Once upon a time, in a suburban home with a decent sized backyard but sadly no full-time maid, there lived a teenage girl. She had always been a somewhat happy child who had been reared on the mentality that nobody in the entire world could possibly be more fabulous and special than she was by a mother and a father who had neglected to take even a single parenting class about the dangers of inflating a child’s ego. When she walked into school each day, she could feel the envious eyes upon her. She knew their adoration was clearly due to how shiny her hair looked underneath the glow of the fluorescent lights in the cafeteria and so she would gaze out at her minions from beneath her lashes because they thought she was important and she knew it was true.
Back at home, she would climb the stairs to her bedroom and lie atop her probably-canopied bed and hold a pink pillow that had the word “DIVA” embroidered on it in rhinestones close to her heart and she would gaze up at the pictures on her wall that she’d carefully cut from the glossy pages of US Weekly. Like deities, Lauren and Heidi and Paris and Nicole hovered above her and she would lock eyes with all of them, especially with that one wonky eye of Paris Hilton’s, and she would sigh deeply and allow herself to think about her future.
One day, she swore to herself solemnly, I too will be famous for absolutely nothing at all. I will wear low-rise jeans and get photographed outside of a place like Hyde and maybe a Bling Ringer will even try to rob my home to steal my clothing and my blow. And no matter what happens, I will lean on my dear friends for emotional support and I will call every single one of them “slut” or “bitch” because that will illustrate my undying devotion to them and one day we will all star on a series together where we will destroy one another. One day…
Then this pathetic version of a fairytale princess would gently put her DIVA pillow down and go online so she could send IMs to her crew about just how fat some girl looked in Gym class that day and she would laugh her throaty laugh and roll her eyes when her mother called her down to dinner because the only thing lamer than sitting with your family is having to ingest calories, but she knew that if she wanted a car the second she turned sixteen, she’d better put her time in now. And later that night as she pulled the duvet tightly around her hungry frame in bed, she would close her eyes and dream of the bright and sparkly future where she would be an Adderall-addicted waitress at a restaurant where, on some days, diners would have to sign a release form to enter the place. She would work there for years! She would date at least one bartender! She would fight with every single person in the restaurant at least once, including her boss! She would expose the secrets of others and have her own secrets exposed to the world and she would cry bitter and angry tears and then she would come back for more.
She would be the lowest version of a star ever registered by the naked eye.
She would be one of the cast members on Vanderpump Rules.
Welcome to SUR, a restaurant that boasts only three paltry stars on Yelp and a waitstaff with absolutely no inhibition, shame, or concerns about how their lives might be negatively impacted by this infamy once it all finally goes away. Owned by my favorite Real Housewife of all time, cheeky goddess Lisa Vanderpump, the place apparently serves fried goat cheese balls with dipping sauces made out of heightened misery and most of the people who work there have aspirations of becoming stars. There are hopeful musicians and aging models and ravaged writers and jewelry designers who believe that each and every necklace should always have at least one more heavy stone thrown in and SUR is the place where they gather to earn the money to pay for their rent and (I’m guessing) their drugs. Most of the waitresses and the bartenders have known one another for years at this point and so they all have a deep and complicated history with one another that includes minor shit like infidelity and betrayal and yet they all show up in the same places all the time because, well, that’s where the cameras are.
It seems that most of last season’s cast is back for more, including a couple of people who don’t even work at the restaurant anymore. For you Vanderpump Rules virgins (lucky bastards!), here’s a brief summary of our players to help you set up your bracket of who you’d perhaps most want to vote off the stratosphere – though you should know that transporting these people out into space will send terrible messages about earthlings to our alien counterparts and could very well spark intergalactic warfare.
Jax is a bartender at SUR and one of the most vile creatures to ever stand upright. He’s a sometimes model and an always douchebag who lies (on camera), cheats (on and off camera), and is the reason chastity belts should be the new uniform for female SUR employees.
Tom Sandoval is also a bartender and one of Jax’s best friends in spite of the fact that Jax slept with Tom’s former girlfriend…in Tom’s living room…while Tom was sleeping in the bedroom. He has forgiven Jax for reasons that defy comprehension and has finally gnawed himself free from his lunatic ex-girlfriend to find happiness with his new girlfriend.
Ariana is Sandoval’s girlfriend now. Also a bartender at SUR, Ariana comes off as normal and rather intelligent. She has dealt with verbal threats from Sandoval’s ex – you know, normal stuff like how great it would be if a Mack truck hit Adriana in the face at full speed – and she is best friends with Scheana, a girl with more vowels in her name than is probably necessary.
Speaking of Scheana, she’s an aspiring singer but I think that her aspirations are more about her liking attention than having any sort of commitment to her art. Scheana’s kind of ridiculous in that she got married in a wedding dress that had a crop top and she makes comments like, “None of my other friends have a husband!” She also insists on showing a level of decency to the girl who has wished upon skies filled with stars for the spontaneous destruction of her very best friend, and that kind of disloyalty would probably be a deal breaker for me. Still, Scheana is not so bad. She can form full sentences and she seems to know when people are being assholes, even as she continues to associate with them.
Katie is another waitress at SUR and she gave her boyfriend, Tom Schwartz, an ultimatum last season about how he needed to propose to her. Katie used to be rather meek and boring, but she summoned up some moxie last season and started to stand up for herself. I have decided that as long as she never goes back to the terrible orange hair she had during season two, I will root for Katie’s happiness.
Stassi used to be Katie’s best friend. She also used to be Jax’s girlfriend. She also used to work at SUR, but then she moved to New York and found a new boyfriend and decided she was so over all the bullshit – until the new season started up and then she landed back in LA and back on the show. Stassi runs a style blog and she wears terrible jewelry that I think she makes herself but what she fashions way better than enormous statement necklaces are insults. The truth (shhhh…) is that I kind of like Stassi. Sure, I think she’s a total asshole who has lived her early adulthood like a girl who desperately wanted to be elected Prom Queen in high school and wasn’t, but she is articulate and somewhat self-aware and I would have written a book about her perfection had she not made the choice to come back on a show she publicly declared she was done with because now it just feels like she’s slumming and that’s a look that’s never flattering.
Tom Schwartz is Katie’s boyfriend and one of the cutest boys in the whole world. He strikes me as a bit of a wuss since he doesn’t seem to easily stand up for himself and he deigns to continue to be friends with Jax, but I forgive him for everything the second he slips on his adorable glasses.
And then there’s Kristen. Kristen is Sandoval’s ex-girlfriend, Stassi’s ex-best friend, Lisa Vanderpump’s ex-employee, and the single craziest woman ever captured by Bravo cameras – and I used to watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta during the days when NeNe needed to be retrained from punching Kim on a tour bus. I don’t understand Kristen and I don’t really want to understand her. She desperately wanted Sandoval back and blames Ariana for their breakup despite the fact that she also cheated. She continued to work at SUR after the demise of her relationship alongside her ex and his new girlfriend and shot glances that, had they been actual daggers, Ariana would have bled out on the floor of an eating establishment that probably has Board of Health guidelines. She snared herself a rebound boyfriend in the form of an English DJ/busboy named James, a guy who looks about twelve and has a dimple in his chin so deep that I’d hide in there when the apocalypse arrives. Last season, Kristen told her boss to “suck a dick,” smiled creepily upon hearing news that could destroy Sandoval’s happiness, and connected online with a girl who alleges to have slept with Sandoval – and then brought her to SUR to watch the action go down like it was the World Series. (Sorry, Mets fans. Too soon for a World Series reference?) Unless Kristen has spent the show’s hiatus locked in a sanatorium, my guess is that she’ll be bringing the crazy again this season. After all, why would she not? That insanity is what got her back on this show even though she doesn’t work at the restaurant where much of the action goes down. Like the obese woman who stars on My Big Fat Fabulous Life who would probably lose her show if she got skinny, Kristen has no real impetus to change, even if she’s actually capable of doing so.
