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< The case for 'Is It Cake?,' Netflix's new game show

· KELSEY SNELL, HOST: Now an internet sensation that Netflix has turned into a top trending show. "Is It Cake?" capitalizes on the success of 
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KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Now an internet sensation that Netflix has turned into a top trending show. “Is It Cake?” capitalizes on the success of a series of videos that went viral in 2020. In them, someone cuts into what appears to be a shoe or a purse, but it turns out to be, you guessed it, cake. In the Netflix version, talented bakers try to fool a panel of judges into thinking their cakes are the real thing. So there’s really only one person we wanted to talk with about all this, and it’s our pop culture correspondent, Linda Holmes. Hi, Linda.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hello. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.

SNELL: (Laughter) Well, you know, in a world where anything can be a reality show, what do we need to know about “Is It Cake?”

HOLMES: So “Is It Cake?” is, on the one hand, another baking competition show…

SNELL: Right.

HOLMES: …In which there are a lot.

SNELL: There are.

HOLMES: The distinction here is that what wins is not necessarily the prettiest cake or the best tasting cake but the cake that looks the most like a real object. So here’s the host, comedian Mikey Day, explaining.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “IS IT CAKE?”)

MIKEY DAY: Judges, this is how this works. The cake wall is going to spin around, and you’ll see five cake stands each holding an item you’d find on a shopping spree. But only one of those stands is actually holding a cake.

HOLMES: So depending on the episode, that might be a shoe or a bucket hat or a breakfast sandwich. But the idea is to have people look at it, look at, say, like, four actual shoes and your shoe cake – hopefully you’re with me – and not be able to tell which is which. That is how you win, by making the cake that fools the judges.

SNELL: And importantly, not necessarily a good tasting cake, just a cake that might fool them (laughter). And there are bakers who do this – who try to make cakes that look like shoes or other things.

HOLMES: There are. They call these hyper-realistic cakes. There’s a whole range of techniques that people use to try to create things that don’t look like food. They look like plastic or leather or cloth. Here’s one of the contestants, Nina, making a clutch purse.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “IS IT CAKE?”)

NINA: I want to add a component that may wow the judges. I want to add an actual thread to my clutch. So I take this winding tool. It gets the fondant really, really thin and start to work on the stitching of the purse.

HOLMES: There’s also somebody who makes a cake that looks like a stack of red solo cups. I don’t know why you would want that, but making a cake look like shiny plastic is actually a very interesting challenge.

SNELL: Yeah, that is actually interesting. But how seriously does this show take itself? I mean, it is hosted by one of the cast members of “Saturday Night Live.”

HOLMES: It is. And it is called “Is It Cake?” Mikey Day has been on SNL since 2016. He’s very self-deprecating about this very silly show. And that is important because the people who are competing are genuinely, really talented. And you wouldn’t want a show like this to make fun of them.

SNELL: Right.

HOLMES: It has to feel upbeat. I think he does a good job of kind of staying in that zone.

SNELL: And I know this might not even be the point at all, but do you think this is a good show?

HOLMES: It’s a hard question, right? Because you don’t sit down with like, “Is It Cake?” and “The Wire” and be like, which of these is better? But I started watching this one night, and I think I watched all eight episodes all the way through, so I definitely found it entertaining. What I can say is that it’s not a show that’s mean or mean-spirited on a show like this.

SNELL: Which is nice…

HOLMES: Silly is fine, but genuinely laughing at rather than with the contestants always wears on me very quickly.

SNELL: All right, Linda, moment of truth – how often were you actually fooled by these cakes?

HOLMES: Well, sometimes, you see enough of the person’s creation of the cake that you know which it is.

SNELL: Right.

HOLMES: But sometimes you don’t. And when I didn’t, I was fooled a lot. Watching on TV, you can’t peer at the cake from six inches away. That makes it easier. But I failed. I failed in telling is it cake?

SNELL: Linda Holmes is one of the hosts of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Linda, thanks for being here.

HOLMES: Thank you.

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