I was wrong about Netflix's most popular show — and I actually love it

Netflix logo on a TV screen next to a vase of flowers
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I've learned my lesson about Netflix, as America has spoken (again) and reminded us that stupid sells — and that stupid is (sometimes) really fun. So, no matter how much we wish Netflix would spend money and time on additional seasons of our beloved originals? Sometimes, weird and wacky new ideas are still great.

It turns out Netflix's reams of data on our behavior knows that it can hit the mark — even when that bullseye is on a cake shaped like a briefcase. As of right now, the #1 Netflix show or movie in the U.S. is the proudly-stupid Is It Cake?, a bake-off where the cakes don't look like cakes. 

Is It Cake? sits in first place on Netflix ahead of The Adam Project and Bad Vegan

(Image credit: Netflix)

For those unfamiliar with the meme that spawned the series, there is a trend of cakes that look like other objects. Throughout a series of videos posted to social media, cake-makers demonstrated how things that didn't look like cakes could be easily cut into pieces of delicious-looking goodness.

Is It Cake? wins with the right kind of stupidity

So, yeah, I know when to admit I was wrong. Maybe I shouldn't have judged Is It Cake? by its trailer, but I knew Netflix was actually hitting the right note less than 2 minutes into the first episode. When host Mikey Day (SNL) declared, in a scene you don't get til the finale, "yes, they gave an idiot a machete!" I smiled and said "Oh, they know exactly what this is."

So, after Day opened up the episode by yelling "is it caaaaake!?" in a tongue-in-cheek melodramatic fashion that could have been found on Iron Chef, I strapped myself in for the goofy shenanigans. And laughed at how presumptive I'd been.

Mikey Day slices into a cake shaped like a purse in Is It Cake?

(Image credit: Netflix)

I looked down upon Is It Cake? because I was coming at the series from the angle of binge-watching prestige dramas and critically-acclaimed sitcoms. I was really loving my marathon sessions of Better Call Saul and Halt and Catch Fire. I'm also still bitter about Glow getting canceled before season 4. 

So when I looked at Is It Cake? and asked "who cares?" I was asking the wrong question. A few fake cakes and many actual cakes later, I'm here to say that I didn't know how much fun this game could be. My big eureka moment came early, as the contestants tried to guess which fast food dishes were actually cake.

Not only was the show unabashedly low-brow, but the trial-and-error testing — which saw Day hack into a taco meal with a giant sword — had me cackling. Is It Cake? was smart enough to dramatically light delicious-looking fast food, but it was also clever enough to know that demolishing food with a blade that looks like it's from Kill Bill is hilarious.

Is It Cake? reminded me something about myself

And this is when I learned more about myself, in that I really do like silly stuff. I should have known, of course, because I do spend an awful amount of time reveling in the world's last popular form of performance art: pro wrestling. But reality TV had never been my cup of tea, or my cupcake.

But the more prestige TV I watch, I realize, the more I need breaks with something a little less heady. Which is where Is It Cake? comes into play.

Andrew Fuller (L) slices into a cake shaped like red Solo cups as host Mikey Day watches in Is It Cake?

(Image credit: Netflix)

The real trick of Is It Cake? — at least for me — isn't about the art of baking a cake that looks remarkably like something else. It's the hilarity and the tension in how that's discovered. When a contestant explains their pick, saying that a croissant doesn't look flaky enough, I found myself nodding along. 

The humor-first environment of Is It Cake?, where the entire cast is laughing as one makes a pick, and the host questions their word choice, is a perfect wind-down situation. The whole art of guessing can often be about instincts and guessing, and so the question of how "cakeish" a fake looks could prove interesting. 

Is It Cake? is good, but it could be better

A knife slices a cake designed to look like a burger clean in half in the show Is it Cake?

(Image credit: Netflix)

The format of Is It Cake?, though, leaves room for improvement. I personally don't find the middle of the episodes — the actual baking part — all that compelling. 

I didn't see this next issue up front, but that was because I'm not as big a stickler about the competition format of reality TV. As my colleague Tom Pritchard pointed out to me, "most of the contestants had one go, while Andrew Fuller won at least four times."

If the series had a more-even playing field, where everybody bakes (please, set it to R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts"), and eliminations were done in a different way, the series could have given everyone a more-even slice of the cake, as it were.

Looking for what to watch next? Netflix has just added another food-based competition in the form of Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend - a reboot of the classic cook-off show

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.