The Quarantine Stream: 'Terrace House' Is The Voyeuristic Escapism We Need Right Now

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Series: Terrace HouseWhere You Can Stream It: NetflixThe Pitch: Three men and three women from different walks of life move into a plush minimalist house together in Japan. Sometimes they date, sometimes they flirt, mostly they eat delicious-looking meals.Why It's Essential Quarantine Viewing: While we've been stuck inside our houses, a strange urge has taken over — the urge to see other people's houses and apartments, to virtually visit the whimsically-decorated mansion of the celebrity. No? Just me? Maybe it's the isolation, or the fact that I'm getting sick of looking at the same undecorated walls of my apartment from day to day, but my inner voyeur has started to kick in and nothing has given me greater joy than to watch other, more beautiful people, doing nothing inside their well-decorated minimalist apartments. While there's a whole subgenre of those kind of soothing, ASMR-style videos on YouTube, one Japanese reality show on Netflix already delivers on all that and more: Terrace House.

For an unscripted reality show about three men and three women living in a beautifully designed house together, Terrace House is an unusually tranquil show. In contrast its trashier American counterpart The Real WorldTerrace House simply follow its participants as they mill about the house doing nothing at all. There are no talking heads, not aggressive cuts or edits — the camera simply sits and watches. It's the purest form of voyeurism, and yet there's something decidedly wholesome about it.

You can chalk it up to the innate formality of Japanese culture to the genial voyeurism of Terrace House. The housemates — many of whom have never lived with roommates before — have stilted conversations, awkward heart-to-hearts, and the occasional passive-aggressive clash. Most of the housemates join the series for a chance at romance, but the best of the series happens when they have sincere conversations about their career ambitions or personal anxieties. Lifelong friendships are formed and initial rivalries are smoothed over during an intense conversation over lunch. When things get really crazy, they even hold hands. All the action (or non-action) is observed by a panel of actors, comedians, and MCs, who overanalyze every dialogue exchange and mine them for meaning. While at first the presence of an "after show"-style panel during the episode can be jarring, it becomes essential when all the drama is as microscopic as it is on Terrace House.

For the average American reality show viewer, Terrace House sounds like it could be boring. But it's a series that draws in your attention, that allows you to pick apart nuance and get overly invested in two hands brushing together. Despite the obvious artifice of it all, there's a weird authenticity to it, like the people onscreen (despite the majority of them being models) aren't just playing to the camera. But each season of Terrace House available on Netflix — of which there are three — allows you to choose your own type of reality show. Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City is a slow-burn of food porn and roommate drama, Aloha State is an extended (somewhat trashy) vacation in sunny Hawaii. Opening New Doors is a found-family story with one of the best romances on the show. And the latest season, Tokyo 2020 in anticipation of the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics, has a sweet coming-of-age subplot and some of the most diverse and athletic members of the show.