What do you get when you follow the lives of eight high school students, building narratives out of their real-life everyday problems, for months? MTV calls it a "reality drama." Others might call it a "docusoap."

MTV's half-hour Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County premieres tonight, Tuesday, September 28, at 10:30 ET. The show focuses on eight students at Laguna Beach High School in Orange County -- part of The O.C.'s "Golden Triangle" with Newport Beach and Irvine (not that there's anything wrong with Dana Point, mind you) from the middle of the 2003-04 school year (February '04) to the end of summer (late August '04).

The students -- seniors Lauren ("Lo") Bosworth, Stephen Coletti, Lauren ("LC") Conrad (who also serves as narrator), Morgan Olsen, Trey Phillips and Christina Schuller and juniors Talan Torriero and Kristin Cavalleri -- formed a high-school clique in this wealthy coastal artistic enclave. However, filming at Laguna Beach High School itself was blocked, even though the local school board had initially agreed to it, in part due to the "Nipplegate" controversy from MTV's Super Bowl halftime show.

Without the school, lots of other area hot spots came to play prominent roles. According to the L.A. Times, some of the spots in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach that were featured include the beach itself, Ruby's Diner, Surf and Sport (where Stephen, the object of desire for both LC and Kristin, worked), Fashion Island and "both the ice cream spots in town," as well as the kids' parents' fancy (and expensive) homes.

Executive producer Tony DiSanto told the NY Post that "I've always wanted to try to do a reality show that would use the visual language of a narrative like in feature and dramas instead of the visual language of a documentary. And since the show The O.C. is such a big hit with our viewers and teens in general, we thought it might be cool to see what the real kids out in the O.C. were doing. What we wound up with is a reality version of a scripted drama."

Perhaps a better analogy, though, is to a soap opera, since the main "plot" involves Stephen and his manipulative romps with LC, his longtime friend and occasional companion, and his "new girlfriend," drama queen Kristin. The airheadedness sometimes makes the "drama" a little hard to take, as in the following exchange:

Friend: "If you and Stephen ever had babies, they'd be so good looking."
Kristin: "They would, 'cause Stephen's all tan."

We leave it to Kristin and her parents to complain that the show makes her look dumber than she really is. But Stephen doesn't come off much better, especially in this quote about his two girl/friends:

"Kristin's a really good girl to hook up with and have fun with. And that's why I'm so amped on her. And I love, like - we can just have like so much fun. But coming down like the boyfriend and girlfriend stuff, it's, like, Lauren would be like a better girl."

Like, we're amped on it, dude. We certainly understand LC's appeal: she's pretty, smart and rich, and her architect father is having a new house built for their family that is so big that even Stephen describes as reminding him of "the houses on The OC." The real Orange County? Perhaps if you're related to famous O.C. billionaires like Donald Bren or Warren Buffett.

Critics have generally been kind to the previews of the first episode, especially the soapier aspects. For example, the NY Times described Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County as "a nervous, thrilled look at a tribe of kids making romance out of shared mood swings over one hallucinogenically sexual summer." The so-called "Gray Lady" also loved this exchange of dialogue between Kristin and boyfriend-wannabe Talan, presaging future catfights (or should that be "kittenfights"?):

Kristin: "I'm really stressed out on Stephen and Lauren. Last night, he told me he was going to bed early. And then today I found out that he was at her house and --"
Talan: "Do you know if they hooked up?"
Kristin: "He says that they didn't."
Talan: "Does that bother you? It's kind of funny, you guys like have a relationship, but it's on and off. You hook up with him; he hooks up with Lauren. You hook up with him; he hooks up with Lauren. I come in on the side and kind of like grab one of you. You know what I mean? Gosh. Our town is so small. We need another girl."
Kristin: "What's that supposed to mean?"

Does Talan actually have to tell Kristin what that's supposed to mean? If you are interested in the answer to that question, then this unscripted docusoap is for you.

Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County is produced by Go Go Lucky Productions. MTV's Liz Gateley created the concept; it was developed by Gary Auerbach and Adam DiVello. Executive producers include Dave Sirulnick, Tony DiSanto, Auerbach and Gateley. (But the most important person may have been casting director Morgan Fahey, if she was the one responsible for finding a real-life clique that was willing to share the members' personal lives with America.)