For a while, everything you saw was being made into a cake. This toilet paper roll? Cake. That cute-looking puppy dog? Sugary sponge. In some cases, seeing a knife dig into a hyper-realistic looking dessert turned out to be more stressful than thrilling.
Now, Netflix has scaled the simple concept of authentic-looking cakes into an eight-episode competition series. Is It Cake? asks contestants to bake their own realistic cakes and try to elude judges with them. I only watched the 37-minute first episode (no, I’m not watching more), but I’ve seen enough to feel confident it’s not one of the streaming service’s better reality entries. Yet, as of Thursday, Is It Cake? is still hanging out in the Netflix Top 10.
I’ve been informed by passionate co-workers that not everyone shares the same opinion as me. I’d hate to spoil something you love, so if you’re not ready to hear some not-so-sweet digs, look away now. Otherwise, there are some things we should discuss.
After episode 1, it was clear Is It Cake? had skipped a few important steps in the recipe. Yes, reality shows are supposed to be frivolously fun. But some things here didn’t make sense. A contestant literally admits in a confessional that he planned to cheat. Then he wins, pocketing $10,000, and the show doesn’t address it?
We’ll get there. First, the show introduces our contestants: nine bakers who all specialize in the same “incredibly specific skill” — making cakes that don’t look like cakes. Saturday Night Live actor Mikey Day hosts. (He’s fine, but it’s hard not to compare his presence on the show to the magnetic hosts on another wacky Netflix baking competition, Nailed It. More Nailed It comparisons incoming — it’s the best.)
The first challenge isn’t a baking one. Contestants have 20 seconds to determine, from several steps away, which among an array of six burgers is a sugary imposter. The challenge determines who competes right away and who gets benched from the first episode (they can still compete in future episodes). But the contestants are standing so far away from the food when they lock in their guesses, it seems impossible to spot the fake beef. The outcome of who sits out feels arbitrary.
The one-third of contestants who did select the correct dish are given eight hours to whip up a baked good of their own. Is It Cake? is mainly concerned with serving up real and fake options for the audience to guess at, but it also invites us into the kitchen. I always enjoy this part of baking shows — it’s nice to learn a bit about who the contestants are and, of course, how they pull off “cake magic.”
Yet, compared with other baking shows, I wasn’t invested. When you’re watching Nailed It (which focuses on unskilled bakers trying to re-create professional baked goods), you look forward to seeing how truly tragic someone’s cake pop or iced cookie ends up looking. Same goes for The Great British Baking Show, except the final product is splendid-looking. With Is It Cake?, the mystery isn’t really there. I already see the finished product in front of me. It’s going to look just like a burger.
Soon, it’s time for the round that determines who wins the money. Guest judges including comedian Fortune Feimster are tasked with spotting the disguised cake amid non-cakes. Earlier in the episode, one contestant, Sam, notes that even a realistic cake should taste good. I nodded along, because heck yeah it should. Unlike any baking show I’ve ever seen, the taste of the creation on Is It Cake? matters absolutely zero percent. The hosts taste the cakes after they eliminate each player … just for fun.
What’s the point of baking a cake? It could literally look and taste like a remote control, and someone could still hypothetically win. It’s essentially a real remote at that point.
Finally, the most head-scratching part of Is It Cake? arrives to cap off the show. For important context, earlier in the episode, a contestant (Jonny) describes a plan to plant faux tomatoes on one of the real tacos to throw off the judges. Flash forward to the cake-guessing game for all the marbles. The judges don’t choose Jonny’s taco — in fact, they select a real taco that looks like it has fake tomatoes on it. I can’t confirm for sure that taco was the target of Jonny’s deception, because the show doesn’t bring it up. Nope, not at all.
To be clear, there are no rules against what Jonny did as far as I can tell. But in a competition that already doesn’t make much sense, it’s another frustrating blow. It could have been worked into a teaching moment or laughed off by the judges. Instead, nothing happens, and we’re left wondering if we missed something.
When I flipped on this reality show, I was hoping to slice into a satisfying escape. In reality, I found myself more bothered by mind-boggling choices and burning questions. I’m all for recommending reality shows, but ultimately, this is one could-be-confection you don’t want to bite into.
2022’s Best TV Shows You Can’t Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More
Get the CNET Culture newsletter
Explore movies, games, superheroes and more with CNET Culture. Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays.