Keeping Up with the Karshians. Love Island. Reality television gets a bad rep for being trashy thanks to shows like these. A lot of these programs have inspired spin-offs the world over to varying degrees of success. When the product relies on spotlighting superlatives, like the super rich or the unnaturally good-looking, it’s no surprise it can get stale rather quickly. Terrace House is a reality TV of the highest order (in my humble opinion). The main point of differentiation is its deliberate focus on the pedestrian. It spotlights life’s daily trial and tribulations in its unvarnished glory.
A daring format
The format of the show is akin to Big Brother from the UK, but that is where the similarities end. Terrace House is a Japanese reality television show. It features six people, three girls and three guys, generally coming from different backgrounds living together in a decked out house. The location of Terrace House moves with each season from Tokyo (TH: Boys x Girls in the City), Hawaii (TH: Aloha State), Karuizawa (TH: Opening New Doors), and Tokyo (TH: Tokyo). The show follows all facets of each housemates lives which includes their work, their home life, and their relationships, romantic and otherwise with and amongst each other.
It is important to note that while they don’t have to pay rent or utilities for the house, they are not being paid in any form either. Just as all other co-living situations, the group are responsible for themselves. They have to cook, clean, and do laundry like the rest of us. Most housemates are working in one form or another to support themselves, the rest are often university students. They wake up, make breakfast, go to work or university, go back home, chill and hang out with some housemates, maybe watch a movie and fall asleep.
When described liked that it sounds incredibly unremarkable but there is an irresistible charm to it all. Terrace House is unscripted in every sense. There is no obligation for any of the housemates to stay. Once they feel, for whatever reason, it is time to go, they will be replaced with a new housemate. There is no “winning” Terrace House and everyone comes on for different reasons. For some, they are looking for love. Many want to challenge themselves by living with people they wouldn’t otherwise meet or associated with. There are some that come on unsure of their direction in life and just want to be around a group of people that can inspire them.
I’m not sure what criteria the producers of Terrace House use select housemates but it seems like they always get a good mix of people from different educational, work, and social backgrounds. As a result, each housemate comes into the house with an identity e.g. the model, the athlete, the singer, etc. It makes for interesting interactions between people that normally wouldn’t associate with one another.
Each episode breaks up in to different parts. At junction a panel of six provide commentary on what has just happened. The mainstays are Tokui, You, Reina, Yama-chan, and Baba-chan. Their inclusion increased the watch-ability of Terrace House. They don’t have confession cameras for housemates to rant on about what has been happening like in western reality TV. The panel plays that role. They don’t have involvement with the housemates so they are viewers like you and me. Their commentary is enjoyable because they can get just frustrated as you about things that happen. Between them, there is a mix of comedians, actors, and musicians. They have nailed the composition of the group, and their chemistry is electric.
Charming and relatable story-lines
The format of the show is conducive for authentic relationships to blossom of all kinds, be it romantic, parental, sibling, or platonic. This is the inherent appeal of Terrace House and a big reason why I continue to stan the series.
Without giving too much away, I have enjoyed watching a number of different relationships grow on the show. In one season, there is a fraternal bond between a snowboarder and musician is so satisfying to watch. They ended up leaving the house at the same time, and I felt an immense sense pride for them. They were role models to younger housemates, they were loyal, and they inspired each other to better themselves in their respective domains. After watching them live months of their lives, I could not help but feel emotional in their leaving episode.
In another season, there was one housemate who came on looking for love. The effort he put in to that end while on the show was nothing short of herculean. He grabbed every single opportunity. While it was easy for some of the housemates to ridicule is commitment for love, the bond he developed with his male housemates was a joy to watch. You won’t find many better examples of unconditional support. This housemates’ fervour made for a hilarious viewing experience and gave plenty for the panel’s commentary.
The Indomitable Panel
The panelists are the number one reason I love Terrace House as much as I do. The mainstays are Tokui (second from the left), You (third from the left), Reina (third from the right), Yama-chan (very right), and Baba-chan (very left). Tokui is my favourite, he has a silver tongue, sharp wit, and no shame which complements Yama-chan’s prudishness, stubbornness, and accusatory nature excellently. They are the stars of the show. It makes a lot of sense when you realise they are both comedians.
You is the elder stateswoman on the group and pairs well with Tokui. They often bicker like an old married couple and it is a joy to watch. Reina is the innocent dove, work-daughter to Tokui and You. She generally plays the role of conductor, making sure the group covers all the important stuff. She often has unpopular opinions to the delight of Yama-chan. They regularly engage in fiery debates, and if she is losing, You and / or Tokui will come in and put Yama-chan in is his place. It is something I look forward to every episode.
If Tokui, You, and Reina are the work-father, work-mother, and work-daughter, respectively, then Yama-chan is the work-uncle. The type of uncle who just yaps on and on without any filter. You may question his sanity sometimes but he is fun to keep around and argue with. Baba-chan is the work-aunt of this panel. She is noticeably quieter than the others and so is not as memorable. Sho-chan is the newest addition to the panel for the latest seasons, he is quite reserved in the conversations. I don’t blame him especially given how much chemistry the other panelists have.
The panel are funny, unforgiving, and incredibly entertaining. After watching almost three seasons, I am fabulously invested in them, more so than I am in the housemates. I will remain a loyal viewer for as long as the core of Tokui, Yama-chan, You, and Reina stay on the show. Terrace House’s cult-like following will seem unfounded to outsiders, but to the show’s fans, it is every bit warranted.