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Winter House Proves All Bravo Shows Should Have Winter Seasons

It's a crossover season for Summer House and Southern Charm, and everybody's acting like they're 20 again.
  • The cast of Bravo's Winter House: (l-r) Ciara Miller, Craig Conover, Austen Kroll, Luke Gulbranson, Julia McGuire, Lindsay Hubbard, Andrea Denver, Amanda Batula, Paige DeSorbo, Jason Cameron, Gabrielle Kniery, and Kyle Cooke. (Photo: Zack DeZon/Bravo)
    The cast of Bravo's Winter House: (l-r) Ciara Miller, Craig Conover, Austen Kroll, Luke Gulbranson, Julia McGuire, Lindsay Hubbard, Andrea Denver, Amanda Batula, Paige DeSorbo, Jason Cameron, Gabrielle Kniery, and Kyle Cooke. (Photo: Zack DeZon/Bravo)

    It's somehow taken Bravo until 2021 to realize the true potential of their vast reality TV empire, but let's at least be thankful that it's happening. After more than a decade of building out its various franchises, from The Real Housewives to Southern Charm to Below Deck, the cable network is finally capitalizing on the currency that it holds in its massive stable of reality stars. This has already borne fruit in the Top Chef franchise, where alumni have returned to serve as guest judges and the spinoff Top Chef: Amateurs, and The Real Housewives are FINALLY putting together an all-stars season with The Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip next month. And tonight, the universes of Summer House and Southern Charm are at last getting a proper crossover with the new miniseries Winter House, in which six of the Summer House cast members (everyone from last season except Hannah and Carl) join Craig and Austen from Southern Charm, along with a handful of newbies who are coincidentally single and attractive for two weeks of properly quarantined winter frolicking and all the spiked seltzer they can drink.

    In terms of alchemy, Winter House is much more a Summer House mini-season than it is a Southern Charm offshoot. Craig and Austen — who already guested on Summer House in 2019 — are the invited guests on an off-season excursion to the slopes of Vermont, not far from where SH star Kyle Cooke grew up and vacationed as a kid. Kyle and his fiancé, Amanda Batula, have established themselves firmly at the center of the Summer House universe, and since they're friends with Craig and Austen, they're now part of the fold.

    The six-episode series kicks off with our faves (they're mostly our faves, right?) convening in their Stowe, VT chalet, starting with the Southern boys. Craig has a girlfriend now, and while it's not always easy to predict these things, it feels like the angle on him is more "don't expect much drama" rather than "uh-oh, look who's about to cheat on his girlfriend." Austen, meanwhile, is recently free from his SC relationship with Madison, though we (and he) are reminded via a supermarket tabloid that her texting scandal with Alex Rodriguez is messing with him. (Watching the show try to maneuver around not being able to say say Rodriguez's name for fear of being sued is a nice parlor game to play during the season premiere.)

    Despite Austen's romantic disasters, the vibes inside the Winter House seem remarkably good. Chalk that one up to a few factors: a) Craig and Austen seem to get along with everyone, b) the wonderful but deeply chaotic Lindsay hasn't arrived yet, and c) Hannah, who was the source of 99% of the conflict in the last Summer House season is rather conspicuously absent. In that void, the closest thing we get to conflict in the premiere is Kyle getting pissy that he and Amanda got aced out of the master bedroom by Paige and Ciara, and he proceeds to get drunk, slurry, and bratty about it. This is the version of Kyle we inevitably get at least twice per season, so it's almost comforting to see this mood arrive right on time. (Speaking of right on time, Kyle's butt is bared on camera within the first five minutes of the episode, as ceremonial a beginning to a new Summer House season as there is.)

    In the place of drunken conflicts, the premiere episode cranks up the sexuality. Everybody except Kyle, Amanda, and Craig is single, and just in case that ratio wasn't stacked enough on the side of hookups, Bravo has introduced a quartet of new faces with the most tenuous of connections to the existing cast. Most entertainingly, the connective tissue for these newbies is Paige's friend Julia, whom she knows from their days as teen models for The Limited Too, but Julia doesn't even show up until day two, so in the interim, her friends Gabby (beautiful, nice, introverted), Andrea (gorgeous, flirty, Italian), and Jason (screen-time challenged) are left to make their own first impressions. The lion's share of those impressions go to Andrea, who plays his Italian accent and devastating features to his full advantage as he flirts with Paige, Ciara, Amanda, various kitchen appliances, and the concept of winter itself.

    Despite the show's wintry locale — perfect for sledding, snowboarding, and getting some really telegenic shots of steam coming off of the hot tub — all of the familiar Summer House elements are here, from the delivery boxes on the doorstep to the college-frat-party vibes. One of the central tenets of all Bravo shows is escapism, and if there is anything close to approaching a theme for the Summer House franchise, it is creating a space for its cast members to live like they never left college, with all the beer funnels and themed parties and dry humping (does it count as dry humping if it's in a hot tub?) that entails. Kyle Cooke is approaching 40 years old and he's throwing Spring Break-themed parties, and if you want to look at that and see an arrested adolescence, you're certainly not wrong. But there's also an undeniable — pardon the pun — charm to watching these beautiful idiots isolate themselves from the rest of the world and act like they're 20 years old again. These people have been blessed by genetics and the gods of reality TV to live forever young, at least for the 16 days they're spending with cameras on them in this Vermont lodge, and if that means doing shots off of a ski and making out in hot tubs like they're about to ship off to war, well, who could begrudge them that? May we all have at least one Winter House experience left before it's all said and done.

    Winter House premieres on Bravo Wednesday October 20th at 9:00 PM ET.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Winter House, Bravo, Southern Charm, Summer House