: New Beginnings” will provide an honest look into the pandemic, while also providing the escapist, “comfort food” quality for which the franchise is known.

“We wanted to find the balance between acknowledging the conditions of the world, but not dwelling on them. Because the truth is, that’s not fun to watch,” Baskin says. “As much as we weren’t able to interact with the world in a way that people like to see in this show, this season is a reminder that at its core, this is a show about a group of people and the dynamics between them. I think that the rawness and the reality of it will connect [with the audience] maybe in a way that hasn’t even happened before.”

“The Hills: New Beginnings” Season 2 premieres May 12 at 9 p.m. on MTV.

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