The thing about Vanderpump Rules is that it always delivers, and it delivers in those tiny moments when I’m not sure it even knows that it’s delivering. For instance, the funniest thing I will see on my television set this week (and I am in the middle of a season five Schitt’s Creek marathon) is Katie Maloney trying to knit. She and Ariana, jobless naifs wandering around this great planet earth at a Pride celebration, are talking about how they are a little bored, isolated, and depressed now that they’ve moved out of West Hollywood and into Valley Village. Katie says, “We can hang out and do home stuff, I’m teaching myself how to knit!” Cut to an image of Katie holding a single piece of string between two ill-balanced needles like a toddler trying to eat a bowl of chicken noodle soup with a chopstick and a pipe cleaner he found on the floor.
I wanted to watch her say, “Whoa, dude” as her project fell apart in her hands more than a few times and just cackle, not just at Katie’s sudden enthusiasm for crafting or her ineptitude, but the conflation of the two, the bubble being created and burst faster than it takes you to find a reaction GIF on Twitter.
There is also sometimes a long payoff in the editing. Take for instance when Stassi, Katie, and Lala are talking about how weird it is that they’re not in the Pride parade this year because this is the first year some of them haven’t worked at SUR. Stassi then reminds us, with an accompanying flashback, of the year she was on the float and forced to listen to Scheana sing her tooth-rotter of a ditty “Good as Gold” on repeat throughout the parade, as if that is something that gay men really want. (Seriously, at the end of the Pride parade all most gay men want is a bottle of water and a place to sit down. And to sing the Golden Girls theme song.) We then see Scheana, dressed in this year’s gay pool party theme that the staff is rocking, on the current float reminding Peter of that very year.
This was all set up for one very prime moment, later in the episode, with Scheana on top of the bar at SUR rocking her high pony while singing off-key to “Good As Gold.” It’s both Scheana’s moment of glory and a horrible embarrassment, and there is no better combination than that besides, perhaps, French fries and Frostee.
Speaking of Scheana embarrassing herself, she can’t help but do it on a regular basis. Just look at when she’s crying when she is at Lisa’s house to make banners for Pride. Lisa is asking about why Scheana can’t be nicer to new girl Dayna, a casserole in a SUR uniform, and suggests it might be jealousy. The editors cut Scheana’s speech into multiple parts to make it look like she droned endlessly about the subject, ending with her welling up in tears at the suggestion that she is jealous of Dayna when she’s not.
I truly believe that the tears are real and Scheana feels this way, but this is just one of the many moments this episode that seemed… well, I don’t want to say staged. Produced. Set up. Constructed. Why were any of these people at Lisa’s house to make posters for Pride on her back porch? Couldn’t they do this, you know, at SUR? They didn’t need Lisa’s help or approval to make them. Lisa didn’t even go out on the porch to glue a sparkle onto a poster board. Then we sure didn’t see any of their handiwork at the parade. It was just dropped.
When Scheana and Dayna were having their SUR back alley dust up, I firmly believed that their words were theirs and that their emotions were there. I firmly believed that Scheanna was sucking on her inhaler like an embarrassed toddler trying to eat noodles with a chopstick and a pipe cleaner he found on the floor. But were they ordered out there to “squash” their beef? Probably. Scheana tells Dayna something like, “You came out of nowhere and suddenly you were hanging around with my friends and they weren’t hanging around with me.” Normally I would think that is one of those fights that is about the show, that Scheana was jealous that Dayna was on the show and she wasn’t getting as much screen time. But this wasn’t about the show. This was for the show. If the whole storyline wasn’t concocted, it sure feels like it was.
That’s the problem with things being too heavily produced. We all know that this reality is as constructed as a Lego Millenium Falcon, but we choose to believe that it’s at least real-ish. We choose to believe that these people are acting in authentic ways. When you take away that certainty, we question every single iota, every single motive. We wonder whether we should just be watching the new season of Riverdale, with scripted teens doing scripted dumb things, rather than Vanderpump Rules, with scripted 30-somethings doing scripted dumb things.
Look at when Ariana goes over to Lisa’s to talk about picking up a few shifts at SUR to get over her depression. Is Ariana really depressed? Yes. Was Lisa depressed after her brother died? Yes. Was there anything natural or unplanned about this interaction? No. The worst part is at the Pride parade, where Ariana proudly came out as bi. (You go girl. Or you go boy. You go both, you bisexual you). When Lisa’s in the Parade she calls Ariana over and says, “This is a great way to get over depression right?” You could feel the strain of Lisa trying to hit that story beat, to deliver good TV.
