I have been on public record as saying Terrace House: Aloha State sucks, and sucks so much it’s not even worth watching. But having given the show a second chance this past month, I am a changed man. I repent.
My Terrace House fandom timeline is as follows, and may be similar to yours. I watched Boys & Girls In The City a few years back and loved every waking moment of it. When it was done, I saw there was the next season (Aloha State) already on Netfflix so jumped straight into it, and hated it. Haaaaaated it. The show had lost something—everything—with its change in scenery and terrible new cast, and I bailed on it after only a handful of episodes.
I was far from alone—Terrace House fandom will routinely shit on Aloha State from the greatest of heights—and when first Opening New Doors and more recently Tokyo 2019-20 came along and were fantastic, the show’s seemingly ill-advised Hawaiian misstep had seemingly been condemned to the dustbin of history.
In the middle of all of this, th0ugh, I have a lot more time at home in front of the TV than I did when I last tried to digest Aloha State, and so when 2019-20's latest chapter reached its end (Vivi! Peppe!) I was feeling such a Terrace House-sized hole in my heart that, thanks to a timely Netflix recommendation (and constant references to Yusuke and Taishi in later series, which were lost on me), I decided to give Aloha State one more try.
And whaddya know, I’ve changed my mind/finally succumbed to lockdown madness. Aloha State is, against all the odds, good. Maybe better than good.
NOTE: before we go on, like all reality shows—but especially here, given the series’ focus on mundane “realism”—Terrace House invites viewers to treat real, complex people as characters. It’s a kinda shitty thing to do, given we’re only seeing hand-picked footage of them, but it’s also a TV show made for entertainment, so that’s a pact we’re all signing just by putting our eyeballs on the program.
So please remember that when I’m talking shit about somebody here, or revelling in their “story”, I’m not talking about them, because I don’t know them! I’m just talking about the character that the show’s producers have crafted for us.
The first few episodes of the series are just a complete fucking write-off. Easily some of the worst television imaginable. The chemistry mix in the original six cast members was an absolute disaster, and for a few hours you will wonder what sins you have committed in this or a previous life to be subjected to such nothingness (especially when you consider that so much of what was actually happening early on was so carefully stage-managed by the producers).
Most of them seemed lovely and very Terrace House-y in their own way, but one area Terrace House really differentiates itself from Western reality shows is that it isn’t often about the individual (despite some individual’s best efforts). Its magic is instead made by the cumulative relationships formed by housemates just...hanging out together.
As individuals, the starting six were fine. As a team, though, it was like Voltron with five legs.
Where during my original viewing the first half a dozen episodes had been about the point where I punched out of the series, this redemption viewing was taking place with more patience and perspective, and after I hit that mark I continued, like Sam, to march onwards.
As original housemates start to filter out of the house, and are replaced by new cast members, you can sense something is changing. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this shift takes place, or specifically whose departure (or arrival) is responsible for it, but once I was around a dozen episodes in that ol’ Terrace House magic was definitely in the air.
You can feel it. Panellists starting to develop favourites, or (in Yama’s case at least) beginning to talk some serious shit. Housemates seeming like they’re genuinely hanging out and forming friendships instead of enduring an hour of post-dinner formal conversation. The show starts feeling a little more real, which with this show is all anyone is in this for.
That’s not to say the remaining 2/3 of the show is perfect, far from it. Like any Terrace House series it moves in ebbs and flows between the storylines the producers are crafting from it. Wez might be the biggest waste of a roster spot in the history of the program, and final housemates Ryo and Mariko’s appearances were so brief they ended up as little more than ethereal outlines.
But man, when Aloha State got good, it got good, and its best moments rank right up there with my favourites in more notable series. Guy was a pleasure every second he was on the screen, and his surprise romance was one of the show’s real highlights. Avian was just...incredibly cool.
Real estate agent Cheri, on the other hand, was vile, a poisonous housemate who was more concerned with networking her business than she was any semblance of human kindness or social interaction. She’s shown on Terrace House to be an absolute monster, and her behaviour leads to the entire series’ meanest fight, which is both captivating and excruciating to sit through in equal measure.
And then there’s Taishi. The Guilty Samurai.
The entire show rests on his shoulders. Aloha State is shorter than other series, with less housemates and dates to keep the action on rotation, and so the entire second half of this run is devoted to Taishi’s pursuit of a “love worth dying for”, and it is TV for the ages.
Maybe it’s the way he’s framed, maybe it’s the length of time he’s in the house, maybe it’s his translation/localisation, maybe he’s just a genuinely interesting guy, but Taishi goes on one hell of a narrative arc while in the house. Introduced as a cocky, handsome actor, he quickly gets to work dating every woman in the house, to middling results and a growing reputation as a shallow predator.
Before too long the shine wears off, and he starts lashing out bizarrely at his fellow housemates, spinning his wheels in frustration at his inability to get his shit together. He becomes a joke not just to his housemates, but to the panel—and through them the viewers—as well.
As we must persist to get anything out of Aloha State, though, so too does Taishi, and in a frankly bizarre contrast to the discomfort felt during some other failed pursuits during the series, it’s hard not to cheer Taishi on as he—and the show itself—builds towards a romantic, redemptive finale.
There are any number of reasons you might be into Terrace House. Some really get into the hand-crafted drama of the show. Others just like the monotony and relative dullness of the relationships. There’s a virtual tourism aspect to it as well, a hint of reliving your youth (if you’re older than the typical 18-25-year-old cast) and just the plain ol’ comedy routine of the panel discussions.
Maybe you like only one of those things, maybe like me you’re drawn a little into all of them. When Aloha State began, it had none of that. The cast was boring, the location wasn’t as interesting as Japan (at least for many Western viewers), and with no drama to build on even the panel’s chats fell flat.
Yet by the end Aloha State won me over, to both its cast and Hawaii itself. Does this surprise transformation suddenly propel it into the ranks of the best Terrace House series? Far from it. Ask most fans, myself included, and you’ll still be told it’s easily the “worst” Terrace House.
But being worst doesn’t make it bad. Like our own Pecking Order, when you put things in a list you invariably end up having to put something last, but being last doesn’t mean it’s without merit. This show has flaws, serious and unavoidable, and even after everything nice I’ve just said about it I would never recommend this be your first (or even second, or third) Terrace House series to watch.
It’s still worth watching though. I know I’m asking a lot of you here. This series only runs for 36 episodes and it doesn’t hit its stride until around 12, meaning you’ve got hours of suffering before you get to the good stuff. But if you enjoy the magic of other Terrace House series, didn’t feel it for Aloha State at first and are finding yourself stuck at home a lot over the next few weeks, with more scope to try it than you’d otherwise be bothered with, give it a chance.