Terrace House – Boys and Girls in the City
Season 1 – Part 1 Review by David Cirone
Terrace House, now streaming in the U.S. on Netflix, is the Japanese “Real World”-style reality show watered-down to be as polite and PG as possible. Absent are the sensational, over-the-top, media-career-minded personalities we’re accustomed to on U.S. TV — nobody throws a drink in someone’s face, nobody trashes the house or gets caught in a drunk “Oh my god what did I do” late-night affair. Instead, Terrace House offer lots of subdued conversation, repressed emotions, and episodes full of frustrating indecision.
The “Terrace House” of the title is huge by Tokyo standards, crafted from immaculate stone and glass architecture. If you think this is going to be your typical shared apartment in Japan, think again. It’s got a game room, spacious kitchen, private pool… a paradise in central Tokyo. But instead of being impressed and energized by their new environment, the house guests all seem terribly intimidated, and the shyness and reservation inspired by the home never seems to go away.
The group’s first meeting, as they each enter the house for the first time, is all nervous smiles and polite introductions. They just met, but the cameras are on, and there’s the obvious expectation that they should be talking, even if they don’t know what to say. “So this is what it’s like,” they comment, reminding us that even though it’s Season 1 for western viewers, they’re all aware of the program’s history in Japan.
Makoto (21), the jock. A 4th year university baseball player. (Apparently only owns athletic clothing)
Minori (21), the model, also in her 4th year at university.
Yuki (28) the tap dancer. (Makoto pegs him instantly as “older brother”)
Mizuki (22), the office worker.
Tatsuya (23), the hair stylist (Brings his own sewing machine)
Yuriko (23), 4th year medical student.
The show’s overt type-casting is mentioned by the comedian hosts who save the show with their biting analysis — Yoshimi Tokui, Ryota Yamasato, Azusa Babazono, and legendary TV talento You bring lots of laughs as they openly mock the immature fumblings of these poor housemates. The moments when Terrace House cuts away to the hosts for commentary are the show’s saving grace.
No matter how much energy the hosts try to inject into the show, there’s just hardly any spontaneity, and episode after episode is built on overt set-ups — “So hey, we’re going to sit HERE and talk about THAT SUBJECT and express our ‘natural’ feelings, like we haven’t talked about this already in the 7 days since it happened…” It’s boring and unrewarding, and I became increasingly impatient as the series went on. Tatsuya announces “We’re all going to play Jenga” with all the enthusiasm of loading a dishwasher. Even a girls’ bath turns into “The reason I asked you to take a bath with me is…”
The first few episodes are about jockeying for position — who likes who, who’s getting along with who — and the result is stiff and dry. Yuki’s expensive restaurant date with Yuriko is painful to watch. The guy just has no skills, and Yuriko just goes to tears over her unresolved break-up with her last boyfriend. Yamasato’s commentary about Yuki (“Tap”) landing in the Friend Zone is a riot, one of the many times he saves the show. Many, many times it crossed my mind that I’d rather watch the hosts for an hour. They have strong opinions and don’t hold back, a sharp contrast to the housemates.
Mid-season, there’s a weird “jogging date” (perfectly framed with Tokyo Tower in the background). Everyone makes a really big deal about it: “How was it? How did it go? How did you feel? Do you think he likes you?” …Who can date under all that pressure?
There’s even more awkwardness to come: Makoto sneaks a cigarette (gasp!), Tatsuya announces at dinner that he’s “recruiting” for a girlfriend, Tap suggests that the women should do the cooking (yeah, he goes there). Minori seems just incapable of voicing an opinion, but she gets a lot of attention because she’s a “model” (You exclaims “Boddddy!” after her first bikini-clad pool scene). Minori’s older sister shows up midway through the show for a pep talk, and she’s so outspoken and lively, I totally wished she could have stayed on the show permanently.
The tension gets so thick sometimes, you wonder if anyone is having any fun on this show. Tap can’t even relax at his surprise birthday party — he has to make the mood super-serious, insisting on a group discussion of future dreams and goals. When Mizuki can’t match Tap’s clear step-by-step Life Plan, Tap’s disapproval ruins the night for everyone, and poor Mizuki starts crying. Tap’s chances of dating anyone on the show: zero.
Mizuki seems to be the most mature of the group, not so easily thrown off balance. She calls the guys out when they play little mind games on each other, but she seems to counting the minutes until she’s off the show. All the girls on the show make a habit of ambushing the sleeping guys for confessions/interrogations, but you know that would mean instant death for the first guy who tried that on the girls. Advice to Terrace House boys: lock that door.
The real purpose of a show like this is to allow us viewers to pick out favorites, make predictions, and pass judgement on the actions of these cast members. If you stick with the show long enough, you’ll find somebody to root for.
After waiting for some real emotions, some real reactions and conflict, the various plots tend to hit a dead end — when dating doesn’t work out, the Boys and Girls of the City quit the show, every single time. First casualty: Makoto ditches Terrace House as soon as Minori tells him to back off. It’s funny to watch Tatsuya pretend to be disturbed by the news, but you know he’s thinking “Good! Now he can stop blocking my moves on Minori.” No sooner has Makoto started to pack his first pair of tube socks, the producers shuffle in the male replacement: Arman, a half-Japanese surfer from Hawaii. He’s got tattoos, he’s from America… so he must be dangerous right…? Right…?
Nope. Arman (25) just wants to chill, learn to be a firefighter, and get busy working as a part timer. Zzzz. He’s not in the house five minutes before they start matching him up with Mizuki. Arman’s been single six months(!), so after a great date at Kamakura he’s all set with Mizuki.
Yuriko’s the next one to go as soon as her ex-boyfriend says no to reuniting and she runs out of Terrace House boys to take her out to restaurants. Enter Arisa (25) from Kagoshima (she has a “twang”), an aspiring hat designer who clicks with Arman right away. We’re all set up for Arisa v. Mizuki, when Part 1 suddenly winds down with almost no resolution and the sudden announcement that the series will continue in “Part 2″.
So far, after 18 episodes, Terrace House has been all build-up and no reward, with so much more time talking about dating than doing it. Let’s hope the show picks up the pace in Part 2.