Aside from Australian Idol season one (what about Shannon Noll, indeed?), and for some reason Australian Idol season five (okay, I do know the reason… the reason was Matt Corby), I’ve rarely become obsessed with reality television shows.
This isn’t something I’m proud of. The fact that I’ve missed out on tweeting about both The Bachelor and Survivor has created a great source of FOMO for me. But I’ve finally found a reality show that has struck a chord: Terrace House.
A Japanese reality television series, Terrace House first ran on Fuji Television from 2012-2014, before Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City premiered on Netflix as a Netflix Original in 2015. There was one season of Boys & Girls in the City on Netflix – you can see Part 1 and Part 2 up there now – and then the show moved to Hawaii and was titled Terrace House: Aloha State - As you do, when you want more scenes of attractive young people frolicking at the beach.
Here’s the basic premise of Boys & Girls in the City: six attractive 20-somethings live together in a house in an undisclosed location in the middle of Tokyo. There are three girls who share a room, and three boys who share a room.
The new housemates live their lives as normal, leaving the house each day to go to work, or school, or see their friends, or go on dates. They cook housemate dinners together, have deep and meaningful conversations on the couch at the end of the night, and argue over whom is taking up too much space in the common living areas. It’s regular sharehouse living.
Oh, and the housemates are filmed. That’s a little less regular. But unlike similar Western programs like Big Brother, the housemates are not forced to participate in ‘challenges’. There are no winners or losers. Members of the household can also move out at any time, and will be replaced by a new housemate – so the dynamic between the characters (or rather, people) is always interesting.
Terrace House is, to put it mildly, mundane. And yet it makes for compulsive viewing.
There’s also a panel of studio guests – comprised of Japanese hosts, comedians and public figures – who discuss the show as each episode progresses, giving their take on the housemate dynamics and gossiping about the budding relationships between the housemates.
And that leads to the other, classic reality show format that makes Terrace House so much fun. While the premise of the show is very Big Brother-esque, in many ways it more closely resembles that other giant of Western reality television: The Bachelor.
There is a big focus in the show on the budding romantic relationships between the housemates. The footage from the house is cut and edited to empahsise amorous storylines, the panel spends most of their time chitchatting about the passionate vs. platonic vibes between the housemates, and the housemates themselves are upfront about their interest in each other.
When the first six housemates move into the house in Boys & Girls in the City, a number of the housemates explicitly say that they would like to find a boyfriend or girlfriend among the group. In the first week in the house, both the boys’ group and the girls’ group independently sit down to discuss which member of the opposite sex they’d most like to pursue. (It’s all very heteronormative).
Talk about taking Tinder to new extremes. They’re not just meeting a stranger for a coffee – they’re moving in with them.
Aside from fulfilling that most basic of human desires - to stickybeak into other people’s love lives, the show is also a fascinating insight into the lives of young people living in Japan today and the cultural differences between Japan and Australia.
The extent to which the housemates are focused on their future goals is in fairly stark contrast to the conversations between myself and most of my 20-something friends; and there’s very little housemate drama. Conflict, when it does arise, is dealt with through mature communication and politeness. There are also, it should be noted, some fairly outdated gender stereotypes that seem to be held by all the housemates, which don’t cause the panel to bat an eyelid.
Perhaps what makes Terrace House so compulsively watchable is that the lives of the housemates feel so familiar. It’s a reality television show, but it very closely resembles the realities of sharehouse living.
Some of the housemates will irritate you, and make you want to yell at the television (ugh, Makocchan!). Sometimes you’ll be rolling your eyes, waiting for two members of the house to hook up already (Minori and Uchi, get a room!).
But you always feel invested in their lives – and you never have to tell someone that it’s their turn to clean the bathroom.
Follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter and Instagram at @melissawellham.