This is a public-service announcement for Bravo stars, executives, producers, executive producers, editors, and fans: There will never be another #Scandoval. Sorry to the falling NBCUniversal stock price, but there just won’t be. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event like Halley’s Comet or getting a purple stuffed teddy out of a rest-stop claw machine. Trying to replicate it will only end in failure and more poor imitations trying to pass for the real thing than all of the Prado and Fendy bags on Canal Street.
I say this only because the first several minutes of Southern Charm seem to be covering up for a lack of drama, chemistry, and cohesion in the cast by strumming a story line about Austen sleeping with his bestie Shep’s ex, Taylor, and angering Taylor’s BFF and Austen’s ex, Olivia. But this is not the same thing. I still don’t even believe Austen and Olivia were really dating for any other reason besides reality-television infamy; it can’t possibly hold a fruity IPA to the keg stand of betrayal we saw last season on Vanderpump Rules. Their even trying to make it happen fills me with so much cringe that I feel like I just watched Drew Sidora sing to her husband on The Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion all over again.
As usual, the episode catches us up on where the cast has been since last season. After the flashing introduction of Patricia’s new butler, Randy, who is named after Whitney’s perpetual mood, we start with Craig and his hostage, Paige. Craig is redoing the Pillow Palace, the asbestos-filled house he got saddled with, and it still isn’t anywhere close to finished. In the backyard, he’s building a pool and a hot tub, but it’s really just a giant concrete hole full of rainwater and Arizona Iced Tea bottles, which I would like to think are litter but you know Craig and Austen were trying to see if they could throw them into the hot tub from the second-floor window and spent a whole night chugging iced tea, throwing the bottles, and draining the main vein out the window into Craig’s desolate expanse of a back garden.
Craig asks Paige what the outdoor furniture should look like and then says he wants to get it purple for the Ravens. “I will move out,” Paige says, not being hyperbolic or wrong in the slightest. However, Craig needs to rethink his whole outlook on this relationship. Paige does not want to move to Charleston; I don’t think she even wants to be in Charleston. If he wants to marry her, he should do the smart thing and sell this money pit, rent a U-Haul, and drag every last sewing machine in his basement to the Big Apple. Yes, he will have to quit the show, but what is better for his long-term success: a crappy second-tier Bravo show or a brilliant and gorgeous woman the likes of which Craig will never weasel his way inside of again?
Later in the episode, Craig says Paige doesn’t feel like she has Charleston friends, and he asks Olivia and Taylor if they’ll hang around with her. Um, Paige wants no business being friends with these two. Sure, she’ll have dinner with them and their boyfriends, but Paige is way cooler, smarter, funnier, and more successful than these girls. Paige would just as soon hang out with all of Bama Rush TikTok.
Next, we move to Madison. No, not the town in Wisconsin — your favorite drama-loving hairdresser. We get a shot of Madison’s new house, and it is a giant white two-story home with a front porch on both levels. Wasn’t she living in a two-bedroom bungalow just last season? Damn, sister! How much does she get for a sponsored post these days? But after buying this giant-ass house, it’s no wonder she’s inside cooking Cup O’ Noodles.
The big addition to Madison’s life is not the house; it’s her husband, Brett. Oh shit. A new Two Judgey Girls March MANness winner just dropped. Brett is real fine; his guns are blazing right out of his T-shirt as Madison tells us how much this firefighter loves being a family man. Oh, did we mention he’s also a firefighter? He is. But he’s a firefighter in California, where he works for three days and then returns to Charleston for eight days before heading back to work. There are commutes and then there are commutes. Can’t he see about doing his job remotely? Can’t he just order the hoses around on Zoom?
At one point, Austen makes fun of Brett and says he’s not as hot as Madison makes him out to be. He’s not wrong. There’s a blankness or a blandness to his face that does make me want to immediately tear his clothes off like I’m shucking an ear of the most delicious, delicious corn a roadside farmers’ market has to offer. But, I mean, he’s still hotter than Brad Pitt’s taint at an August barbecue. Austen also says, “What does he have that I don’t?” Since he asked, here is a list:
- A job.
- Visible abdominal muscles.
- A total lack of videos of him having a three-way while having a girlfriend.
- Better tattoos.
- A job.
- A tongue that fits in his mouth.
- Prince Albert (unconfirmed).
