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How Vanderpump Rules Helped Issa Rae As She Was Developing Her New HBO Max Show

Issa Rae on Insecure

Bravo's Vanderpump Rules has spanned nine seasons now, with a whole lot of drama playing out amongst the workers at Lisa Vanderpump’s hustling L.A. restaurant. The reality show was a natural successor of the Real Housewives, albeit with a younger, hipper spin. As it turns out, Vanderpump Rules' train of influence reached none other than producer and actress Issa Rae. The Insecure co-creator actually used it as an inspirational foundation on which to shape her own new reality show for HBO Max, Sweet Life: Los Angeles.

Following the runaway success of HBO's Insecure, along with her various film roles, Issa Rae was looking for a new project to pursue. She told EW that new project surprisingly originated in the form of a “Black Melrose” pitch that ultimately transformed into Sweet Life: Los Angeles, which is currently streaming on HBO Max. Rae shared that marathoning Vanderpump Rules’ first season on a plane ride helped shape the ethos of Sweet Life, saying:

I was like, 'What the fuck is this?' Because I'd never seen Real Housewives. I didn't know who Lisa Vanderpump was, but watching these people working at a restaurant, they just felt like real people who didn't, at the time, want to be famous.

Sweet Life: Los Angeles certainly shares a lot of similarities with Vanderpump Rules: namely L.A. dreamers and a dash of complex interpersonal relationships, sans Lisa Vanderpump's restaurant. But it sets itself apart by being one of the few and far between all-Black TV casts, in the reality TV genre or otherwise. As seen in the show's August 19 premiere episode on HBO Max, executive producer Issa Rae wrangled together seven South L.A 20-somethings to share their friend group’s successes – or, at least, their journeys in the general direction of success. It features aspiring designers and producers, some “trap yoga,” a beat up Honda Civic, and the ol’ reliable relationship entanglements that are part and parcel with these kinds of shows. (And young people.)

screenshot issa rae's hbo max sweet life los angeles

(Image credit: HBO Max)

But Vanderpump Rules wasn't the only show to influence Sweet Life: Los Angeles. Executive producer Issa Rae said her initial plan was:

Talk about a tall order – but she managed it by supposedly “finding real people with real ambitions.” She reflected that she was “very skeptical and careful” at the onset because she didn't want the HBO Max series to feature the “stereotypical archetype of L.A.” (Which one could argue is exactly what happened in Vanderpump Rules.) She said,

...To do Baldwin Hills with The Hills production quality and set it in South L.A. with an older group of people.

Talk about a tall order – but she managed it by, in her words, “finding real people with real ambitions.” She reflected that she was quite careful about everything at the onset because she didn't want the HBO Max series to play into the stereotypes about L.A. that everyone already feeds into. (Which one could argue is exactly what happened in Vanderpump Rules.) She also said:

I didn't want it to represent L.A. in a corny way. I wanted it to be real L.A. people that natives would be proud of, and they could be like, 'Oh, I know someone like that,' or 'I know this person.' And I'm really happy with the result.

HBO Max’s rollout of Sweet Life: Los Angeles has been rather quiet, but the critical reaction to it is decidedly not. The Ringer named it one of the best reality shows out right now. Likewise, Vice proclaimed that Issa Rae’s new reality show, along with Teyana Taylor and Iman’s We Got Love, represent a “new era of Black reality TV." So whether or not you care about Vanderpump Rules, there's still reasons to tune in. It seems where Issa Rae promises, she delivers, so watch your crown, Lisa Vanderpump…

Sweet Life: Los Angeles is streaming now on HBO Max, with new episodes debuting Wednesdays throughout the 2021 Fall TV season.

Lauren Vanderveen

I am a vegan feminist. I'm fascinated by all things space/stars. I love film history, reality television, and my cat Bubbe.