This week sees the behemoth that is Love Island arrive back on our TV screens. The reality TV dating series was one of the UK’s most watched TV shows of 2017, with its blend of rude contestants, naughty action and soapy drama combining to keep viewers across the country hooked. But did you know that Netflix has its own answer to Love Island?
Here are 9 reasons why you need to get intimate with the Japanese sensation that is Terrace House:
It`s a familiar set-up
Three men. Three women. One gigantic house. A whole lot of cameras. And a swimming pool. It might sound like the latest season of Love Island, but this is something very different: the Japanese equivalent. Before you can turn over the channel, though, the series will have already won you over with its similar reality TV set-up, as sit and watch people try (and often fail) to hook up with each other. Then, once you`ve started watching, it`s the differences that will have you hook: where Love Island succeeds by letting viewers see themselves on screen, right down to the swearing and emotional strops, Terrace House is fascinating because it offers a window onto a completely different culture.
The house is 100% life goals
No expense is spared in Japan when it comes to reality TV: the house itself, whether you`re watching the original Tokyo series or the US spin-off set on a Hawaii beach (Aloha State), is stunning. Airbrushed steel surfaces, minimal furniture and understated fashion, it`s like seeing a MUJI catalogue come to life. It`s a classy place: the only porn on offer here is lifestyle and property porn.
There`s almost no drama
Yes, the format is broadly the same, but the result is refreshingly new: everything is quieter, politer, and more mature. The lack of histrionics might disappoint avid Love Islanders, but after an episode, it becomes addictively sincere; with fewer dramatics, there’s less sense of artificiality, so what might usually come across as a string of contrived situations with people acting up for the cameras instead seems genuine. There’s no threat of a loud, unlikeable person to make you want to throw the remote at your screen or turn it off; there’s no manufactured narrative to encourage you to call premium numbers to vote for your least favourite; and there are no confessional diary room sessions to distract. “Let’s talk about something exciting,” one of them says near the start of the 2018 season, Opening New Doors. “Yes, let’s,” comes the eager reply. They then continue to talk about the most mundane things imaginable. It’s riveting.
Food is a thing
As you might expect from a show set in Japan, food is kind of a big deal, and there’s a sweet pleasure in seeing the housemates come together to prepare their meals and sit down with each other. That’s especially true of Opening New Doors, which has a 19-year-old wonder-chef in the group. “I’m picky about hot pot,” he confesses, in one of the series’ most dramatic conversations. “My friends give me hard rime about it.”
It sounds great
The lack of drama makes for a surprisingly relaxing listen, making way for an acoustic treasure trove of gentle noises – the patter of feet, the opening of the front door as new people arrive, the tinkling of cutlery, the chopping of beansprouts. Meals, in particular, are a feast for your ears, while the gentle chattering could even be a soothing background soundtrack for your day, whether you’re watching or not. Even the overly earnest theme song for Opening New Doors – “I’m trying to live, trying to hope…” – is lovely.
Where people are normally described and evaluated on their appearance or their love life, here, our contestants are assessed, in a large part, on their careers: we’re introduced to each teen or 20-something with their job title or planned employment, presenting us with a diverse group that ranges from Avian, who works in her mother’s shoe shop, to Eric, a carpenter (Aloha State). Or, in Opening New Doors, our chef is joined by a model, an interpreter, and even a 31-year-old professional snowboarder.
It comes with its own in-house panel
Missing the gossip and scandal? Terrace House mixes up the action in short 30-minute episodes with a bunch of comedians and TV personalities – You, Reina Triendl, Yoshimi Tokui, Azusa Babazono, Ryota Yamasato – continuously discussing, commenting on and recapping what’s happening. That goes right down to the minutae of these people’s lives, from dates to places that serve bagel burgers to them treating each other’s minor injurioes. They start off kind and get funnier and more sarcastic with each episode. “He used his 2.5 bits to think up that plan,” one snarky observer says of a boy suggesting a date. That’s half the capacity of the original NES console, notes another. “He’s a Game Watch!”
It`s not live
Perhaps most impressive is the way that the live aspect of what would otherwise be considered “event TV” has also disappeared: in a format suited to Netflix, you can watch this at any time you like, without having to worry about putting aside an hour every weeknight. And, with both an original couple of seasons from 2015, last year’s Aloha State and this year’s Opening New Doors, there’s no end of episodes to binge with your friends.
Nobody has to leave
Best of all is the fact that the participants don’t leave based on public votes: they essentially come and go as they please, heading out to jobs during the day, if they have them, and moving on from the house altogether when they feel ready. There may not be so much fornication – Love Island deserves some credit for encouraging the discussion of sex away from the cliches of fiction – but there’s a heartwarming sense of real friendships being forged (people from differing backgrounds offer to teach each other their respective languages), and of a genuine portrayal of young Japanese people coming of age in a real world with real work pressures. This is reality TV that feels, well, real.
Terrace House is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.