Trust Me: Terrace House Is the Polar Opposite of the Shit Show That Is American Reality TV — and That’s a Good Thing
You need to watch Terrace House. OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking: “My schedule is already overflowing with trashy reality shows — I don’t have room for any more guilty pleasures.”
But as someone who has given academic lectures on topics ranging from the narrative theory of Vanderpump Rules to the symbolism of the Bachelor in Paradise beach animals, I am here to tell you that reality TV is not trash — especially my beloved Terrace House.
With new episodes of the most recent season, Tokyo 2019-2020, just released and four other seasons also available on Netflix, Terrace House basically takes all of the best parts from your favorite shows and combines them into one magical dose of perfection. The premise is simple: three male and three female housemates live together in a lavish home, while more or less going about their normal lives, all with a soundtrack reminiscent of The Hills pulsing in the background.
But don’t get it twisted, this is very much not The Real World: Japan. There is no heavy drinking, and everyone is not only employed but earnestly working toward a starry-eyed goal. A huge part of what makes Terrace House so great is that housemates aren’t judged on Bachelor Nation’s “here for the right reasons” binary. Without fail, each new cast member is asked why they’ve come to Terrace House — a question where “looking for love” and “looking to further my modeling/acting/professional wrestling career” are both considered equally worthwhile pursuits. There are no wrong reasons!
While any new housemate is basically guaranteed to scoop up enough IG followers to start hawking Fab Fit Fun boxes (although they would never!), their search for love sometimes feels a bit more like real life. Imagine the pure sincerity of the Love is Blind pods without the rush to a proposal. Nick Lachey or Neil Lane isn’t exactly waiting at the finish line because there is no finish line. Unlike competition shows like Big Brother, Survivor, or Great British Bake Off, no one is ever voted off — housemates simply leave on their own accord once they finish their architecture program, launch their bespoke line of fashion hats, or just run out of potential crushes. In fact, the middle school-romance element is one of the most lovable parts of Terrace House. With no Boom Boom Room on the premises and hand-holding as a major mark of seduction, it’s not only TV you could recommend to your mom, but also to your grandma and six-year-old niece, as long as she could handle the subtitles.
Without the debauchery of Love Island or Below Deck, the sexual tension is as heavy as a weighted blanket that sends you immediately back to your angstiest, most lovelorn teen self. And that’s not the only drama on Terrace House that feels, for lack of a better term, “real.” With no week-to-week agenda, the relationships between the housemates look remarkably different from those between your favorite Housewives. With the time and proximity that comes from sharing a perfectly curated home, genuine friendships are formed. And while cast members from previous seasons may pull a Bethenny Frankel and come back, it’s only for a quick hello and maybe some endearing words of wisdom. Any beef between housemates is immediately turned into a soba noodle bowl before it has the chance to spoil. Instead of rage-texts and silent treatments, conflict is addressed head-on with the kinds of discussions my therapist would be proud of.
Given all of this healthy behavior, you’d think there’d be limited drama, but newcomers join constantly to keep things fresh. That sick feeling in your gut every time you remember that Vicki Gunvalson has been on Bravo for 14 years? In the world of Terrace House, past contestants are but a memory. The original six members of each season are often entirely replaced by the time Netflix releases another chunk of episodes. With each new housemate, the show reinvents itself. Not only are love triangles born, but cultural differences are immediately brought to the forefront without any of the 90 Day Fiancé cringe. Although everyone speaks Japanese, housemates come from places as diverse as Arizona, Italy, and Russia. You may not think there’d be scandal resulting from whether or not shoes are removed upon house entry, but I am here to tell you that there is. And it is salacious.
A hallmark of most American reality TV franchises is an iconic host. And Terrace House doesn’t just have their own Andy Cohen, they have six of him, each funnier and cooler than the next. Two-to-three times per episode, the camera cuts back to a panel of Japanese comedians who lovingly poke fun at the housemates and each other as they watch the episode from a staged living room. It takes some getting used to at first, but by episode three, imagining Terrace House without the panel will feel like Project Runway without Tim Gunn. You could “make it work,” but would you even want to?
With so many productions on indefinite hiatus, Terrace House isn’t just the perfect palette cleanser between starting 90 Day Fiancé from the beginning and patiently waiting for a remotely-filmed Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion. It’s a whole-ass meal, made from scratch, with a sassy ultimatum spelled out in hot sauce on top. Just as the housemates would say as they sit down in their loungewear to yet another dinner of debating hopes, dreams, and crushes, “Itadakimasu.”
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