Why You Should Spend the Rest of the Summer Watching Bravo’s Crappie Lake

4 minute read

While Bravo’s Real Housewives extended universe built its name on the enjoyability of low-stakes drama—where rich women, insulated from real world problems, threw wine and flipped tables over petty conflicts and trivial feuds—a certain darkness has always hung over the franchise. It’s inevitable, when cameras closely follow Housewives casts from Beverly Hills to Atlanta as they deal with all the ups and downs in life. And recent installments have taken a more somber turn—housewives Teresa Giudice, Erika Jayne, and Jen Shah have faced legal battles, with Giudice and Shah eventually serving time for criminal activity. Even “Scandoval,” the illicit affair on the latest season of Vanderpump Rules had an element of heaviness and painful betrayal that dampened the usual frothiness of the show.

Part of these developments is just reality TV actually getting real. But there’s a sense of sadness in realizing that even the best of your favorite comfort shows cannot escape the grimness of real life. That gloom and doom, however, is nowhere to be found in Bravo’s Luann & Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake, a delightfully campy show starring two former Real Housewives in a refreshingly conflict-free return to form.

Read more: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Watching The Real Housewives

Crappie Lake, a spin-off of sorts of RHONY that premiered July 9, features the fan-favorite fancy Upper East Side doyennes on a goodwill mission to “spruce up” the small town of Benton, Ill., where popular local activities include off-roading in mud and fishing with your hands in the titular lake. To get Benton back on its feet after the pandemic, Sonja and Luann commit their helping hands and glamorous sensibilities to the town for five weeks, promising to drum up tourism, build a park and a playground, organize a show featuring local talent, throw a Christmas in July celebration, and upgrade the local animal shelter.

Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake - Season 1
CRAPPIE LAKE -- Pictured: (l-r) Luann de Lesseps, Sonja Morgan -- (Photo by: Nick Fochtman/E! Entertainment)Nick Fochtman/E! Entertainment—2022 Bravo Media, LLC.

It’s a premise that’s part Simple Life, part Laverne & Shirley, and one hundred percent hilarious—thanks mostly in part to the unlimited charm of its stars, two city slickers, who have nonetheless wholly embraced Benton, its traditions, and especially its residents. The kooky, bubbling energy Luann and Sonja brought to years of RHONY is back—nothing is more delicious than seeing the Countess flirt with precision and unabashed confidence at the local firehouse or watching Sonja convince a bar patron to take off his shirt, staple it to the ceiling of the bar, and then leave with him. The show is not all flirting and fun—the girls are putting in the work, cutting tree branches to prepare for the new park and even making beds and cleaning rooms at their motel.

The show’s release follows Bravo’s decision to restructure RHONY after its controversial 13th season, by gutting its former roster and introducing a new cast of younger and more diverse women. Season 13 was a departure from RHONY’s brand of drama and humor. Simmering tensions between cast members over race and politics combined with the restrictions of filming during the pandemic led to low ratings and a less than stellar season. The season also found Luann, one of the original RHONY housewives, on the other side of dealing with sobriety, while Sonja, a longtime mainstay of the franchise, dealt with money issues and arguments about drinking.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About the New Era of Real Housewives of New York

Which might explain why Crappie Lake is a captivating comedic masterpiece. It’s a burst of levity and a balm in a reality TV landscape in which darkness and serious conflict are the norm. Legal woes and friendship ending feuds aren’t the story here and it’s a relief to be reunited with two housewives who have publicly faced their biggest demons (divorces, DUIs, and the men of Manhattan) and who are consummate professionals in the art of being down—so much so that they were willing to relocate to a small town in Illinois to fish and do manual labor for a summer.

And the show offers a new direction for the former housewives to be their sparkling selves, without as much of the mess. Some spats arise, like when Luann, true to form, tries to make a move on Sonja’s hookup from the bar. But the arguments quickly fade into more meaningful moments of real friendship, like when the two women risk their lactose intolerance for a much-anticipated trip to the Dairy Queen drive-thru to share a banana split. The show makes the convincing case that all you need to have a good time (and a good reality show) is two best friends and a sense of humor.

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com