Terrace House: the strangely addictive Japanese reality show about nice, normal people

Men bond in the laundry rooms, girls chat in the bath and there’s lots of talk about food.

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When we say the words “reality TV”, we don’t often think of reality. We think of screaming rows, sudden declarations of love, tearful exits, on-screen sex acts and minor celebrities eating live insects. It’s hard to imagine what a programme that aimed to show genuine “real life” would look like.

Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City is a Japanese reality show from Netflix that tries to do just that. Like Big Brother, it gathers a group of housemates in a shared home. Like Love Island, the people chosen are young, beautiful, straight and single. But the small group of six can come and go as they please. They don’t give up their jobs or hobbies, or friends and family. They use their phones. And most strangely of all, they’re all nice, normal people.

We watch the housemates get on with ordinary tasks: men bond in the laundry rooms, girls chat in the bath and there’s lots of talk about food. But after each scene, the show cuts to a panel of comedians who dissect what we’ve seen. What’s the significance of one girl choosing to cook steamed fish over, say, quiche? You’ll find out.

The girls and boys are all up front about the fact that they’ve come on the show in the hope of finding a new relationship, and it seems as if there could be drama afoot when the girls all confess to liking the same boy. Yet every time a new argument looms it’s dealt with by (get this) adult conversations where people admit to their own insecurities, apologise to one another and move on.

OK, it won’t be heading over to Channel 4 any time soon. But seeing these mature relationships play out, you’re rooting for every contestant, even when they make decisions you disagree with. The result is highly addictive but guilt-free viewing – and a shot of reality that reality TV needs. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 07 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next move