Now that the basics have been covered, it’s time for the new season. I expected the action to begin with Jax enrolling himself in college to enrich himself with a double major in Finance and Philosophy. Alas, we begin instead with all the regulars arriving at SUR for a staff meeting led by Queen Vanderpump, a woman I think I’d vote into office just because I can’t stop myself from adoring her crisp demeanor. I love her so much that I’d stop writing this recap right now so I can get started on her inauguration speech, but I can do no such thing because Jax has just appeared onscreen for the first time all season and he is rocking a bandage over his nose and something yellow that might be gauze shoved inside of his ear. Seems Jax is undergoing round three of his nose job to finally get it right and he looks ridiculous, which means this season is starting off on precisely the right foot.
Shocking absolutely nobody who has at least one working brain cell (which maybe leaves Jax out) is the fact that Kristen has been causing disturbances at Lisa’s other restaurant, Pump. She’s been showing up to do some day drinking and to spend time with her toddler boyfriend at the place where he’s been working as a DJ and she apparently tossed a glass of wine while she was there. She’s not the only one Lisa is concerned about, though. According to her calculations, Sandoval hasn’t worked many shifts in the last few months – which nicely lines up with when the cameras vacated the place – but Sandoval refutes her theories and says he has been there and his eyes fill with tears for the first time all season.
Not a chance in hell that it’ll be the last.
After the meeting, Scheana and Katie bond briefly while they apply makeup in the bathroom and they appear to be good friends now. I’m happy for Katie that she has a friend in spite of the fact that she briefly murders language when she says, “Stassi and I’s friendship is done,” but it does make me cringe a little bit watching her gossip so freely about her former best friend with Scheana. Her story is that Stassi and her boyfriend have decided to live apart after sharing an apartment – but who can worry about that when Katie’s got her proposal countdown ticking away inside of her head like it’s an estrogen-fueled egg timer?
Locked away from the public eye so he won’t terrify the townspeople while he heals, Jax polishes glasses in the back of the restaurant and James comes in. Jax launches into some advice for the young boy about his lunatic of a girlfriend, the same chick Jax slept with when she was dating his best friend. Jax’s warnings are that Kristen could screw things up for James over at Pump and that Kristen is a time bomb who just so happens to be spending many of her days with Carmen, the girl Jax cared about deeply and showed her that affection by cheating on her constantly. It bothers him that Carmen has tried to move on with her life, something James confirms with a smile, and it’s there that the conversation between these guys ends. The camera stays on Jax as he quickly bangs out a text message that I’m guessing is intended to berate a girl for trying to live her life after the guy who tattooed her name on his arm broke up with her because he just wasn’t feeling it anymore.
And just when I felt like things were appearing rather sedate, Kristen calls James while he is sitting in an alley in the most apropos bit of location scouting I’ve seen in forever. She’s not calling to tell him that she loves him or to apologize for the wine-tossing incident. No, she demands to know what James told Jax about Carmen and James denies saying anything – after doing it on camera. The two of them scream on the phone and call one another words of endearment like “asshole” and I hear that these two have already broken up, but there’s a perverse part of me that hopes these crazy kids can make up and make it work because I’m very curious to see if the antichrist they create will also have a chin ass.
Back inside SUR, James confronts Jax about why he texted Carmen and the first fight of the night is underway but I’m already bored by it. Wake me when the cartilage from Jax’s nose starts flying, okay? In the meantime, Scheana, Ariana, and Tom sit down for a moment together and Scheana informs Tom that James is DJing her birthday party and Kristen is not invited. Just the mention of Kristen’s name seems to be enough to make Tom want to curl into a fetal position on the floor of SUR and start whispering safe words to himself, but I do hope he’ll pop up at some point to do his best to make Scheana understand that Kristen’s terrifying behavior lobbed at both him and Ariana – Scheana’s BEST FRIEND – should be enough of a reason to cut that chick from her life for good.
