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Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Nina Metz

‘Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake’ review: 2 ‘Real Housewives of New York’ are dropped into small-town Illinois

For a time, I used to watch various incarnations of Bravo’s reality franchise “The Real Housewives.” Brightly lit and filled to their Botox gills with aspirational bunkum, the shows require little by way of mental engagement. These tantrums of the wealthy (and pretend wealthy) function as an easy distraction from your real-life headaches. I’ve likened the shows to sucking on a pop culture sourball, as you become transfixed by the uncanny valley of dysfunction, plastic surgery and obsession with thin bodies. But something about it all finally turned too rancid — too cynical and ugly — even for me.

Which brings us to “Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake,” the reality show with an unwieldy title starring “Real Housewives of New York” veterans Luann de Lesseps and Sonja Morgan, the Frick and Frack of Bravolebrities. They’ve agreed to spend five weeks in Benton — a small town in southern Illinois that’s been struggling financially since COVID — to help give the place an infusion of … something. This involves questionably meaningful projects such as organizing a talent show and building a playground.

The premise is a straight rip-off of “The Simple Life,” which premiered 20 years ago with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie scrunching their noses to spend time around people in (gah) Middle America. But “Crappie Lake” is also a riff on “Schitt’s Creek,” with Luann and Sonja bunking at the exceedingly modest local motel. Does an original idea exist anywhere in this project? To their credit, Luann and Sonja seem game for anything. But that’s not the same as watching the likes of Catherine O’Hara spin comedy gold from a more cunningly executed (scripted) idea.

For anyone acquainted with the antics and charms and desperate finances of Luann and Sonja, the series offers fairly predictable stuff. At home in New York as they pack, Luann holds up two options of something or another: “I have so many choices to make because this is white, and this is off-white.” Over at Sonja’s townhouse — a notorious real estate albatross that she still hasn’t managed to offload all these years later — she holds up some of the items she’s bringing: “These are the pads for my leaking liposuction.”

They fly private but apparently there’s no air conditioning on board. Then the pilot announces he’ll be circling the airport because there’s livestock on the runway and someone has to clear them off. I don’t know if this is actually true, but bravo Bravo.

Once the pair arrive in Benton (the series was filmed last summer) they’re welcomed by a decent-sized group of expectant locals — yes, they recognize the women! — and a car that, like the plane, also lacks air conditioning. They grumble but get on with it.

The show is dull, but I’ll give Luann and Sonja one thing: They are good time gals and they understand what’s expected of them — to be playful and absurd — and they lean into that. They know they’re overdressed and over-accessorized. That’s the point. But (at least as edited) they don’t resort to actual rudeness.

Here are some factoids about Benton: It was the site of one of the last public hangings in Illinois in 1928. George Harrison’s sister lived in Benton in the ‘60s and he came to visit her there as the Beatles were first taking the world by storm.

The show’s executive producer, seen briefly in the first episode, is Russell Jay-Staglik, a Benton native (his extended family still lives there) and longtime reality show veteran. “If Russell could do something to bring people to town, to see what’s going on, maybe that would bring a spark back into the community,” someone says. I’ve no doubt that sentiment is sincere. But Jay-Staglik’s aw-shucks demeanor is pretty disingenuous. A one-off reality TV series isn’t going to generate the economic infusion Benton actually needs.

Luann and Sonja don’t question any of it, but why would they? This is a paycheck to them. They’re good-natured and upbeat. But this is a job.

They once craved the status and elevated station that came with the connections their former marriages offered. Post-divorces, they’re milking their reality careers for all they’re worth and they’ve become far more interesting people now that they don’t take themselves so seriously and have embraced their new normal: Playing the clown in exchange for that Bravo money. It’s a far more honest life than the ones they were living before.



1.5 stars (out of 4)

Rating: TV-14

How to watch: 9 p.m. ET Sundays on Bravo and streaming on Peacock


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