There was a shift during the early days of the pandemic. We were all at home, watching all the things. Everyone I know started with a binge of The Sopranos then slowly worked their way through other prestige shows, then there was the sitcom phase, the reality TV phase, and then the “Please, I’ll watch the dumbest show imaginable, just give me some new content to keep my mind off of the inevitability of death” phase. And TV execs seemed to latch onto that last one with a strong “fuck it” attitude, because now we have an entire eight-episode series inspired by the question, “Is it cake?”
On each episode of the Netflix competition reality show Is It Cake?, three bakers are tasked with baking a cake that looks so much like a real item that it fools a panel of “celebrity” judges (I only put that in quotes because I’m not familiar with a lot of them, but maybe I’m just not cool and hip). The bakers have eight hours to replicate the item of their choosing, then are also able to pick out the four decoy items it will be up against, and in some cases the bakers manipulate the decoys as well to throw the judges off the scent (though no one’s tried to actually manipulate the scent—yet).
The judges then have 20 seconds to pick which one is a cake from at least 10 feet away, an amount of time and distance that can only benefit the bakers. If the bakers fool the judges, they are then up for the win. If multiple bakers fool the judges, victory is determined by an up-close examination of the cake for details and a tasting of the cake itself. Whoever wins that round gets $5,000 but then has a chance to win even more money by figuring out which container full of money is real and which is, yes, cake. That winner then also gets to compete again and choose their competitors for the next round from a pool of nine bakers. Phewph.
It sounds like a lot, because it is a lot—each episode clocks in at around 40 minutes, which sounds impossibly long for a program based around a single (very unimportant) question. But because the show leans into that absurdity, it might be… great television?
Unlike its sister show Nailed It!, in which contestants are rather inept home bakers, Is It Cake? features a variety of bakers who actually know what they’re doing and gives them enough time to do what they do best. So the end products are truly stunning works of art, and the useful tips that the bakers give along the way provide valuable insight into next-level cake decorating. Some examples: Recreate the look of clear plastic wrap by tinting gelatin with violet coloring. Airbrush instead of paint for a more realistic, not-too-perfect look. Use modeling chocolate for a cloth-like appearance. I feel like a better baker already!
The contests themselves are also a delight. The same nine bakers compete throughout the series, with those who aren’t baking acting as the peanut gallery. They all seem to genuinely enjoy being around each other, one of the details that makes shows like The Great British
Bake Off Baking Show so nice to watch. Coming from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, all are extremely talented with their own artistry, and the side conversations among them act as the perfect commentary to each episode.
But the true MVP of this show, the person who keeps it going and makes it endlessly watchable, is host Mikey Day. Not only is he charismatic and quick on his feet, but he knows exactly what show he’s on. He all but comes out and says the exact words, “We know this is ridiculous, I truly can’t believe this show is real either, but let’s try to have a good time, okay, folks?”
Day can go from winking at the camera to manically waving around all matter of sharp objects ready to slice through whatever item may or may not be a cake. He playfully razzes contestants and guest judges alike, leaning into his nonexistent knowledge of baking for a few fun bits. In the first episode he learns what fondant is, and in a later one the bakers in the gallery teach him completely made-up baking terms, which he accepts as fact.
No, Is It Cake? is not anything resembling prestige TV. But it just might have perfected the formula for highly watchable nonsense. This is the shut-your-brain-all-the-way-off, so-ridiculous-it-just-might-work cooking show we’ve been looking for.