Television

Netflix’s Newest No. 1 Is an Insult to Its Own Subject

Is It Cake? does a disservice to the fine art of realistic cakes.

A man in a burgundy suit holds a knife above a cake shaped like a burlap sack full of cash.
That’s not a bag of cash—it’s cake! Netflix

It’s the moment of truth on Netflix’s new baking competition show Is It Cake?. The judges face a display of sneakers, all seemingly inedible, as sneakers generally are. They consult one another, after which they pronounce one of them to be made of cake. The host comes over with a large knife and lowers it onto the chosen sneaker. It sticks into the material: It’s a sneaker. He moves to the judges’ second guess. He lowers the knife again. It slices smoothly through, revealing a chocolatey interior. This sneaker is a cake.

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If that moment rings a bell for you, it’s because the show’s source material is a meme, developed from the mega-viral series of realistic cake videos of the last couple years. The first realistic cake video I saw, back in July 2020, completely amazed me. Published by Buzzfeed’s Tasty vertical, the compilation of cakes from a Turkish baker was the first video in this genre that many people saw. The video is captioned, “These are all cakes,” and it shows a knife cutting into what appears to be a Croc, then a roll of toilet paper, then a house plant. The video now has over 34.8 million views on Twitter.

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At this point, you can find a video of almost every imaginable object rendered as cake. But the reveal no longer has the same magic to it; there are, after all, only so many times you can pull a rabbit out of a hat before the rabbit gets scruffy. It’s not that the cakes are any less amazing! It’s that these videos have doubled down on the reveal shot—telling the same punchline over and over. I’d be very interested in just seeing close-ups of the cakes themselves. I’d like to learn how they mimic the gooeyness of an oyster, or the texture of rubber. But the economy of these videos—the most immediately gratifying moment that has kept the clicks coming—is the shot when the hyper-realistic exterior crumbles to reveal, once again, cake.

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There is also something nihilistic about everything being cake. I grow depressed as I’m presented with item after item, only to see them all reduced to the same thing. As the variety of objects grows, there’s also a strain of cruelness to it. Sometimes the cake being cut into resembles a dog’s head or a person’s arm. My reaction in these cases isn’t even a little bit of wonder; it’s just annoyed relief that they are nothing else but cake.

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Is It Cake? is a hybrid between these viral videos and the standard competition show, but the balance skews heavily toward the former. The main segment has three of the contestants baking a cake that they design to resemble non-cake objects of their choosing. They then present the cakes among a group of near-identical, real items to try fooling the judges into claiming the non-cake object is the cake. The cakes are always impressive, but the show doesn’t seem that interested in the actual craft of what the bakers are doing. They get eight hours to make their creations, and the crew must get plenty of footage of the bakers explaining their process, but it’s almost as if the editors are too impatient to let them get into the details. Someone will say, “I need this to look the right color tan,” or, “This material is supposed to look like fabric,” before the camera cuts to a quip from host Mikey Day, and we lose any details about the process.

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If you actually search for realistic cake videos posted by actual bakers themselves (as opposed to watching the viral posts from aggregators), you’ll see that making these cakes is more about sculpting and painting fondant or modeling chocolate than it is actual baking. The cake part really only forms the base, and most of the creation is built on top of it. But you’d have no idea this was the case from watching Is It Cake?. It’s likely that part of why these details are mostly left out is to preserve the surprise, so that viewers can also guess which is cake along with the judges. But it’s also clear that the appeal of this show isn’t meant to be about creation, but results.

All of this is to say, I love realistic cakes—I just want better for them. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a wedding grown or the bust of Harry Potter made entirely out of cake?! I am desperate to know what kind of weird edible glitter was used to make Harry’s forehead scar!

What I’m tired of is the gag, of the algorithms (including Netflix’s) shoving destroyed cake in my face. Is it cake? Yes. But it’s also annoying.

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