These past two seasons of Vanderpump Rules have made one thing abundantly clear — the series is no longer in its prime.
As I’ve written before, the original cast started off as messy servers and bartenders at Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood restaurant, SUR Restaurant and Lounge. It premiered in 2013, when Instagram wasn’t nearly as popular and the social influencer couldn’t be caught by the untrained eye. Now, the OG cast has developed a serious superiority complex. Between ostracizing new cast members and cherry-picking which conflicts they want to entertain on camera, it’s just not good TV anymore.
In the golden era of Vanderpump Rules, the cast members felt like superficial stereotypes of West Hollywood. The formula was simple: They’d drink excessively, pick a fight over a minuscule issue, rinse and repeat. It offered me that simple, mind-numbing escape I admire with reality TV. But this formula became stale, and it became harder to ignore the questionable takes some of its stars shared through social media.
Once this most recent season’s finale aired on May 26, I didn’t give up — there was still hope with the reunion show. In past reunions, host Andy Cohen covered practically every fight from the season. Even this tiresome eighth season had the potential for an explosive reunion — all the conflict is packed into multiple episodes, the first of which aired Tuesday.
Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we were handed a virtual reunion. This wiped away any confidence I had left for an appropriate end to this snoozefest of a season. A video chat can’t recreate that tension of sitting a few feet away from the person you’re feuding with, and the lack of cast members taking a dramatic break and walking off the set to collect themselves just won’t hit the same.
It was interesting to see how production translated their standard format to a crowded video chat. The classic reality TV filming technique of rapidly panning between people to capture their reactions felt too busy when done virtually. As the screen switched between a variety of video collages, I experienced the same motion sickness one would feel after watching the shaky found footage in The Blair Witch Project.
One factor I’d hoped would be improved with a virtual format was how bold people would get with their insults. The lack of in-person contact could push cast members to feel the same bravery as Twitter trolls protected behind a screen.
The only person who executed this well was Charli Burnett, a newcomer this season. Although she didn’t get much screen time — and the time she did get made her appear like a shallow server who had never eaten pasta before — her witty soundbites gave me a glimpse of hope for the show’s future. When Jax Taylor was confronted for his snarky Instagram comment about Burnett’s pasta choices, the newbie poked fun at his age and called him an old man, telling him it was past his bedtime.
Taylor, who turned 40 this season, was clearly threatened by the 20-something model’s spunk. After calling Burnett “sweetie” and telling her to know her place, the rest of the original cast proceeded to yell over each other to put her down. But, she stood her ground — perhaps the virtual reunion motivated Burnett to speak her mind. After all, the cast members were reduced to screaming faces on a monitor.
I’m grappling with whether to watch part two of the reunion this upcoming Tuesday. Reality TV has served as a distraction from the utter turmoil of the 24-hour news cycle. But many of these cast members are real people with troubling views, and it interferes with my ability to just view them as outrageous caricatures on my screen.
In response to the unjust killing of George Floyd, a majority of the cast has gotten involved in some performative activism with vague posts calling for justice and #BlackoutTuesday squares on their Instagram accounts. I found most of these posts disingenuous. The cast fails to look inward at how the series is perpetuating racial issues in America — the lack of representation in this all-white cast is difficult to deny.
This review can’t capture the countless injustices committed on Vanderpump Rules to the fullest, although just a few events can justify an examination. In season six, it’s revealed that Taylor cheated on his then-girlfriend Brittany Cartwright with coworker Faith Stowers, a black woman who has since spoken out about her alienating experience on the show.
Two new cast members were exposed for tweeting racial slurs just a few episodes into this season. Lala Kent’s fiance, Randall Emmett, played a prank on Tom Sandoval, where fake police officers arrested and detained him in a fake patrol car.
This reunion was filmed before people took part in anti-racist protests in all 50 states. It makes you wonder if they’d take the time to acknowledge how tone-deaf the police prank was if this were filmed today. While it’s up in the air when they’ll film the next season, the franchise’s best bet would be a serious reassessment of the cultural makeup of their cast.