How do you explain Jax Taylor, reality television’s greatest anti-hero? Here is a brief list of things the bartender slash model slash reluctant wearer of shirts slash probable sociopath has accomplished to date over five seasons of Vanderpump Rules, a show about attractive and unstable young people who (in theory) work in dining establishments owned by Lisa Vanderpump:
(1) Lied about most things;
(2) Slept with his best friend’s girlfriend;
(3) Got a tattoo of his ex-girlfriend Stassi’s signature (to be clear: not just his now ex-girlfriend, his then ex-girlfriend);
(4) Got a tattoo of a woman’s face that bore a suspicious resemblance to still-ex-girlfriend Stassi;
(5) Drunkenly stole a pair of sunglasses, leading him to be charged with felony theft in Hawaii.
This is far from a comprehensive list, but you get the picture. Jax’s girlfriend, Brittany, meanwhile, is a sweet, seemingly sane woman originally from the Bible Belt. But though my beloved Jax may be the human embodiment of great reality TV, I’m sorry to say that, so far, their fish-out-of-water spinoff Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky feels a little contrived. It’s too bad, because Vanderpump Rules itself is anything but formulaic, since the very existence of a formula would imply that the cast members are behaving according to logic and not a near-lethal cocktail of Pumptinis, horniness, and spite.
As the new Bravo series begins, Jax and Brittany are working their last shifts at Sur in L.A. before heading to stay with Brittany’s family on their farm for two weeks. (It’s not the very first time he’s meeting them, though. They crossed that bridge at Christmas.) Her family is religious, and her dad in particular is “strict,” so Jax has his work cut out for him. “How are you going to pull the wool over their eyes for two weeks?” asks Lisa Vanderpump, who technically qualifies as a farmer, based solely on the number of animals who reside at Villa Rosa. (Also: Wool. Sheep. Farm. I see what you did there, LVP.)
They fly into Blue Grass Airport, which, if it weren’t the real Lexington airport, would be an algorithmically perfect fictional name for the Lexington airport. They’re headed to the small town of Winchester, where Brittany’s family operates a 400-acre farm that’s also home to her mother, Sherri, her aunts, and her beloved Mamaw, an algorithmically perfect name for a down-home Kentucky grandmother. Mamaw, whom I immediately adore, intends to put Jax to work. In her house, she has two fireplaces, an oversize crucifix on the mantle, and a mounted deer head that made direct eye contact with me through my television screen. She (Mamaw, not the deer) asks Jax to say the “benediction,” but he manages to pass off the duty of saying grace to Brittany’s brother Wes instead.
Mamaw has one very important rule for them to follow: no alcohol on the farm. Papaw, her late husband and Brittany’s grandfather (he passed away less than a year ago), didn’t believe in it. Jax, unsurprisingly, is a terrible house guest, and has no intention of teetotaling to honor a dead man’s memory. Mamaw produces a pair of overalls for Jax (who, with any luck, will be called Jajaw by the end of the series) and demands to know when, after a year and a half of dating so far, he plans on marrying Brittany. To call this question a recurring theme on Jax and Brittany Take Kentucky feels like an understatement. The couple moves into Sherri’s house, where Brittany’s dog welcomes them by immediately peeing on one of the bunk beds they’ve been assigned to share.
The next day, Jax dresses for a hard day of farm work in his new overalls (one strap on, one strap off), a straw cowboy hat, and a pair of American-flag cowboy boots, all of which give me a great idea for a theme for next year’s Sur float at L.A. Pride. He’s got a full slate of chicken-feeding, poop-shoveling dirty work ahead of him. “Let’s be honest, the only chore I have is to walk the dog,” Jax says in an interview. “And usually Brittany does that.”
As she and Sherri make breakfast, Brittany, who is 27, tells her mom that she wants to be engaged by 30, and that she’s prepared to give Jax an ultimatum if that doesn’t happen. “We just want to make sure that he’s not wasting Brittany’s time, because she would just be crushed,” Sherri tells the camera. The kids get cleaned up and head off to Brittany’s father Don’s place, just a mile and a half away. Jax goes in for a hug; Don goes in for a handshake. “Don is a really nice guy. He also has a really large gun collection,” Jax explains. (Discussion question for the class: Do you think Brittany’s family voted for Trump?) Intrigued by the prospect of a gym-free workout, Jax volunteers to chop wood for an upcoming welcome-home bonfire at Mamaw’s farm, to Don’s surprise. Of Jax, Don observes, he “looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane.” For at least 30 minutes, he hacks randomly at a tree with an ax. (Honestly, this is not a terrible idea for a boutique group-fitness class.) “Does this turn you on?” Jax asks Brittany. “It doesn’t do a thing for me,” Don answers, before whipping out a chainsaw and felling the tree instantly.
They join Brittany’s stepmother, Linda, her brother Austin, and her two young nephews for dinner. Jax gives the entrée, frogs’ legs, his tastes-like-chicken approval. “It’s gonna be epic,” he tells one of the children of the bonfire, and I found myself wondering how many times Jax has spoken to a child. Don, too, wants to know where his could-be son-in-law stands as to “this marriage deal.” When Jax demurs, the former children’s minister segues into reciting scripture. Out of curiosity, has anyone tried dousing Jax with holy water?
At the bonfire, the young people in attendance (Brittany’s friends? Extras bused in from Los Angeles?) totally unsuspiciously head over to a parked truck en masse, mixing vodka and cranberry juice into red Solo cups in the backseat by iPhone flashlight. “At 37 years old, if I want a drink, I want to have a drink. Sorry, Papaw,” Jax tells the camera. (Rest in peace, Papaw.) Mamaw, of course, is conscious, and therefore notices all this commotion, but Jax & Co. narrowly manage to keep their secret.
Despite being divorced, Sherri and Don demonstrate they can still peacefully roast marshmallows side by side. That’s nice! Sherri remains inexplicably pro-Jax — despite the fact that, lest we forget, he and Brittany had a truly unpleasant, all-his-fault fight in front of her back in L.A. — but Don isn’t so sure. “He’s gotta work on me some more,” he says.
With Jax’s thirst for booze momentarily quenched, he takes Sherri and Mamaw aside. They won’t need to “grill” him so much about the wedding anymore: He has a ring designer (he pulls up a photo of a massive rock on his phone) and the makings of a plan to propose. He now has their blessing, and a big old group hug to boot. Sherri in particular is thrilled: “Jax Taylor is going to be my son-in-law!” she says aloud, with greater enthusiasm than that sentence has ever been or will ever be uttered again.