When the show premiered in January 2013 as an offshoot of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” it was a gift. A reality show about the depthless, dramatic lives of a group of friends who worked at the West Hollywood restaurant Sur; all of whom were pretty but not too pretty, dumb but not too dumb; and who lived in the thrall of the restaurant’s owner Lisa Vanderpump — truly, what could be better? There wasn’t a decent human being in the bunch, and it was thrilling. Devoid of a protagonist, “Vanderpump Rules” viewers’ alliances would shift according to who was fighting with whom, and who was more wrong. Did someone punch someone else at a party, have sex with his best friend’s girlfriend, or act like a bully? Those things were likely bad, yes — but again, maybe the other person deserved it! Who can really say.
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A brief history of “Vanderpump Rules:” The plot of the show at first revolved around Scheana Shay, trying to make friends at Sur, having transferred from Villa Blanca, one of Lisa Vanderpump’s other restaurants. As the new girl at Sur, Scheana introduced us to the rest of the cast: fellow servers surly Katie Maloney, rich kid/mean girl Stassi Schroeder, and, well, surly Kristen Doute, and bartenders Jax Taylor and Tom Sandoval. They were all actor/model/singer wannabes. Jax was dating Stassi, and Tom was dating Kristen, though — spoiler alert — Jax and Kristen would go on to hook up twice, cheating on Tom and Stassi, their purported best friends.
Katie, Stassi, and Kristen, meanwhile, hazed Scheana from the start, and it quickly became clear that Schaena, a former mistress of actor Eddie Cibrian, an aspiring singer, and then the girlfriend of Mike Shay (a dud she soon would marry who later turned out to have a massive pill addiction) was never going to fit in at Sur. Yet watching her try was utter bliss.
As the seasons have gone by, many key cast members have been added. First and foremost is Tom Schwartz, Katie’s boyfriend, turned fiancé, turned husband. It is Schwartz and Sandoval who provide the show’s central love story, however, which has culminated in a fractional ownership of Lisa’s most recent WeHo cashgrab, the bar TomTom on Santa Monica Boulevard. These two love each other like no other men ever have on television — yes, even counting David and Patrick on “Schitt’s Creek”: They have a fascinating relationship.
Ariana Madix, a bartender, arrived in Season 2 as a romantic rival to Kristen for Sandoval’s affections. Kristen never stood a chance. Ariana is a seemingly sane, genuinely cool person dropped in among these histrionic numskulls — said with love! — and Sandoval had enough sense to hitch onto her. As of Season 3, we also have James Kennedy, an ambitious British DJ also committed to alcoholism and puckish trouble-making in equal measure. In Season 4, we met Lala Kent, a party girl who upon first arrival seemed possibly to be a high-class escort. It’s a role Lala, who truly does not give a f—, would embrace — and there was a minute in 2018 when the internet would celebrate her as a feminist hero.
There’s also Beau Clark, Stassi’s boyfriend as of last season. Of all of these people, Stassi has always been the most compelling character. Her obsession with horror and violence, her genuine wit, her love of ranch dressing have been a captivating combination. And Beau may actually love Stassi, but he 100% wanted to date her in order to be on television himself, which he succeeded in doing. And that is so sad for Stassi. (They’re engaged now.)
And then there’s Brittany Cartwright. She and Jax began dating in Season 4 after they met in Las Vegas. She allegedly didn’t know who he was; when she found out, she moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles to live with him — when anyone in their right mind would have run screaming.
Brittany quickly became a part of the story of Jax Taylor, one of reality television’s greatest and most infuriating characters. He’s gone from being a wild-eyed sociopath — literally! Stassi made him take a test! — who fooled no one, to being a wild-eyed sociopath who has fooled exactly one person, his now-wife Brittany. And because the “Vanderpump Rules” cast devotedly, and somewhat inexplicably, love Brittany — with her machine-gun laugh, homophobic lineage, and aggressive ambition to be on television — many of them have gone along with the sham of Jax’s transformation, which has brought the show to its current low ebb as it became overwhelmed by his wedding to Brittany.
The ratings for “Vanderpump Rules” were ticking downward this season before the quarantine, though not dramatically so. And they’ve spiked again with everyone stuck inside. When told of this piece, a spokesperson for Bravo wrote, “Last week’s episode of #VanderpumpRules was the most-watched episode of the season with over 2M total viewers.”
