It’s been quite some time since we checked in with the geriatric binge drinkers of Vanderpump Rules, and a lot has changed. The biggest, of course, is that four of the cast members, including linchpins Stassi and Kristen, were fired during the racial reckoning our country went through last spring in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. That might also be the reason why in the very first minutes of the show we got cameos from Richardson, the new Tom Tom manager; and Mia, a new SUR hostess, both of whom just happen to be Black. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Lisa Vanderpump had an emergency, and that means all Black hands on deck, to the front of the restaurant, and squarely in front of the camera. I mean, they couldn’t be bothered to add any to the actual cast, but, much like Dorit Kemsley, all of Lisa’s best help has been people of color. She wants you to know that.
Other than that, the show isn’t that much different. Apparently, Lala is the new Stassi, the hot boss bitch that all of the other girls follow even when she cusses them out, and DJ James “White Kanye” Kennedy is the new Jax, behaving in ways both outrageous and predictable whenever anyone tries to hold him accountable for his actions. Katie Maloney, in case you were wondering, is still the same old Katie and, yes, is still the meanest person on television.
I also think the wretched last season of the show changed my perceptions about it. Yes, it’s always been produced, but now I’m much more inclined to think that the drama is not just massaged but entirely fabricated. In the opening scenes, Toms Schwartz and Sandoval ride in their motorcycle and sidecar wearing Irish fisherman sweaters, looking like they just threw on a matching ensemble after an evening of passionate lovemaking on a bear-skin rug in front of a fire. They go to Tom Tom to prepare the bar they co-own with Lisa and Ken for reopening post-pandemic. They’re debating how they’re going to tell Lisa about the restaurant that they’re opening without her and what her reaction might be. When they sit down, Lisa says, “I hear you’re opening a place on your own.” Okay, so she already knows. Hmm. I wonder how. Hmm. She then gives the boys her support, and the scene is wrapped up in a way that is so cute and wonderful that it seems, well, entirely pre-planned.
Actually, every time I see Lisa on the screen I think that the entire scene was concocted. The same goes for the fight between Lisa’s son Max and James. Apparently the two went out to eat at Dan Tana’s and Max got mad that James wanted to split a salad because there is a $10 split plate fee. James reacted by putting his fingers in Max’s water and splashing him as if to baptize him into James’s unique religion of belligerent assholery.
I was on board with this because, frankly, it seems like something James would do even now that he’s “California sober,” which means he’s not drinking but he is smoking weed every day. (Okay, this is just stupid. It’s like saying you’re going on a diet by eliminating sugar but instead you’re just eating fistfuls of Crisco right out of the jar and licking it off your fingers. That’s what Keto is, right?) But when Lisa brokered a peace summit between James and Max at Villa Rosa, a Lucite coffee table that ate an entire house, I totally gave up. Why would Lisa care if they get along? Does she need James as a DJ at SUR so badly? Wait, I thought we were no longer pretending any of the cast has any aspirations to work at the restau-lounge anymore? But not James? Because Lisa needs to amp up the drama.
The whole scene, while outrageous, is more pat than a diner bowl full of pre-cut butter. It’s as if Lisa told James to be a jerk for Max to not forgive him and walk out saying James can’t return to SUR. James played his part well, saying that the reason he was such a dick was because he took a “pre-workout” pill, which made him even more riled up than usual. He then starts insulting Max and his “wuss energy” right there in front of his mother, who didn’t even have his back. With a mom like that, who needs Twitter haters?
There are parts of this that struck me as real, like when Max says that he is tired of sticking up for James, especially because every time they went out drinking together Max was subjected to an “escapade of belligerence,” which is such good writing that it seems like Max is coming for my gig. So yes, I want to believe this, but I’m having a hard time with it. Is that my problem? Is that the show’s? Is it that I know too much about Lisa and her behind-the-scenes antics from watching so many years of our favorite show, Rich Women Doing Things?
What I totally believe is everything going on with Lala and the rest of the girls. There is a group dinner where the cast all gets together in Sandoval and Ariana’s backyard to celebrate Scheana’s birthday. At the party Lala is feuding with every single girl except for Katie. Um, if the only person at a party who wants to talk to you is the face you see when you look up Active Bitch Face in the Funk & Wagnalls, then maybe the problem isn’t everyone else, it’s you.
First up is her feud with Scheana, who is not getting enough of that good Aussie-rugby-player D to not be upset about something. She says that when she had a miscarriage in Palm Springs, Lala wasn’t there for her and instead went out to dinner with Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly. To be honest, Scheana is totally the Designer Imposter Body Sprays version of Megan Fox, so maybe Lala just couldn’t smell the difference. Then Scheana went on her podcast and told everyone about Lala not being there for her, which made the internet tell Lala that she should miscarry her baby.
