We're not quite sure exactly when it happened. Maybe it was right after season two's bitch slap heard 'round the world between Stassi and Kristen? Or maybe it happened in season three when Stassi set her entire world ablaze, as if she would never look back, only to return with her tail between her legs 12 episodes later? One thing is for sure: Four seasons in, we're completely obsessed with Vanderpump Rules. And we're hardly the only ones.
But it wasn't always this way.
The runaway Bravo hit debuted modestly in 2013, a spin-off of the network's wildly successful Real Housewives franchise. Relying on Beverly Hills' breakout star Lisa Vanderpump's nascent fame, Vanderpump Rules took us into the world of LVP's West Hollywood restaurant SUR (which, yes, stands for the highly imaginative Sexy Unique Restaurant), capitalizing on the fact that she employed one of co-star Brandi Glanville's ex-husband Eddie Cibrian's mistresses. It felt like an icky entry point, using a friend's pain to jump start your own spinoff—and because of that, we kept Pump Rules at arm's length.
But somewhere along the way, as the show moved away from Scheana's entanglement with Brandi once it realized she was hardly the most interesting person in its cast, the training wheels fell off the whole endeavor and it's become as though no one can look away. The cast of blandly attractive aspiring models and actors stuck slinging drinks and overpriced plates of chicken while they wait for their dreams to come true, the likes of which seem to populate nearly every corner of Los Angeles, began to find their reality TV sea legs and a bona fide phenomenon was born.
By the time the quasi-incestuous group of friends revealed itself to be full-on incestuous in season two as Stassi learned that her best friend Kristen has slept with her ex-boyfriend Jax more than once (while she was dating his best friend Tom, no less), the show began to soar. Think The Hills, with less polish. But where the kids of The Hills were endlessly working towards a better professional future (though they often stumbled—choose Paris, LC! Choose Paris!), the kids of Pump Rules seem to be endlessly working towards the weekend.
Mostly, the series has become a hypnotic cycle of party, fight, break up, make up, repeat. And perhaps it's this comforting bit of dramatic stasis that's earned the series its considerable fan base. (When the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and John Legend turn your theme song into memes, you can call your fan base "considerable.") In its four season, the series has added cast members here and there—James and Lala have certainly upped the WTF factor with the things they are willing to do and say for camera time—but it's the core characters, and their dizzying tango of alliances, that have propelled the series to its current height.
The New York Times, of all places, has even gotten in on the fun, writing about the series this month thusly: "The series remains a near-pure portrait of motionlessness, a still point in the turning world. Watching it is like having my brain stroked to a very low-grade, consequence-free orgasm—a pleasurable sort of noninvolvement. And I never once have to compare myself unfavorably with the people onscreen."
It's perhaps in her last point that the author hits the nail on the head. In watching these people, we aren't ever once made to feel bad about the state of our own lives. These are people who smoke cigarettes with abandon (seriously, when was the last time you saw anyone else on TV smoke?), live in dilapidated, usually unfurnished studio apartments that look like they probably smell, and actually go to the restroom (to drop a deuce, no less!) with the door open, in front of their girlfriends, on camera! Watching these people makes us feel good about ourselves.
She may not be the protagonist of the series, though she sits front and center in all of its promotional material, but when Lisa makes an appearance to chastise one of her employees for their outrageous personal behavior like an exasperated mother, we may question her business acumen because she rarely, if ever, fires anyone, but we rally around her because it's as though a member of the audience is getting to speak to the cast directly. She has us in the palm of her hand and she knows it.
Vanderpump Rules is a phenomenon because it doesn't challenge us and it lets us feel superior, all while letting us gawk at and obsess over a cast that seems to have zero boundaries. It's a reality TV dream. Why wouldn't we watch?
Vanderpump Rules' season four reunion special begins airing Monday, March 21 at 9 p.m. on Bravo.
(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)