Why Vanderpump Rules is TV’s Tastiest Reality Trash

How Bravo's Real Housewives spinoff became a hate-watch classic

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Bravo / Tommy Garcia/Bravo

The cast of Bravo's Vanderpump Rules

Reality TV gets a bad rap among the cognoscenti, and with good reason: There’s nothing on Bravo as enduring or culturally significant as Breaking Bad or Mad Men, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. But for those of us who can actually differentiate between the respective casts of Real Housewives of Miami and Real Housewives of New Jersey, the flavors of high-gloss, low-grade docudramas vary dramatically in how smoothly they go down.

This winter, the clear victor in the reality TV olympics was Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, which airs its Season 2 finale on Feb. 3. Vanderpump premiered in 2013 as a spinoff of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, following the professional life of that show’s de facto star, Lisa Vanderpump, a flamboyant English restaurateur who operates the Hollywood eatery SUR. (You have to spell SUR like that, in all caps, because it’s not just an exotic French word — it’s also an acronym for Sexy Unique Restaurant. Yes, really.)

The focus of the show is less on Vanderpump, though, and more on her waitstaff, so it’s more or less a reality show about hot, dumb waiters at an overpriced tuna tartare trough, who say things like, “The servers at other Hollywood restaurants just want to be waiters at SUR,” and occasionally, about each other, “I am going to crucify her. I will destroy her life.” Gulp.

Although they’re all servers and bartenders by day, everyone in the cast has obvious aspirations of real stardom; they’re would-be actors tasked with playing distorted, high-drama versions of themselves. It’s not clear what kind of celebrity mean girl Stassi Schroeder envisioned herself becoming, but her on-again off-again flame Jax Taylor — an aging meathead with a sweetly dopey mien — is an occasional model, as is the deeply unlikable Kristen Doute, whose boyfriend, Tom Sandoval, is an aspiring musician. Scheana Marie tries valiantly to use her new platform of reality stardom to launch a career as a dance artist, which goes about as well as you’d expect. Mostly, they bum around Los Angeles sleeping with each other’s partners, drinking too much and squabbling endlessly, but at the end of the day, they’re all just lost kids with failed dreams who work in the service industry and happen to be trailed by a production crew.

Like most reality shows, it’s an outgrowth of that dizzyingly modern problem — the idea that young people just want to be famous, for any reason. (A widely cited 2012 study showed that children age 10-12 value fame above all else, including financial success and achievement.) For those without talent, reality television is a shortcut to celebrity, and what makes it so worth watching is the pathos of that hunger — people willing to put their lives on camera to be ridiculed and gawked at by others because they’re so desperate to become celebrities.

But as the Real Housewives and Kardashians of the world become more famous, they grow cannier about their public personae, more concerned with their brands and endorsements; consequently, they are less fun to watch. At the Vanderpump stage in the fame life cycle, where the cast has a platform (a TV show) but aren’t yet experienced enough to know how to self-censor, all that hedonistic drama makes for spectacular viewing.

That’s probably why Vanderpump has outdone most of its contemporaries in the expansive category of docudramas about the petty problems of attractive people. Stassi Schroeder is a magnificently compelling villainess, as starkly cruel as any great onscreen antagonist, but in a few years — once she’s parlayed her demi-celebrity into a wine-of-the-month club and a gig as a red-carpet correspondent — she’ll have to dial it down. She can only get away with violently assaulting her former best friend Kristen (for sleeping with her ex-boyfriend Jax — twice!) because she has nothing to lose.

To wit, the show’s ratings have climbed with each episode all season long. This week, Vanderpump for the first time eclipsed its lead-in, Bravo’s flagship (and best) crew of white-wine-hurling frauen, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It notched 1.2 million viewers in the key advertiser audience of adults 18-49, just ahead of Housewives‘ 1.15 million. But that comes as no surprise, given that the women of Housewives aren’t as crazy as they once were, too concerned with promoting their apparel lines and philanthropy to get their hands dirty with the drama. 

For now, Vanderpump Rules is in its prime, all glorious hate-watching catnip — nasty, brutish and decadently trashy. Enjoy it before the cast spoils the fun by getting the fame they always wanted.

16 comments
rubens14k
rubens14k

The SHOW IS FAKE people. STOP getting so emotionally invested. Its just entertainment. The WWE is more legit than this show. Can't blame Andy Cohen though, his a genius. Ratings are up! and you idiots are buying into it...

kylesbackfat
kylesbackfat

What does Kristen model?  The hair club for skanks?  Chick has enough room on her forehead for another face.

