Terrace House, a reality TV series picked up by Netflix, follows six strangers who live together, without forcing the high-intensity, over-produced drama that plagues reality TV. People get along, mostly, and they can leave when they want. It’s often praised for how it makes mundane moments of everyday life a fascinating watch. But PBS Idea Channel has a brilliant alternate take on the reason why Terrace House is so appealing: it’s sort of like a Let’s Play.
Host Mike Rugnetta first breaks down the meta nature of the show. You’re not just watching the six cast members on-screen. You’re also watching a second group of people — a panel of Japanese celebrities — discuss the program as they watch at the same pace as the viewer. The show airs in Japan while it’s being produced, so members of the house can actually watch their own episodes. They can also see reactions to their decisions on social media. It’s a reality TV ouroboros, constantly feeding back into itself.
This model isn’t so different from Let’s Play, where people record themselves playing video games. Mike Rugnetta explains that Let’s Play hosts juggle their attention between playing the game, providing commentary on the game, and interacting with their audience. There’s a difference between a prerecorded Let’s Play vs. a live stream, but both include “multiple layers of audience.” There’s the player as an audience to the game and their own audience; the at-home audience watching the player and the game; and then there are game publishers, who act as an audience to the entire thing.
Television networks have spent decades trying to find ways to engage with viewers, from AOL keywords to Twitter hashtags. What’s interesting about Terrace House is that technology — streaming media, improved production pipelines, social media — is now fast and direct enough to connect the people on TV with the people who watch it. Real World was revolutionary because it tried to capture the world as it was in a time when we were just beginning to surrender our privacy to cameras and media. In that way, Terrace House is significant because it is a TV show for the current moment, a time in which we’re all stars of our own social feeds, and it’s not so strange that our lives should intersect with those we see on-screen.