The commentators on reality show Terrace House: Aloha State analyse the cast for you, so you don't have to
A funny thing has happened to television. In the past decade or so, watching TV has become a job, and I don't mean for people like me, who have long watched TV partly for work.
Rather, I am thinking of the industry that recapping has become - the legions of recappers who watch shows so you don't have to, and keep you up to date with dramas and reality shows.
Might it be why the Japanese reality series Terrace House feels like such a luxury? This isn't just a breezy, cushy show about good-looking people quietly living together and possibly getting together. This is a show that comes with its own world-class recappers - a roomful of entertainers who do the work of watching and unpacking what you have just watched, and who do so with feeling.
They are detectives, picking up the vibes in the house the cast live in (more on that later). They are fans and trolls, taking sides so you can pick a side too. Two to three of them are relationship experts, explaining the finer points of male and female behaviour in courtship. (Did you know a bento could be the culinary equivalent of casual sex? Just because a Japanese woman packs a lunch for you doesn't mean she is into you, or so the panel suggests.)
The show may be the ultimate vicarious experience. Not only are you watching hot people dating, but you are also watching them with people who are smart and funny - the perfect viewers.
Certainly, in early episodes of the new season, Terrace House: Aloha State, it is the funny people who save the day whenever the hot people are boring. You sit through the housemates' scenes for the pot of gold - the sexual innuendos, gossip and jokes the commentators will let out in a torrent.
The allure of the show goes deeper, though. Paradoxically, it is a show that is at once open and mysterious.
For starters, the housemates are filmed from many angles, but you can't tell where the cameras were placed. They must be surrounded by cameras or a camera crew, and yet they behave like they aren't.
The deeper mystery here, as always, is intimacy. Even though you are watching the housemates at close range, it isn't always possible to know what they are feeling. Sometimes, they don't know themselves, which is when the commentators are in their element.
In the second leg of the new season, actor Taishi Tamaki emerges as a central character, after he declares he is "here to find a love worth dying for", then stews about in a drama of his own making, agonising over whom he should date.
He is complicated and entertaining, and the response he elicits from the commentators is equally complicated and entertaining.
They have a field day, analysing him, ridiculing him (singer You wonders whether Tamaki saw an ad for "a love worth dying for"), hating on him, analysing why they are hating on him (he goes out on dates that come across as rehearsed and unspontaneous), apologising, then achieving a breakthrough in understanding him (comic Tokui Yoshimi is struck by an eureka moment, realising that Tamaki's romantic ideal is as emotionally paralysing as the idea of marriage).
They are watching the show for you. They are getting worked up for you. They are doing the work, so you can sit back and let the show wash over you.
Modest and oblique, the Hong Kong drama Margaret & David - Green Bean could be a distant cousin of Terrace House.
A regular couple, office lady Margaret (Catherine Chau) and taxi driver David (Bowie Lam), are having regular problems (it's been three years and she's bored) when he asks her to move in with him.
VIEW IT / TERRACE HOUSE: ALOHA STATE
Netflix, any time on demand
VIEW IT / MARGARET & DAVID - GREEN BEAN
Viu the website and app, any time on demand
She agrees, probably out of boredom, and their apartment, which has clearly borrowed the Muji aesthetic of simplicity, forms a bare backdrop to the muted drama of romantic disappointment.
Metaphorically, their problems (she seems too friendly with his friend, et cetera) are the size of green beans and sesame seeds.
The drama, which is based on the Margaret & David book series, is sympathetic though. It recognises how small the couple's lives and apartment are and how monumental the most mundane things can become to regular people.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Watching hot people with smart people'. Print Edition | Subscribe
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.