As the slowest finale to the slowest season of “Vanderpump Rules” wound down on Monday, the famous friend group splintered with a feeling of permanence, breaking along the familiar fault lines.
Sandoval and Jax took a “time out.” Kristen and Stassi (and Katie) did the same. An eerier rendition of the show’s oddly eerie theme song played over footage of the cast going their separate ways, giving the standout lyric, “These are the best days of our lives” a somber ring.
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
The “Vanderpump” cast loves “Friends.” It’s their aspirational dynamic. Tom and Katie adorned their apartment door with the iconic yellow picture frame. The show made it into Jax and Brittany’s wedding vows.
Comparing the theme songs is instructive: “I’ll Be There For You” argues the glass is half full even when it feels half empty. The Pump Rules theme song is very glass-half-full, despite the tumultuous ups-and-downs each episode chronicles. (“Raise Your Glass,” the full song, is explicitly about being “young” and “free.”)
Both shows, at least at their outsets, were about tight-knit friend groups struggling to make it in big cities as their twenties melted into their thirties. “Friends” ended when the group’s gradual transition to adulthood seemed complete (marriage, kids, suburbs, etc.). It’s a transition the “Vanderpump” gang is making in theory, an experiment that played out all season long. Would anyone want to watch Jax Taylor as a home-owning husband?
This season saw them buying matching houses outside West Hollywood, getting married, getting engaged, getting sober, growing their business ventures. Wary of the old crew’s appeal in their newly domestic sphere, Bravo not-so-subtly injected some young blood into the show, pairing the veterans with a fresh group of Lisa Vanderpump’s employees. It didn’t really work.
The weird contrived love-square between Max, Brett, Dayna, and Scheana was the new crew’s only major plot line. Max and Brett have all of Jax’s unlikability with none of his charm. Bravo can keep trying to make Vegas Scheana happen, and I’ll still watch. But the show won’t be the same.
Can it ever be the same? As the cast has slowed down, so too has Pump Rules. So where do they go from here? The Witches of WeHo met a bitter fate, Jax and Sandoval seem unlikely to reconcile. Nobody really works at SUR anymore. The finale’s use of the theme song was surprisingly artful, underscoring the group’s transition from insistent partiers who fight as hard as they love to friends undergoing the estrangement process sometimes brought on by maturation.
But they’ve been here before. Never with spouses and houses, to be sure. But let us not forget that Jax slept with Sandoval’s girlfriend and lied about it for months, which also pitted his ex-girlfriend Stassi against her best friend Kristen, who had been with Sandoval for years at that point. Not only did they all ultimately reconcile, but the journey was some of the most compelling reality television ever made. That, of course, was partially because they were still settling into fame, making some money, and tearing up West Hollywood’s bar scene like tattooed tornadoes.
But Pump Rules worked for the same reason any reality show works. It’s the reason the new crew largely fell flat. Casting naturally compelling personalities is the most important ingredient in the reality TV recipe, more important than the concept or editing. Even plucked out of their club-rat habitat and dropped into multimillion-dollar homes, it’s still not clear any of the original cast members are capable of behaving like normal people.
“These are the best days of our lives” fit the show at first, contextualizing the series within the youngish cast’s impression of their own existence seven long years ago. But labeling the carefree days of personal and professional instability, singleness fueled by sex and booze, “the best” of our lives is at least a questionable practice.
It’s possible the “Vanderpump Rules” gang is about to make just such a discovery—and, for that, I truly hope they bring us along for the ride. It won’t be the same, but it shouldn’t be. I’d rather stick with the best reality TV cast in history next to “Jersey Shore” than the newbies thirsty to play knock-off versions of the veterans and cash in on that sweet DIFF eyewear money. (“Jersey Shore’s” reunion season, by the way, was actually not bad.)
Tear Down That Wall
Something funny happened before the finale. Chatting on the popular “Everything Iconic” podcast this month, Scheana and host Danny Pellegrino discussed the show’s hesitance to let its stars break the fourth wall. Pellegrino rightfully argued it seems like the way of the future for Pump Rules.
Then Jax did it. And Lisa followed suit. The finale ended with a fourth-wall break mightier than the breaking of the wall between TomTom and the bar’s new garden. (This is about to happen on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” as well, the show from which Pump is technically a spin-off.)
When Jax referred to “Vanderpump Rules” as “my show,” asserting that he’s the real reason for its success, Lisa corrected him. The fourth wall was gone. The friends went their separate ways, backed by an elegiac rendition of their theme song, and the season ended.
The next we’ll see of the cast will be at the show’s reunion, filmed virtually because of the pandemic. When Pump Rules premiered in early January, we had no idea life was about to change dramatically. As the season progressed, so too did my curiosity about Scheana, and with more free time on my hands than ever before, I pretty much rewatched the entire series to revisit her arc.
The More Things Change…
Scheana has been engaged, married, and divorced over the course of the series. Watching the older episodes with fresh eyes, I realized she was basically the most entertaining member of the cast, despite constantly toggling between warring factions, sometimes finding herself homeless between cliques. She never bought into the idea that the “best days” of her life would be spent single and childless. She got married as soon as she could. Her husband’s struggles with addiction quickly ended that. This season she froze her eggs.
With her laser-like focus on monogamy and older age, Scheana couldn’t keep up with the new guys. But it was fun to watch her try. (And she didn’t need a bad edit either.) In that sense, Bravo was right to bring in the fresh faces, which created a tension that brought out something entertaining in Scheana. Jax and Max had a strange squabble. Pump Rules is not at its peak, and I don’t think it will ever again reach those heights. But it’s still very watchable.
The reason Pump Rules’s sometimes grimy studio-apartment aesthetic worked on a network defined by luxury is because its stars were fueled by an intense, American desperation to “make it” in Hollywood, which requires more followers than talent in modern celebrity culture, and was a perfect fit for their skillset: looking extremely hot and acting extremely wild.
Now that they’ve “made it,” the key question becomes a matter of past or present tense. If “those were” the best days of their lives, the show will fizzle. If “these” can compete, I think the show will work its way to a graceful conclusion—not unlike “Friends,” but with more cursing and nudity.