So yeah, Bravo will never cancel it. However, the network has recently shown it will fire even foundational “Housewives” in order to save a show, such as the recent massacre at “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” So might that work here too, by firing, say, Jax? Then at least the rest of the cast wouldn’t have to be friends with him anymore. Or should Bravo split the show into two separate series, one about a group of friends who mostly hate each other, the other set at Lisa’s various restaurants?
I don’t know. What I do know is that “Vanderpump Rules” is now dreadfully dull — if not actively terrible. The midseason teaser that dropped recently promised no respite for viewers. Here are eight reasons the show is circling the drain.
1. Lisa should no longer know any of these people (except maybe for Schwartz and Sandoval).
For seven years, hovering just above the show’s fray has been Lisa Vanderpump. With her incomprehensibly mumbley husband Ken Todd, their adult children Pandora and Max and their thousands of animals, Lisa’s professional empire has expanded due to the success of “Vanderpump Rules.”
On “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” Lisa would sometimes get dragged down into vicious catfights, because that show is the Thunderdome — just say “Puppygate” to the “RHOBH” fan in your life, and witness the full-body shudder. She was also frequently accused of being a Machiavellian manipulator — not in those words, of course — who would use the other women as chess pieces. Her quitting that show mid-season last year came as no surprise. Why would she put up with that s–t when she had another show on Bravo on which people are literally paid to kiss her ass?
But her regal, untouchable presence on “Vanderpump Rules” is the flaw at the heart of the show. It’s absurd that the lives of the twenty-and thirty-something cast members need to revolve around a 59-year-old woman who is no longer their boss. Over the years, as fewer and fewer of the cast have actually worked at Sur, “Vanderpump Rules” has jumped through ridiculous hoops in order for Lisa to interact with the cast: Like when Stassi became an event planner, but all of the events just happened to be at Lisa’s businesses! Or this season, when Lala met with Lisa to discuss volunteering at Vanderpump Dogs, Lisa’s dog rescue business — come on.
The two cast members Lisa seemed to forge a real bond with — or at least saw moneymaking potential in — are Schwartz and Sandoval, and therefore the scenes at TomTom at least make sense. But having some of the cast come over to her house to make decorations for Pride? No!
Which brings us to…
2. It strains credulity that any of the cast still work at Sur.
Last season, we were supposed to believe that Lala, who literally flies around on private jets with her “man” (as she calls him) — “The Irishman” executive producer Randall Emmett — was still a hostess at Sur, a laughable idea. We should have been picketing in the streets back when that was still an option!
This season, the show is pretending that Jax and Scheana still work there, even though they make hundreds of thousands of dollars from the show. And when Ariana talked to Lisa about how she’s been suffering from depression, Lisa’s suggestion was that Ariana…bartend some shifts at Sur? Which Ariana agreed to!
It should be self-evident that a reality show about a restaurant staff that makes its cast rich has to evolve out of the restaurant! The only thing tethering them to Sur is Lisa’s involvement. If she were only an occasional onscreen presence, perhaps at TomTom, this farcical aspect of “Vanderpump Rules” could come to an end.
(And about those salaries: I’ve heard from two sources that the original cast members make $500,000 per season, which doesn’t count their influencer and appearances income.)
3. We’re not seeing anything real.
Last April, when 50 Cent freaked out on Randall on social media, and demanded Randall — an executive producer of 50 Cent’s Starz show, “Power” — pay him $1 million he said Randall owed him, surely every “Vanderpump Rules” fan shared the same thought: I cannot WAIT to see this on the show! It was especially exciting that 50 Cent’s ire was prompted by his viewing of an episode of “Vanderpump Rules,” in which Lala said that after the first night she and Randall had sex, he gave her a Range Rover the next day. 50 posted the clip and called Lala a “4 quarter hoe,” which then caused Lala to respond saying that his comments diminished “the validity of the #MeToo movement.”
This fight had everything: Randall texting 50 with the hilarious typo, “I said I’m sorry fofty,” 50 then making “I’m sorry FOFTY” T-shirts, Randall at the hospital, claiming he was about to have a heart attack — I repeat, it had everything! (Read a summary of it here.)
