Let’s make “Is It Cake” more chaotic

Let's make "Is It Cake" more chaotic

too little Is it cake switched to cutting things with knives, and any tweaked release should start by fixing that.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix, never one to let the sleeping dog of a popular internet meme lie, has a new reality show called Is it cake. It’s an attempt to capitalize on the cake trend optical illusion, which has been around for many years but has really gained popularity on social media, in videos where people cut out things that don’t look like cake. Guess what? They turn out to be piece of cake.

It’s a tough idea to turn into a reality show – there aren’t a lot of the there, except insofar as what’s there always ends up being piece of cake. It’s so hard, in fact, it’s kind of amazing that this show even exists, but here we are! And the Netflix show is… well, it exists, so it has it all. It is hosted by SNL‘s Mikey Day, who has the difficult task of finding many different ways to say, “You’ll never believe this, but: That’s a piece of cake!” There’s a panel of judges who must guess which objects are actually cakes, and the contestants are professional bakers who return in each episode.

In all honesty, some of the choices for turning this meme into a show were pretty decent. Yet it’s hard not to look and think, I don’t care about all that. I came for one thing and one thing only: to watch people cut into something that doesn’t look like cake and reveal its inner secrets.

So many Is it cake is dedicated to more than cutting stuff up! It shouldn’t have been like this, and although this show already exists and no one will ever take this advice, I’d still like to offer a suggestion for what Is it cake could have been. The first step is to get a set, a group of ordinary people, a blindfold and a knife.

The approximate idea is this: a willing Is it cake contestant, ideally chosen using the same general criteria of a show as Annihilate Where Supermarket sweep, is blindfolded and then led into a room he has never seen before. It’s a set, pre-made, made to look like a number of different spaces. The production could really get creative here. It may be a small space – a hotel room, sponsored by Sheraton. It may be an outdoor scene, with trees and a small water feature and a tent that has been set up for a family camping trip. Maybe it’s somewhere with a much larger scale, like a suburban Old Navy (sponsored by Old Navy), or a bank hall, or maybe it’s an ABC reality show and it’s is a replica of Single Manor! The opportunities here are truly endless.

So this horny contestant is led into space, blindfolded. The lights are off. It’s quiet. It seems to be just an ordinary, uninteresting art gallery, airplane or library. But somewhere in this setting, one of those objects… is a cake. The lights come on. A nearby studio audience begins to applaud. A huge countdown begins to flash: there are 90 seconds on the counter. The host hands our contestant a knife (can also be a sword) and shouts, “To find! The! Cake! Chaos reigns.

There are a number of ways to adjust this rough premise, depending on which network buys this show or what audience it hopes to attract. One option is to make it a partner game, where the contestants in the room leave the blindfold on and are asked to cut shit randomly nearby depending on what their partner, watching the scene from a distance, thinks most suspicious. It could turn into a game of accumulating points, with several cakes hidden throughout the set. Points could be deducted for anything a contestant slices that doesn’t end up being piece of cake. There could be a wagering game, where each contestant is guided through the stage once and then has to assign a monetary value to their certainty that the REI kayak, for example, is actually a cake-yak. It could be set up like a relay, where a team’s competitors race willy-nilly through a target-sized set, shouting at each other from different aisles on what seems most worthwhile. trying to cut into bite-size pieces.

Essentially, Netflix’s decisions to Is it cake result in a reality show where too little time is spent cutting things, and any tweaked version should start by fixing that. More frenzy. More shock. More cake, but also more opportunities to wonder if something is cake.

Of course, this is not particularly convenient. There are risks involved, largely from running around frantically trying to cut things that aren’t meant to be cut. And yes, there may be some hurdles to overcome from a production standpoint. There is the construction of all these elaborate sets, on the one hand. You would also need to continually produce a lot of very convincing cakes that look like pillows or light fixtures or cash registers or Old Navy mannequins. Here, the choice of the Netflix series to make the bakers the competitors could be useful: like the choice to create a competition within a competition for the Project track models, bakers who most often create items that no one identifies as cakes could win their own prizes.

Is it likely that someone is now starting to develop another one show depending on if things are a piece of cake? No. But more than anything, Is it cake is a valuable lesson to stop really sitting down with the choices we make in life. When you’re creating a reality TV show based on an Internet meme with no plot or stakes or even surprises, stop and think about yourself: Is it the Is it cake I really wish to see in the world? and if not, why not? What could improve this idea? Because chances are good that your answer is “more knives”.