Netflix's Delightful 'Terrace House' Is Must-See Reality TV
Why the extremely chill Japanese reality series is worth a watch.
For the unfamiliar, Netflix’s Terrace House is a Japanese reality series with a simple premise: six strangers, three men and three women, live in a beautiful home together while going about their daily lives. Fans of shows like The Real World and The Real Housewives will certainly recognize the format, but that’s about all Terrace House shares with its more boisterous American counterparts.
The buzzed-about series, which debuted its third installment on Netflix earlier this month, ditches the booze-fueled nights and naked hot-tub parties, and instead, opts to depict mundane tasks like grocery shopping and cooking in compelling fashion. Worrying about whether a soup lacks flavor, or where to hold hands on a first date are major sources of conflict. Terrace House may focus on the slower, quieter side of daily life, but the lack of sensationalism still makes for oddly addicting TV.
The new season, subtitled “Opening New Doors,” is set in the serene mountain resort town of Karuizawa in the Nagano prefecture. Here, the titular abode, surrounded by hot springs, ski slopes, and bright leaves of oranges, reds, and greens, is a beautiful blend of Muji home and cozy cabin. In the opening episode, we’re introduced to the housemates: a university student, a pro snowboarder, a writer, a model, a hockey player, and an aspiring chef. One by one the roommates enter the sunny dining room, each exchanging pleasantries — where they’re from, what they aspire to, how darn cold it is in Karuizawa. No reality show has so calmly captured how uncomfortable and easy meeting new people can be.
Terrace House also sets itself apart from other shows in the genre in the polite way it portrays its characters. The housemates foster a cooperative, communal spirit. They cook, shop, and snowboard together. Like innocent children, they gleefully build a snowman during the first snowfall. When there’s trouble in paradise, it’s solved without drunken matches or cat fights, but with reason. The season’s most dramatic story arc involves a poorly planned first date by the cocky aspiring chef Yuudai, the youngest housemate, with Ami, the pretty university student. After the date, house tension and awkwardness build. When Yuudai fails to see his shortcomings, Taka, the handsome pro snowboarder, valiantly proclaims it is his duty as the eldest to help Yuudai see the errors of his youthful ways. Yuudai, who once asked his ex to put socks on for him, is hopefully better for it.
However, before your mind can become too engrossed in the slow-burning drama, the hosts segment snaps you out of it. The hosts, a group of models, singers, and comedians, are energetic and brutally honest in their commentary, but not in a way that is ever disingenuous or mean. When Tsubasa and Shion venture to a foot bath and show signs of budding romance, they root them on. When they discuss the reunion between Mizuki and an ex at a Tokyo cafe (the meet-up ultimate led to a one-night stand), they’re understanding yet critical. “They should have done it slowly. Same with anything else,” one host explains earnestly. “If you raise the temperature quickly, it’s bound to fall just as fast. When you slowly heat up the rock, it doesn’t easily lose its temperature.” The hosts are a refreshing alternative to the reality TV confessional.
“Opening New Doors” ultimately proves reality TV doesn't always have to be about tearing people down. The housemates lift each other up, and encourage each other to follow their dreams — Yuudai's aimless attempt at chef glory, Ami's wish to shift to modeling, Tsubasa's yearning to become an ice hockey great. On Terrace House, the growing pains are real, and reaching your dreams is the hardest.