Of all of the Real Housewives (if anyone finds out what’s real about them, please donate your information to science), Lisa Vanderpump being awarded her own spinoff was a wise choice. Far more level-headed and calm than her oft-drunk, shrieking and crying compatriots, Lisa acts as a decent mentor to the young and vain staff at her West Hollywood restaurant Sur. Vanderpump Rules follows these vapid youths with names like Stassi and Jax as they fight and produce drama, and occasionally wait tables and pour drinks. The series also could be named Before They Were Housewives or Real Housewives: The Early Years.
Vanderpump isn’t particularly visible or focused upon, at least in the pilot episode, but she makes an excellent master of ceremonies. She presents the circus and then steps back to let them perform, returning only to keep the lion (Stassi Schroeder) in line or the tightrope walker (Scheana Marie) from being pushed off her ledge. That tension between Stassi and Scheana is a driving force to start the series, as Scheana is best known as one of the women with whom actor Eddie Cibrian was having an affair while married to Real Housewives‘ Brandi Glanville, before he divorced her and married country singer LeAnn Rimes. Drama!
Although Brandi more or less forgave Scheana in the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills episode that helped launch Vanderpump Rules, Queen Bee Stassi isn’t having it, and she gets her co-worker best friends Katie and Kristen (who so far lack any defining traits other than being easily manipulated) and her bartender boyfriend Jax to snub Scheana. Still, no one is as sold on the idea as Stassi, and her indefensible meanness quickly becomes tiresome for the rest of the cast.
“Working [at Sur] is so different,” Stassi says. “Everyone wants to be actors, writers, models and singers.” Not so different after all. But Vanderpump Rules seems to have a tight flow of drama without much repetition, and its stars do well with their cues and obviously prepped conversations. Although the series starts off with all of the major players in relationships, promos suggest that won’t last long. As Vanderpump says, “If I fired someone every time they slept with another employee, I’d have no staff.”
The Real Housewives formula is still in play here, which Evolution Media is old hat at, but Vanderpump Rules also has a narrative angle more in common with MTV’s The Hills than anything, as it follows the always compelling story of young people trying to make it in Hollywood. Perhaps most surprising, there actually are some likable cast members (mostly the men, who spend most of their time looking bewildered).
Everything works for Vanderpump Rules as it should, and even those who don’t follow the Real Housewives franchise can pick up easily with the drama of the spinoff. The show also benefits from not being completely manufactured: The castmembers have known one another, dated one another and worked together for several years, and that closeness is apparent.
So what are Vanderpump’s rules? Something like “always keep volatile compounds in close quarters,” it seems. Lucky us.