To me it seems like Lala did as much as she possibly could (within reason) to help Scheana when she was going through a traumatic time, and that if Scheana was upset, she should have just called or texted or did a TikTak dance or whatever it is people with manicures so ornate that they can’t operate phones or wipe their own bums do these days instead of, you know, broadcasting it on her little piddly-pod. That said, I hate the reality-TV defense that is “I told you not to fuck with me and you fucked with me so you get what you deserve.” Oh, so because Lala is a known asshole people should be nicer to her? I wish that is the way life worked, because then I’d be cussing out every barista, commuter, and Peloton instructor that crosses my path. (Lucky for all of Peloton, the only exercise I regularly engage in is the calorie-burning rage of screaming at reality-TV shows.) Anyway, at the party they kiss and make up and everything is fine.
Next up is Ariana and Lala. While doing a press tour for her book — which Lala likens to birthing another baby even though I am almost certain that there was a ghostwriter putting all of her ripped-denim thoughts together — Lala went on a podcast and said that she doesn’t care about Ariana and Ariana doesn’t care about her. They get in a screaming match about this at the party, which is mostly just Ariana making funny noises and shrugging her shoulders like she is practicing a new form of passive-aggressive martial arts. Instead of resolving it, Lala storms out and leaves this to fester for what I assume is the rest of the season.
Finally, after Lala has her talk with Scheana, and she’s shedding a few postpartum tears that she will add to her coffee in the morning with a squirt of breast milk and a heaping spoonful of self-satisfaction. Who saunters over but Raquel, a Botox vial with a Depop store, to check on her. After comforting Lala, she says to her, “Well, I just wanted to know where we stood.” Lala answers that she really likes her and they’re fine. Then Raquel, a good witch who uses a mascara brush as her wand, says that she wanted Lala’s approval for a long time but she didn’t need it anymore.
Wait. Just back up a second. I know that Raquel graduated from the Aveda Institute, an accredited four-year degree-granting body, but how does she not see what she’s doing? She’s asking where they stand, looking for Lala’s approval of their friendship, and then being like, “I don’t need your approval.” Also, she finally got Lala’s approval, so why does she then say, “Oh, well, I actually don’t need that”? It’s like ordering a no-fat oat-milk latte with a little bit of Splenda and three pumps of caramel flavoring at Starbucks and then when they call your name you just look around at everyone in the store staring at their phones as if some asshole won’t pick up their ridiculously ornate caffeine-delivery vehicle.
So, yes, all of this I believe because this world of petty bickering and podcasts and the very fringes of fame is where all of these characters live. It is not only their breeding ground, it is also their gene pool, and they’re all having babies. The jury is still out on whether I believe this Sandoval-and-Schwartz feud that seems like it’s going to be the driving force of the season. Did Lisa tell them to have a falling out like they’re Jill Zarin and Bethenny Frankel on season three of RHONY? (Or a falling out like Katie through a skylight? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Or is this really the culmination of an unequal partnership where Sandoval takes all the initiative and has all the ideas and Schwartz is so lazy and nonconfrontational that he can’t do anything or stand up for what he really believes?
I could go either way on this, but I think that everyone agrees that it’s a bad idea for Katie to get too involved in the restaurant because, no matter what happens on this show, the hate that Sandoval has for Katie is realer than any Housewife. As Katie and Sandoval are having a heated argument about the name of the restaurant, which Sandoval wants to call Schwartz & Sandy’s, an objectively bad name — but what do you expect from a friend group that names their children thinks like Zephyr and Phlebotomy? — the two go into Schwartz’s house to talk about it among themselves.
“Do you really hate the name?” Sandoval asks.
“Yes, I really hate the name,” Schwartz says, for the first time in his life not exuding the wuss energy that James accused Max of having.
“What do you want then?” Sandoval asks, a little bit angry.
“I want this,” Schwartz says. He reaches out and cups his palm onto Sandoval’s crotch and leaves it there. They both look down at his hand as if it’s evidence of a crime, and then at the same moment they look up and stare right into each other’s eyes. Schwartz leaves his hand there as they start kissing, right there next to the monumental island in Sandoval’s kitchen. Sandoval embraces Schwartz, who pulls his hand away only to shove it under the waistband of Sandoval’s pants and grab a handful of the tightest ass this side of Mulholland. They pull their faces away for a moment and Sandoval pants, “Schwartz.”
“And Sandy’s,” Schwartz says, burying his stubbled chin into the tender skin just below Sandoval’s ill-advised goatee.