By Kate Aurthur | Variety
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.
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.”
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