And here she is, the walking nightmare herself. Sauntering up that dark back alley, Kristen appears and Jax greets her with these warm words: “Ugh, what are you doing here?” But this is a new Kristen. She’s got longer hair! She knows her relationship with James is a joke! She views being fired from SUR as a relief! She is laser-focused on her new tee-shirt line and…I’m sorry, did she just say the line, “One of the things I’ve worked on in therapy is how not to act like a psycho”? Please allow me a moment to compose myself as balloons burst from the walls and ceilings of homes all over this great land in celebration of the fact that a crazy person has gotten herself some fucking therapy. But after the confetti clears, perhaps we should look again at her declaration that she no longer always needs to react – because wasn’t she just on the phone telling her boyfriend what an asshole he is? Is that not a reaction? I am so confused – and my therapist says it’s good to acknowledge confusion.
The next day dawns and we get treated to two images I never wanted to see: Jax getting out of a shower and his mother arriving at his front door. Good lord, somebody birthed this guy! It was so much easier to pretend that he was created in a laboratory by a psychopath with a meth problem, but no, Jax’s mom is here and as much as he’d love to show her a mansion in Beverly Hills instead of what appears to be a studio apartment, he also manages to get in a sweet line of horseshit that he would never want to live in a mansion anyway. As his mother wanders around his home, she insists upon calling him Jason, his given name. Jax/Jason sits her down and tells her about all the fun things he’s got planned for them and how he’s taking a break from girls and she responds by giving him some wise advice and my guess is that her turn on this show will be incredibly short-lived.
Over at Kristen’s apartment, James arrives with flowers because he feels badly for telling her to fuck off the night before. Boyfriends are so silly! Honestly though, the relationship the two of them have looks beyond miserable – and that’s before they start fighting again about how Kristen shouldn’t come to Scheana’s birthday party with him. Here’s the thing: why would Kristen want to be there? She hates everyone and they all hate her and the fact that she cannot stop herself from wanting to attend so she can simply get a reaction – even if it’s negative – is a very clear sign that her therapy might not be working. Has anyone suggested a lobotomy? She’d probably need insurance for that though, right?
Across town, Jax brings his mother to Villa Blanca so they can have lunch with Scheana and her mother. Like the relatively smart girl that she is, Scheana knows not to say too much about Jax’s life to his mother because there’s not a chance in the raging fires of hell that he’s been completely honest with her about what really goes down in LA. Still, the woman’s got to watch the show, right? What more could there be to hide? Actually, please nobody answer that question.
Lisa shows up just then and greets the group warmly and asks if Jax was as bad as a child as he is now as a pretend adult and his mother reveals adorable stories about how Jax has always been a total liar who has hit on every human being rocking a vagina, including his middle school bus driver.
And finally Tom Schwartz is onscreen – and it’s a major disappointment because he’s getting a perm…an actual perm! This aesthetic choice is absolutely horrifying to me, but I will forgive him because he declares this The Year of Tom and he speaks softly and sweetly about how he’s ready to propose and really, he might actually be cute enough to pull off a perm, a sentence I never ever thought I would say.
Finally it’s time for Scheana’s birthday costume party and the guest of honor shows up as a Like a Virgin-era Madonna. Katie is dressed like a character from Clueless and Ariana seems to be channeling a brunette version of Edie Sedgwick while both Toms arrive on roller-skates. Sandoval has taken this little exercise to the extreme. He has created an entire name and backstory for his Starsky and Hutch inspired character and I’d think that level of commitment was maybe kind of awesome if I weren’t so worried that this guy would burst into tears at a moment’s notice too. Look, I’m all for a man showing emotion, but I think I’ve seen this guy cry more than I’ve seen my sister cry – and she got a nail stuck in her hand once.