And yet, when it came time for these events to appear on this season of “Vanderpump Rules,” there was just one teeny, tiny mention of it, when James and Lala’s recently renewed friendship was once again shattered because James tweeted that the 50 Cent feud was hilarious as it was happening. You know why James did that? Because it was f—ing hilarious! It should have been the entire arc of the season, sidelining Jax and Brittany’s wedding death march entirely.
A friend has theorized that the reason Randall has finally agreed to be on camera this season — he used to make the cast sign actual NDAs lest they discuss him — is in exchange for the show burying his humiliation at Fofty’s hand. (Randall’s publicist did not offer a comment when asked this question.)
4. The Jax and Brittany pastor scandal this season drew attention to one of the show’s most infuriating flaws: Where are the queer people?!
Every season, there’s an episode set at the Los Angeles Pride parade, since Lisa is an LGBTQ ally, and the show is shot in the summer. But seeing the cast on a parade float season after season does raise the question of why a reality show set in West Hollywood has been so straight for all of these years, setting aside the not-on-camera Sapphic interludes between Kristen and Brittany, and between Ariana and Lala. Yes, there was Billie, a trans hostess at Sur, but she ran up against the buzzsaw of these people, and quit.
It was the filming of 2019’s Pride episode — seeing the cast posting about Pride on social media — that brought the pastor disaster to its boiling point. Fans, annoyed at the hypocrisy, increased the pressure on Jax and Brittany to fire Ryan Dotson, the pastor they’d asked to officiate their wedding who had proudly trumpeted homophobic and anti-trans views. Brittany in particular had her head in the sand about Dotson, rolling her eyes — and then blowing it off — when Andy Cohen brought it up the previous January on “Watch What Happens Live.” Finally, in June, when Lara Parker and I asked Lisa’s publicist about Dotson’s toxic remarks, Lisa took action, telling BuzzFeed “I’ve contacted Jax and Brittany who are extremely disappointed as to the depth and seriousness of these comments by the minister and are very shocked and feel that obviously major alterations will have to be made in their ceremonial plans. They are dealing with this today.”
The media component was erased from how it played out on the show. Instead, we saw Tom Sandoval correctly asked Jax why it took Lisa intervening for them to act, causing Jax to freak out on him. (Clearly, Jax was mostly angry at Tom for bringing it up on camera — another subtext of so many of the casts’ interactions.) The argument also brought out an ugly side of Brittany, who wanted Jax to pummel Tom. And then the entire cast sided with Brittany and Jax, except for Ariana, who is not only Tom’s partner, but a bisexual woman. In the coup de grace, Jax kicked Tom out of his wedding, until Tom apologized to him. Utterly malignant madness.
5. No one will film with James, but he’s still on the show anyway.
Last season’s reunion episodes demonstrated that James, the British DJ, was isolated from the entire cast, and not even Tom, Tom and Ariana could justify his behavior. Indeed, James has done many cruel things on “Vanderpump Rules,” like body-shaming Katie multiple times, making fun of Jax and Lala about the deaths of their fathers, and freestyle rapping at Sur in front of Brittany about how “Jax f—ed Faith” — although, obviously, that last example was amazing. (If you don’t know the story about Jax cheating on Brittany with former Sur-ver Faith in the home of — and perhaps in the room with — a 93-year-old woman she was caring for, read this Vulture recap.)
The result of James’ behavior is that he has barely been on the show this season. Is that understandable? If this were real life, yes. But reality shows have forced peers who hate each other to continue to socialize together for years — you have one job!
Instead, James has been sidelined with poor Raquel Leviss, his sad-eyed, meek girlfriend, who has become a regular presence. And, in the converse of the rest of the cast refusing to film with him, I fear that Raquel has remained in a toxic relationship with James in order to be on camera. James recently proclaimed that he’s been sober for months. Which, if true, is wonderful news. And in order to preserve his sobriety, he should just officially leave “Vanderpump Rules.”
6. The new cast members are duds (and apparently two of them are racist).
Beyond the core cast, it’s always been difficult to figure out exactly who is officially on the show, especially from the huge yearly group photo, which always features tangential players. And then there’s someone like Peter Madrigal, the Sur manager who genuinely still works there, and who’s also been on the show the entire time, but never in the main cast.
