Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Bravo's West Hollywood melodrama returns

November 07, 2016 at 06:02 PM EST

Somewhere between heaven and hell, in West Hollywood, USA, the wayward traveler wanders into SUR. The hostess is Lala, which rhymes with “dada.” She was just cast in an Adrien Grenier movie (don’t worry, she can’t pronounce “Grenier” either). The servers wear purple, they’re big on SnapChat. The restaurant has a DJ: He is a monster, or perhaps we are the monsters. One bartender looks like Middle-Aged Alec Baldwin poured into Young Alec Baldwin; the other bartender has a frosted surf-samurai haircut.

Almost immediately ­— no, immediately — in season 5 of Bravo’s docusoap, we learn somebody’s girlfriend just hooked up with somebody else’s ex-girlfriend. Gossip, bodyshaming, grown-man crying, and unspeakable cranberry-juice activity ensue. There’s a new apartment, a new dog. The show’s about people who work in a restaurant, but many of the people don’t work in the restaurant, and some of them are perpetually about to be fired from the restaurant.

I’ve been to the restaurant, and I’m still not sure it’s real. I think I know what Vanderpump Rules was supposed to be. Bravo’s tried a few variations on the formula: Young beautiful people work together, play together, play together, scream, cry, yell, hug, work, play, etc. The lineage traces back to The Real World, a show that is now more remembered than watched, but Vanderpump feels more like a clever West Coast variation of Jersey Shore, which was watched by millions but already feels curiously forgotten. The cast members on Vanderpump are a little older than the Shore kids — thirtysomethings acting 20 instead of twentysomethings acting 12 — and most of them actually knew each other before the cameras started rolling. And, nominally, Jersey Shore was just about partying, and very nominally, Vanderpump is about working.

Of course, the Jersey Shore people were working when they partied — those drunk fights got sponsorships! Vanderpump started back in 2013 notionally focused on the striving career ambitions of SUR’s employees: The bartender wants to be a musician, the hostess wants to be a model. At some point, the subtext shifted. The show is not about people who want to be famous; the show is about people who are famous, kind of, so long as they stay on the show.

The fifth season premiere wastes no time arranging the cast into battleground formation. Local supervillains James and Lala — he’s a weak-willed Harley Quinn to her gloriously affronted Joker — run afoul of everyone. Onetime exiles Kristen and Stassi are back in the fold. I jotted down “Kristen is Poison Ivy and Stassi is Mr. Freeze,” but the Batman metaphor runs dry eventually, and anyhow, everyone is probably Two-Face.

The premiere opens with Tom and Katie at their wedding — a deep flashforward intercut with scenes of interpersonal bedlam. There is no priest at their wedding, just their own private goddess: Lisa Vanderpump, with that trademark look on her face, either smiling without mirth or frowning with delight. Grab the wine, grab the botox, make a bad decision, make 10. Vanderpump isn’t a guilty pleasure. It’s a damned delight. A

Vanderpump Rules season 5 premieres Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

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