Now we move on to Austen’s house. Madison calls to invite him to the party to celebrate her wedding since only immediate family members are allowed at the ceremony. We also hear he broke up with Olivia, which is sort of like saying he didn’t find the Loch Ness monster because none of us believe that is real, either. Honestly, I spent this scene looking at the décor of his apartment. There is a giant resort-art painting of a jellyfish, and right next to that is a psychedelic Phish poster someone took the time and expense to frame. Under that is a tiny little Mortal Kombat II stand-up arcade console. You can buy these in a set called the Toxic Bachelor Red Flags Starter Kit, which is available for $699 and includes instructions on cheating on your girlfriends.
There’s a quick check-in with Taylor and Olivia, a.k.a. the Bland Ambition Tour. They go Rollerblading in their best approximation of neon Barbie and Ken, but if Ken’s only job is “beach,” their only job is “bench,” because that is what they are sitting on and also what they are warming since they are the most second-string players on Bravo. I shouldn’t be too harsh because Olivia has an objectively funny description of what a relationship with Austen is like: “Falling for Austin is the equivalent of going in a fun house. Like, you see it, you’re all excited, and then you walk in, and it’s a distorted image, and there’s a clown running by, and you get out, and you’re all discombobulated, and you want to vomit.”
Who else do we need to check on? Venita has a new man named Manny, but he is also long distance. Is there literally not one suitable mate for a reality-television professional in this whole town? Shep just got back from wearing a “Tan Fat = Muscle” shirt all around Australia and South Africa, and it still does not make that true. (Just ask my belly and the SPF-5 I’ve been applying all summer.)
I guess that’s everyone, so the boys can all get together at a store called 319 Men, which is also the way I describe my ideal Saturday evening. They’re getting outfits to attend Madison’s party, and Austen is learning about Errol Flynn, the swashbuckling actor and consummate ladies’ man. Did you know the phrase “in like Flynn” was used for Errol Flynn’s being found innocent of two counts of statutory rape despite a mountain of evidence that he wasn’t? Yeah, great role model there. Hang that guy’s portrait in your store.
In the second half of the episode, everyone gathers in Madison’s friend’s very gorgeous house for her wedding party. There is a Champagne truck at the front door, a martini bar inside, and a man walking around shucking oysters right there on the spot so the salt-flavored loogie that guests pour down their throats will be fresher than all the powder Craig finds in Vermont during Winter House.
The party, quite frankly, is super-boring, and that’s not because Leva the Fun Destroyer shows up to level any levity anyone might be having. At least we’re one episode in and Leva has already left her kitchen this season. The one moment of levity comes when Madison gathers all the guests (only about 20 or so people; does she have no friends?) and gives a little speech. Then Austen chimes in and says, “If I could just say …” and then stops. That was funny. Then Madison goes, “No. Do it. Give a speech,” and everyone is like, “Oh, Jesus.”
Taylor, who definitely wore a purity ring to a Jonas Brothers concert, buys the happy couple a vibrator because they’re doing the long-distance thing. Okay, I appreciate the sentiment, and I think we should normalize giving people sex toys as gifts, like Austen and Shep are trying to normalize hanging out with their exes. But couldn’t she have picked better? Maybe a his-and-hers sex toy? Maybe something you can use through the computer?
The rest of the party plays out just as you think it will. Shep says hi to Taylor and they’re both frosty to each other. She says he was being “derisive” of her, but we see no indication of that. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, just that we didn’t see it. Austen says hi to Olivia, and she shakes him off like a particularly sticky booger on a fresh manicure.
The only altercation comes at the very end when Taylor gets mad, not at Shep but at Craig. She is upset that Craig hasn’t talked to her or hung out with her since she broke up with Shep. Ah, doy, Taylor. He’s your ex’s bestie! You lost in him the divorce! Craig explains this to her, and she says, “But he’s a fucked-up human being.” Yes, Taylor. We know. We all know. You should have known. You should have watched the previous eight seasons of this show and seen all the ways Shep has mistreated a myriad of women and said, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t date this dude with a teeny tiny Mortal Kombat II in his kitchen. Maybe I should Finish Him!!!”
Taylor’s big problem is that Shep cheated on her multiple times, but she says that when Craig described the cheating the day after it happened, he was laughing. Craig explains he wasn’t laughing at Taylor; he was laughing at what an idiot Shep is. He also told Taylor that when he saw Shep kissing the girl in question, he tore him away from her, sat him down, and told him to knock it off. How much more support could she possibly want from a dude whose loyalty is actually to his friend? As Craig points out, he could have just let Shep fuck that girl and not intervened at all. And now he’s getting yelled at because of it. I don’t know, friends. I don’t know if we have a season. I don’t know if we have anything, and trying to liken what will happen this season to the greatest run of Bravo episodes will only make it look sadder.