If art’s responsibility is to reflect the trials and tribulations of current culture, to criticize it, and to highlight modernity, Vanderpump Rules deserves canonization. The show, which follows the lives of the 20-and 30-somethings employed by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills hero-queen Lisa Vanderpump at her glitzy-kitschy West Hollywood restaurants SUR and PUMP (for context, SUR stands for Sexy Unique Restaurant) acts as a fishbowl on hedonistic hookup culture. It’s a voyeur’s dream, and it’s one of the best shows on television for that reason. All of your impulses toward gossip are celebrated here, as are the majority of the seven deadly sins (with the exception of gluttony, obviously, this is L.A.)
Last night, Season 5 of Vanderpump premiered—a perfect 45-minute rollercoaster of people-loathing and drinking that serves to highlight, but most importantly, exaggerate the human condition. In less than an hour’s time, we saw the show’s villain, Jax Taylor, spread a rumor that his girlfriend received cunniligus from one of his good female friends (“chowing down on Kentucky muffin,” Mrs. Vanderpump called it), and instead of being upset about the idea of cheating, he toted the non-news around in real heteronormative bro-form. In the next scene, Taylor and the rest of the VP crew were at an annual tabloid magazine party, one that erupted when young British DJ James Kennedy crashed their table. He stole a vodka cranberry and gestured like he’s jerking off, stopping only to insult one of the show’s major players, Katie Maloney, with “Are you pregnant? Congratulations!” His friend jumped in, “I can see everybody here has not been working on their summer bodies.”
It’s all completely histrionic and hurtful, but not necessarily hateful, and that’s what makes it entertaining. This bully behavior focuses on large human problems—instability for one, romance, another. Jax made totally inappropriate and sexist jokes at the expense of his partner, but they love each other—she even relocated from Kentucky for him. James dished out some wildly hateful body-speak but broke down minutes later when revealing sadness about his parent’s recent divorce. There’s something endearing about the wide range of emotion, the real window into the human condition, and the reassurance that these hot waiters-turned-hot unlikable television stars deal with the same bullshit we all do. That’s pretty fucking cool, and Vanderpump Rules does that every episode.
Because Vanderpump Rules is subject to the same editing that any other reality TV show goes through, what we see is obviously chopped up for maximum drama, but the fact of the matter is that these events happened. They also probably don’t seem like things that would take place in our lives, but there’s still a certain connectedness within it. Unlike shows like Real Housewives that birthed this kind of television, the cast of Vanderpump Rules are restaurant employees: waitresses, hosts, bartenders and managers (mostly not managers). These aren’t rich people—they just behave like it. And why wouldn’t they? All of these aspiring artists, singers, models, are seating people at one of L.A.’s hottest dining experiences because they want to live up to a certain appearance, where the image of wealth as social currency might mean more than actually having money.
The superficiality of the casts’ actions highlight youthful insecurity, the kind that doesn’t really leave if there’s a certain trauma or unhappiness attached to it. The focus on physical appearance is a behavior long associated with L.A., but becomes tenfold when considering everyone’s modern obsession with image in the year 2016. Consider online dating—most judge more so on looks than written content, and it’s making us pickier with who we bone. It’s exactly why the cringey body-shaming element of the premiere episode felt the most challenging to watch, these gorgeous people insulting each other because they looked less so that day. (By these standards, most of us are actually hot garbage.) While their insecurities on screen are heightened, hyperbolized, and monetized through the gift of eternal immaturity, those feels are caricatures of the modern human condition. It’s a social one, a physical one, a hilarious one, and a worrying one.
The reason I love Vanderpump Rules so much, have since I first saw it, and probably will until it’s uncool is because of this portrayal of condition. There’s something distinctly radical about their unique, exaggerated humanity, the way they love and lose hard even if the stakes aren’t actually that high. No one on Vanderpump Rules is self-aware—any semblance of awareness would make this show suck—but the cast, by being oblivious vessels, help us all to gain a little more awareness of ourselves.
Catch Vanderpump Rules Mondays at 9pm on Bravo.