Jax arrives at the party dressed like Danny from Grease in what’s maybe the lamest costume ever. He’s got his mom on one arm and he lets us know that Carmen turned him down for the party so, like the oozing douchebag he is, he just went one name down on his contact list and invited the next person who had tits. And besides the fact that Jax exists on the planet, everything is going just swimmingly – and that’s when Kristen shows up. I’m guessing she isn’t coming from her latest therapy session, especially when she declares, “Clearly I wasn’t invited, but I know Scheana really deep down wants me at her birthday party.” Oh, sweetheart…you are fucking crazy.
Into the happy place wanders the monster. She is not wearing a costume (unless she’s going as exposed nipples) and neither is Lisa Vanderpump, but that’s just because she’s too fabulous to ever pretend to be anybody else. Lisa walks into that room and sees that Scheana is dressed like Madonna and nails it by saying that Scheana always has to be the focus of attention in her relationship and she’s probably really onto something considering the fact that we’ve heard her husband say twelve sentences in all the time he’s been on this show – and that includes his vows. Speaking of her husband, he’s wandering around and is nowhere to be found in what I guess is meant to be a sinister piece of foreshadowing for the addiction issues the coming attractions hinted at.
Over at the DJ booth, Kristen greets the love of her life (also known as “the guy she fucking hates”) and he asks her if she can grab him a drink. It’s difficult to concentrate on their newest senseless battle (whether or not he should drink while he’s working) because their disgust for one another is bubbling all over the screen. Also, watching that scrawny dude bounce along to the music he’s playing while wearing a terribly unfortunate black wig has me all discombobulated. I’m gonna need to rewind to an image of Schwartz’s face before I feel well enough to continue.
On the dance floor, Sandoval is doing an entire choreographed routine in his skates while Kristen whoops with appreciation from the sidelines and videotapes the moves of the guy she no longer cares about even a little bit – and you’re a bitch if you say that she does care about him because she’s totally in love with the DJ and she only calls him an asshole sometimes. Watching the display is Ariana and she feels nauseous about it all, but probably nobody feels queasier than Sandoval, who is told by Lisa’s husband Ken that he’d best not disrespect his wife ever again. Being confronted by a dapper Englishman while you’re wearing a fake mustache and roller-skates has to suck just a little bit, so it’s a good thing his ex-girlfriend is on the premises to make everything just a little bit easier.
As the party wears on, Lisa has a brief conversation with Kristen and gives her the very excellent advice to maybe stay away from her boyfriend while he’s working since their interactions tend to be loud and sometime involve flying glass. As that guidance makes perfect sense, Kristen chooses to ignore it. Then Jax sits down with his mother and he is rather sweet with her but the vomit starts to creep up when he talks about how much he values his friendships. See, we have watched Jax spend the last few seasons shitting all over those people. He has lied to them. He has knowingly deceived them. He has thrown them under the bus to absolve himself momentarily for his latest slimy sin. Sweet with his mother or not, the guy is a piece of shit.
Over in a corner, Kristen playfully caresses Scheana’s crimped hair and Scheana lets us know that she just has a soft spot for Kristen and she simply can’t hate the girl who has done everything in her power to literally destroy the happiness of her best friend. Maybe Scheana will develop more loyalty now that she’s hit her thirties – and she’d better do it quickly because Ariana is rightfully losing her patience.
And now it’s the end of the night, which means it’s time for James to start chugging really hard liquor directly from the bottle while slobbering the backwash all over the front of his ugly costume. The rest of them call out warnings for him to stop, but see, the guy is a fucking moron so he goes ahead and proves it once again by leaning over to some girl right in front of Kristen to tell her that she is absolutely beautiful. But before things can get too heavy, Sandoval skates into the swimming pool and Kristen sits back and stares at the idiotic drunk guy she’s probably going to have to carry home while wishing she could hand a fluffy towel to her soaking wet ex-boyfriend instead.
Maybe she’ll mention the thread-count of her fantasy towels in her next therapy session. And maybe she can embroider the word “DIVA” onto those towels with the hair she rips from Ariana’s scalp.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.