Come with me and I’ll take you to a simpler place, a place where truth exists in a binary. A place where items are judged not by the content of their character, but on the basis of whether or not they are cake.
That place is Netflix on Friday, March 18, when the platform globally premieres its newest competition show, Is It Cake?, inspired by a viral early pandemic meme.
If it’s not too triggering, hearken back to July of 2020. After months of global loss and social unrest, our brains shut down to such an extent that the only force strong enough to shock them back to functionality was a simple yes or no question. It was at this moment that Buzzfeed’s food vertical, Tasty, posted a four minute video of a knife slicing through what appeared to be everyday objects like toilet paper, Croc shoes, and pizza slices. In a shocking twist, these items were revealed to be... yes, cake. The short video, created by Turkish food artist and chef Tuba Geçkil of Red Rose Cake, put viewers in a meditative trance and brought on an existential crisis as social media users questioned their own realities and perceptions of what is or is not cake.
Hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Mikey Day, the television version of this meme follows nine talented “cake artists” as they compete to “create mouthwatering replicas of handbags, sewing machines and more in a mind-bending baking contest.”
If you ask me, a show where bakers make cake look like not cake is exactly what the world needs right now. We’re (allegedly? hopefully?) on the other side of a global pandemic. Russia has invaded Ukraine without provocation, and the Supreme Court is threatening abortion access for millions of women. If you consider TV ratings to be a metric for our collective vibe, our viewing habits suggest we’re burnt out on cynicism. What’s trending right now is the earnest sweetness of comedies like Ted Lasso, Schitt’s Creek, and Abbott Elementary. And what’s sweeter than a show about cake? I could not be more psyched to watch it. I fully expect Is It Cake? to restore my mental health to factory settings, and I’m counting down the days til it premieres.
The question of whether or not an item is cake will be determined by a rotating group of celebrity guest judges, including Karamo Brown from Netflix’s Queer Eye, actor Michael Yo, TikTok’s Brittany Broski, musicians Rebecca Black and King Princess, and comedians Loni Love and Fortune Feimster. Per the trailer, the judges will be presented with multiple pedestals displaying real life versions of an item, and one imposter constructed from edible materials. I’m most excited for the moment when a judge falsely accuses an item of being cake, and we get to see someone try to hack their way through a metal sewing machine.
The series will arrive on a streaming platform that has interpreted the phrase “Let them eat cake” as something of a programming mandate. Netflix already rolled out six seasons of their amateur baking show Nailed it!, hosted by the always delightful Nicole Byer. The Great British Baking Show (now in its 12th season and also streaming on the site) continues to thrive. TV and films once served as a reliable pipeline for digital memes, but in recent years, that pipeline started to travel both ways. Less than a year ago, a viral Twitter thread from 2015 was released in theaters as the long-anticipated comedy film, Zola.
At some point, I expect meme-to-stream adaptations will become commonplace, but Is It Cake? is one I’m guaranteed to watch. Not much has changed since the summer of 2020. Of all the questions that have piled up in the last two years, “Is it cake?” is still the easiest to answer.