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What’s So Special About Terrace House? The Honest Heart of Reality TV

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Image credit: Netflix

I never thought I’d cry watching reality TV. I’ve come close in a few episodes of MasterChef (season 3 with Christine Ha) and The Genius, but that’s about it. Outside of reality competitions, I don’t care to sit through reality TV. It’s pointless and hard to watch; if I’m not cringing, I’m rolling my eyes.

The problem with reality TV is that it never delivers on what it promises. What’s the promise? That you, the viewer, can be a fly on the wall and peek in on real, authentic events that unfold before your eyes without forced influence. What’s the truth? Pretty much every reality show is manipulated by producers and editors to deliver a story that’s so far from the actual footage captured. If I’m going to watch a made-up narrative, there are hundreds of well-crafted shows that I can sink my teeth into. Why would I waste my time on reality TV? Then one day I heard good things about Terrace House, so I went against my good sense and decided to give it a try despite its “reality” label—and I’m so glad I did.

Terrace House is the first show to stay true to the promise of reality TV.

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What Is Terrace House?

The idea is simple: six strangers—three boys and three girls—come to live under one roof at the “Terrace House.” These people have jobs, families, and ambitions. They aren’t locked in or forced anywhere; they live their lives per usual while staying at the house. They stay at Terrace House for however long they want, and they can choose to leave at any point. Over the course of the show, housemates are replaced as they leave and the cast continually evolves, always with three-and-three members.

There are cameras in the house, and sometimes there are camera crews who follow the housemates when they leave to do activities elsewhere, like shopping, commuting to work, meeting with friends, or going on dates. It’s an extremely mundane show in many ways, and that’s what’s special about Terrace House: it’s calm, it’s collected, and it’s as close to genuine as reality TV gets. You won’t find false, exaggerated drama here like you would on other “reality” shows.

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It says a lot when one of the most exciting and iconic moments of the show is when some of the housemates eat another housemate’s expensive meat that he’s been saving—followed up by three episodes on the aftermath of the incident. Because Terrace House is so subdued compared to normal reality TV, everything matters that much more: every word, every glance, every smile.

A lot of the show’s magic can be attributed to the Japanese production team, who clearly have different ideas as to what makes a great reality show when compared to American production teams. Plus, seeing the various Japanese cultural nuances and how the social dynamics play out between housemates is half the fun.

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Each episode of Terrace House generally covers a week in the life of the housemates. When something interesting happens (like the aforementioned meat incident), episodes can become more compact and cover less time. It’s structured but fluid.

Terrace House consists of multiple, separate series:

Each time a series ends and a new one begins, the location of the house changes and the cast starts afresh with six new members.

This perpetual evolution is one of the things that makes Terrace House so interesting to watch. The loss of one person in six can effect monumental shifts in house energy, and the addition of a new member can completely disrupt the house’s dynamics. If there’s ever a period where you aren’t interested in any of the members, the show still strings you along because you’re always wondering “Who’s going to leave next?” and “Who’s going to replace them?”

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Is Terrace House Real?

It depends on how you define “real.” Is Terrace House completely authentic and utterly divorced from all outside influence? No, of course not. The costs and logistics of television make that impossible, and at the end of the day, Terrace House is still a work of television that needs to draw in an audience. However, it would be truthful to say that while Terrace House is produced, it isn’t manufactured.

What’s the difference?

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For starters, there’s an audition process that people who want to live at Terrace House must go through, and presumably the producers filter out applicants who are too awkward on camera. The kind of people who apply to be on Terrace House tend to be the type who need TV exposure for some reason or another, although there are the occasional oddballs who defy expectations. And when housemates leave, the next member may be specially selected by producers according to how they think their addition will affect the dynamics at Terrace House.

Furthermore, filming doesn’t happen every day. The cameras are set up at the house on certain days of the week, and housemates are asked not to have “big discussions” or “big encounters” on non-filming days. If housemates have a big event going on outside the house—such as meeting with a romantic interest for dinner or going to a job interview—they let the producers know ahead of time so the camera crews can obtain permission and set their cameras up to capture the footage.

In that sense, Terrace House is produced.

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But what you see on screen is true to what’s really happening at the house. No deceptive editing or staged storylines. The housemates develop real relationships with each other, and a lot of their relationships persist even after they leave the house. You can see how this holds true by taking a peek at some of their social media accounts.

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Why Terrace House Is One of a Kind

Yes, there’s a lot of romance in Terrace House and that’s to be expected in a reality series. Watching the seeds of a relationship form as members flirt, biting your nails because couples can’t align their priorities, feeling sympathy when the ones you’re rooting for get rejected after they finally summon up the courage to do what needs doing—it’s all part of the fun. But romance isn’t everything on Terrace House.

What’s even more captivating are the friendships, bromances, and rivalries that develop between platonic friends. Mentor-student relationships between older and younger housemates are insightful and uplifting to watch as wisdom is passed down from one to another. But most interesting to me? Seeing how housemates resolve conflicts as they arise in calm and mature ways.

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The people on screen aren’t just caricatures or a human zoo. They’re real people with real relationships, with real problems and real solutions. I’ve actually learned a lot about myself while watching Terrace House: in the housemates I detest, I see my own flaws and weaknesses reflected back at me; in the housemates I admire, I see how much more I can still grow in my own life. I can’t say the same for other reality shows, which are so disconnected from reality that they leave nothing to glean. And that’s really the key to Terrace House.

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