This is all to say that this season they added three new cast members to the opening credits — Max Boyens, Brett Caprioni and Dayna Kathan — and none of them are interesting. Worse, two of the three, Max and Brett, were a catastrophe out of the gate, after racist tweets of theirs were uncovered a week after Season 8 premiered. Max tweeted this in 2012: “Something about Asians that just makes me want to punch them in the suck hole”; both men have used the n-word; and Brett has also called women whores. They’ve issued apologies, and surely the Bravo vetting process will tighten in the future, but, like — how did this even happen? Is the overlap in the “Vanderpump Rules” Venn diagram between potential cast members and people who’ve used the n-word on social media really so great? If so, that should be a lesson in itself!
Of the three of them, Dayna has potential? But she’s saddled with tiresome stories, like a who-cares romance with Max, and a thoroughly faked feud with Scheana. Which brings us to….
7. Poor Scheana!
Scheana has carried this show on her back since the beginning. And what has she gotten for her labors? Stuck with the new kids! Except for enforced group activities, like Jax and Brittany’s dozens of wedding activities, Scheana appears only with the new cast, which besides series regulars Max, Dayna, and Brett includes a few other women whose names I refuse to memorize. And not only that, but they put Scheana in the least flattering light possible, making her appear batshit crazy by somehow being simultaneously jealous of Max, Dayna and Brett. She dated Max, and likes Brett (I think?), and she’s been made out to be a stalker — which she may well be! But she is our stalker. In an interview Brett did with Scheana for his YouTube channel that was filmed for the show, he set out to humiliate her, putting cruel questions to her about being “middle-aged” (she’s 34), and asking whether she’s a “f—gurl.”
How dare he.
Back in 2013, Scheana was the conduit — albeit a loose one — between “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Vanderpump Rules,” with Brandi Glanville, Eddie Cibrian’s ex-wife, taking one for the team by fighting with Scheana in order to forge the link between the two shows. Scheana has gotten married on camera, gone through Shay’s pill addiction on camera, and even seemingly surprised him by announcing she wanted to get a divorce on camera. She’s left it all on the field!
For her labors, “Vanderpump Rules” has shunted Scheana aside and favored Jax and Brittany’s story so much that their wedding felt like a hostage situation. The cast members’ lives may very well have revolved around this wedding — it’s probably happened to every friend group — but once the producers realized that Jax didn’t have one last cheating scandal in him, they should have found other stories to tell.
Which brings us to…
8. No more weddings allowed!
By the time Season 5 of “Vanderpump Rules” premiered, the show had achieved dizzying heights of excellence. There are those who think that Season 2 — which concluded with Kristen and Jax finally confessing their grim-sounding encounters to Stassi and Sandoval — was the single best reality season of all-time. My preference is Season 3, during which Jax got his first nose job, Kristen became a chaos agent trying to bust Sandoval for cheating on Ariana with “Miami Girl,” and Scheana’s wedding featured Kristen punching James in the face (which he admitted he deserved).
Reasonable people can disagree about which season is superior! But we can probably all agree that the show’s upward trajectory came to a grinding halt in its fifth season, which revolved around the wedding of Katie and Schwartz. “Vanderpump Rules” went from being hilarious and fun to bleak and depressing — that’s what happens when two people who appear to hate each other marry. (Schwartz’s aggressive loathing of Katie continues unabated. It’s interesting and horrifying, yes — but not what this show should be for.)
That the Season 5 lows have now been matched by this current season should not be a surprise to anyone who has ever planned a wedding, or attended a wedding. Weddings are not the engines of enjoyable plots! Yet this cast, now nearly all in their 30s, are of the age in which they persist in getting married — Lala and Stassi are next. (Lala and Randall announced on their podcast that they have postponed their April wedding until the summer, putting it squarely during the time the show usually films — lord help us all.)
Jax Taylor turned 40 in July. The show should have gone up in a puff of smoke — or a mushroom cloud — when the clock struck midnight on his birthday. Instead, we saw him celebrating it. And that’s on us! This is a show that on a recent episode tried to make a storyline out of a memorial for Tom Schwartz’s dead lizard!
If a memorial for a dead lizard isn’t a metaphor for the state of “Vanderpump Rules,” I don’t know what is.
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