However, there is nothing more strained than the storyline about DJ James Kennedy’s girlfriend Raquel, a scrunchie on the doorknob of an abandoned room, skipping her shift at SUR to go see her boyfriend’s DJ set at Tom Tom. This thing doesn’t even make sense on the face of it. Raquel, the GOOP candle that doesn’t smell like Gwynnie’s vagina that no one bought, was marching in the parade as part of the SUR float. (Though it was more a vague assemblage of scattered people and cars, so a flotilla?) Then she was supposed to report to SUR for work after marching in the parade. Instead she goes to see James, who is almost done with his set, and it seems like he is dismissed shortly thereafter, but not before he can go over to Lisa’s table and say that his girlfriend is there and Lisa can ask, “Isn’t she supposed to be at SUR?”
Then she goes by SUR and Peter gives her a talking to out by the Dumpster about how she skipped her shift. “I can work now,” says Raquel, a dish of Sparkle Dog brand dog food with no water in it. “We don’t need you now,” professional hair straightener Peter says to her. “We needed you hours ago.”
But wait, hours ago she was in the Parade, right with him, as he points out. It seems implausible that there were that many hours between the parade and leaving James’s gig that she could have squeezed in a shift. Also, it appears that SUR is still packed. If they’re so understaffed, which was an ongoing thread throughout the episode, why wouldn’t he say, “Yes, get your apron on and clock in, we need all the help we can get.” If it’s so busy, why is Peter taking the opportunity to chastise one of his employees out back when he has a full restaurant and should be pitching in to make sure one of the biggest days of the year goes more smoothly? Instead, what we get is two people that failed to become famous as actors struggling through some not-quite-believable scene work in a stinky alleyway that we are pressed to care about.
Or maybe it is real. I don’t know. It all could be real. If that is true, then this story was badly told. Either way it’s bad television. Does this mean it’s all real or all fake? I don’t know. Do I believe that Lala got mad at James over a stupid Instagram joke he made about her during her and her boyfriend Russell’s feud with Fofty Cent? Yes. Do I believe that she doesn’t want to be friends with him because she’s sober now and he’s a drunk mess? Yes. Did a producer say to them, “Hey go outside and talk over your differences.” Yes.
Do I believe that Jax refused to dress up for Pride, that he thought he should be on the float instead of working, and that he refused to help the other bartenders cut limes because he thinks he’s above all this? Hell to the yes. Nothing in life has ever been truer. Do I think all of this is in reaction to some manufactured staffing shortage at SUR? Also hell to the yes. The people that run that place know to have backups during Pride. Say what you want about Lisa, but she is not going to pass up a chance to make a buck.
Do I believe that Tom Sandoval wanted to get him and Tom Schwartz matching Elton John suits with rainbow epaulets and fringe hanging off the arms? Does this man also shave his forehead to prevent wrinkles? Of course they just wanted to do that, and it was good for the show. There is authentic craziness and then there is this store-bought, manufactured drama that goes down about as well as trying to swallow nine packing peanuts at once. This season, it seems like there has been a glut of packing peanuts, and instead of trying to choke them down we’re spitting them all back up.
But Tom and Tom did look amazing in their gay suits, both on the parade route and back at Tom Tom, where they were up on the bar pouring shots into the awaiting gobs of straight people just looking to get wasted on another sunny Saturday in WeHo. The day really took it out of them, and as the crowds were starting to wane they went into the back office to change into their civvies for an easy ride home to Valley Village.
As they were in the close quarters of the office, Sandoval pressed himself against Schwartz, pulled his jacket off with an adroit yank, and then struggled to get his shirt over his head. He cradled Schwartz’s face in his palms while kissing him hard and inhaling sharply. Schwartz returned his kiss in kind and forced Sandoval’s arms down so he could remove his jacket and rid him of his shirt. Their sculpted torsos smooshed together, hair on hair, skin on skin, bone on bone, as their arms wrapped around each other, trying to pull the two bodies into each other, into one supernova of passion and affection. After a few minutes of grappling, Sandoval pulled himself away from Schwartz’s but was still gazing into his eyes. “I love Pride,” he said. “It’s the only day who we can be who we really are.”
Schwartz, still holding his gaze, fiddled with his belt and said, “Well, I’m about to be who I really am all over your face.”