Heidi123
Heidi123

I LOVE this show & always have since S1.... Also think those of us who were fans of "Laguna Beach" & the spin off, "The Hills" can relate to all the crazines, chaos, insane, nuts & zany behavior from this cast who delivers & contributes to keeping it on the air as they wouldn't have had a season 2 without without them. This cast may be a little older & we're in a different era but still attracts the fans & yes, I'm one of them along with this show being my guilty pleasure...:)  Love to hate the characters or hate to love the characters, they all deliver the goods required for ratings & have no doubt there will be a season three as I'm certain it will be renewed......:)

MeristelShaw
MeristelShaw

Stupid, naked and famous seems to be the new black....

ChrisJohnson1
ChrisJohnson1

girls if you want a real man come to the south!!!! no fashion boy no pretty boys .....just real men! Strong in every way...no Hollywood lol I really feel sorry for you girls where men have to be as pretty as you!  Just letting you know girl to girl from Louisiana! 

ChrisJohnson1
ChrisJohnson1

guess education doesn't matter only money! sad to see the privileged well below intelligence 


ChrisJohnson1
ChrisJohnson1

would not doubt most if all the guys are bisexual! poor girls lol


sadoson23
sadoson23

Jax may have the gift that keeps on giving. It looks as though pregnancy is the least of Kristen health concerns after having unprotected sex with Jax.

Jake595
Jake595

This show is far raunchier than The Hills ever was. It's like an hour long advertisement for condom usage. How condom manufacturers haven't bought up all the ad time is beyond me. When Jax spewed the gruesome condom-free details of his hook-up the other guy looked like he'd just been hit with a death sentence. I would have called 911 right from the beach. If that doesn't have everyone racing to the nearest 24 hour pharmacy nothing will.  

I don't know what they can do for an encore. Jax is running out of female cast members to have unprotected sex with. The only thing that could top this is if Kristen is pregnant. But who is the daddy? That should be enough of a conundrum for an entire third season. It can all culminate with a trip to the DNA lab. Andy Cohen can reveal the test results in a special live finale.

JohnWorthngton
JohnWorthngton

This show is completely 100% FAKE. It's so obvious. Anytime any of them go on Watch What Happens Live, it sounds like they are reading lines off a script. You can even see Jax mouthing people's lines in the background of some scenes on the show. FAKE FAKE FAKE

Melanie25
Melanie25

As reality shows go this is the best one on television, probably for the reason you cite - the cast has nothing to lose. They dive right into the cesspool. I mean, try and find anything physically grosser or more morally bankrupt than Meathead Jax and Unlikable Kristen getting horizontal with their hapless best friend/boyfriend in the next room asleep. I doubt it can be done. And when called onto the carpet for his behavior Meathead is not even sorry. You would think such an epic betrayal would tweak a few strings of remorse. Nope! Just another moment in time to him.

In fairness, a few people on the show are likable. Ariana seems cool and Scheana, in spite of her very unrealistic pop star aspirations, seems alright and about to marry a nice guy.

rattleandhum
rattleandhum

@Jake595  And the father is.....horndog Jax? Hen-pecked Tom? I can see it. And you know Kristen will order Tom to assemble an Ikea baby crib. 

Jake595
Jake595

@rattleandhum Yeah, Tom. I just think of him as Kristen's sissy boy. It's like man up dude. And what about the hot blond bartender who twerks around? She's into this wimp? Really? If she can give me one reason why she'd date this cowering cupcake besides his face I'd like to know what it is.

Jake595
Jake595

@rattleandhum Twitter says Tom is dating that Arianna chick now. If so I'll have to congratulate him on a job well done.

Jake595
Jake595

@rattleandhum So if Tom is actually dating this Arianna girl I'll retract my sissy boy comment and be the first to congratulate him on a job well done. I think I see where this show is headed. If Arianna twerks anywhere near Tom Kristen will go 100 times nuttier than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. She's well on her way already. I can already smell a rabbit boiling in a pot.

rattleandhum
rattleandhum

@Jake595 Tom is way under Kristen's thumb. It's like he's given up. I feel bad for him. No guy should have to suffer this kind of humiliation. Ariana is the twerker. I'd like to see more of that for sure. Don't ask me to explain anything about women. They astound me, man. They absolutely astound me.