If you rewatch the first two seasons of Vanderpump Rules, the show looks almost quaint. Just six SURvers — the waitstaff of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood restaurant SUR — are featured in the opening credits, with Mama Lisa taking the final title card. Series rivals Stassi Schroeder and Scheana Marie are billed first, followed by bad boy Jax Taylor, bartender-turned-TomTom co-owner Tom Sandoval, and then Stassi’s fellow Witches of WeHo Kristen Doute and Katie Maloney (now Maloney-Schwartz).It was a simpler time on Bravo’s drinks-and-drama reality series, though the strength of these few personalities was enough to make the show one of the network’s crown jewels. Infamously pitched by Lisa and producers with a board of relationships — this is who’s dating who, this is who they’re cheating with, etc. — the organic personal mess made for deeply compelling storytelling. I still argue Season 2 is among Bravo’s very best seasons ever.
But starting with Season 3 and the elevation of Katie’s boyfriend Tom Schwartz and Sandoval’s girlfriend Ariana Madix to main cast members, the show has gradually ballooned in size. Later came rebellious British DJ James Kennedy, loud-and-proud feminist Lala Kent, Jax’s current fiancée Brittany Cartwright, and even more recurring characters. Meanwhile, absolutely no one has left the cast — the only one to even temporarily dip out was Stassi, who spent Season 4 as a recurring player.
This has caused Vanderpump Rules to feel like two separate shows at once. On the one hand, you have the elder cast, more mature than ever. Their days of peak drama are behind them; most are buying houses and/or getting married or soon-to-be. Their more domestic lives are still interesting to watch, because these are characters we’ve grown to love, but it’s difficult to buy them as part of the existing Vanderpump Rules infrastructure anymore — particularly because they don’t work at SUR. (The show pretends some still do, to ever-credibility-straining effect.)
On the other side of the coin, you have the younger members of the cast. Lala and James have been the primary narrative drivers throughout this seventh season (which ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, in this week’s final reunion episode). Lala’s grief over losing her father has caused her to lash out in ways both relatable and mystifying, while James’ battle with alcohol saw him lose career opportunities and most of his connections to the group.
Here’s the issue: The senior class doesn’t have any interest in getting involved with the younger kids’ drama. This season's reunion has been a shining example of that: James has continually tried to provoke the other cast members, with varying results (Jax and Brittany have taken the bait repeatedly). The only consistent result is yelling and screaming. No one is moving forward. No one is crafting new narratives out of this. Even the one potentially interesting wrinkle — that Jax decided to remove Sandoval as his best man, turned out to be false.
The idea of a cast reboot has come up many a time among Vanderpump's most passionate viewers,but there’s little consensus about who needs to be dumped. Some prefer the fresher drama of the younger cast, while others are attached to the elder group. Trying to simply pick one would mean alienating at least part of the audience.
So, here’s my proposal: Reboot the cast, but on an entirely different show. Keep Vanderpump Rules around with the original cast plus significant others — so Stassi, Kristen, Jax, Brittany, the Toms, Ariana, and Katie (I could take or leave Scheana at this point, after her story was all-but-completely divorced from the rest of the cast this season). Set the show completely at Tom Tom, focusing on the travails of the Toms’ new bar in its second year of existence. Make the cast’s new houses part of the story. Show us more of Stassi and new, seemingly perfect boyfriend Beau Clark. Follow Kristen dating after years of a steady relationship with now-ex Brian Carter. Give us Ariana’s new conflict with Lisa, as she demands respect from the show’s matriarch. And most importantly, spend proper time on Jax and Brittany’s wedding and early married life. There’s so much here, you don’t need the younger cast.
Meanwhile, on a Vanderpump Rules: The Next Generation-style show, Bravo can still feature SUR, with real SUR employees like James’ girlfriend Raquel Leviss and Season 7 firebrand Billie Lee. You can even incorporate former side characters, like Ariana’s brother Jeremy Madix and Scheana’s former fling Adam Spott. The younger cast can bring volcanic drama that fans miss from Vanderpump Rules’ early seasons.
This extends the Vanderpump Rules brand, gives Bravo a whole new show with a built-in audience, and even allows for crossover opportunities between the two (group trip, perhaps?). To me, it’s the perfect solution: If Vanderpump Rules feels like two shows anyway, there’s no reason not to make the split real. After a sluggish season, it might be just what the franchise needs to fully level up.
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles. Follow his musings and rantings on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.