Short-Form Comes to American Television with "CAKE" on FXX

American short-form fans have reason to rejoice over tonight’s premiere of CAKE, a new 1/2 hour television show on FX Network’s comedy-focused FXX channel. Each episode of the show curates an eclectic collection of “bite-sized comedy that satisfies”, from a wide-ranging set of creators in both live-action and animation—many of whom will be familiar to fans of Short of the Week. A mixture of original commissions and established festival and web hits, the show promises to introduce the pleasures of the short-form to a mainstream television audience in a way that’s unprecedented in the US.

FXX sent us tonight’s first episode to preview, and our initial impressions are positive—the show is fast-paced and overall quite entertaining. One’s mileage will vary between segments—that is the inherent challenge of putting together a short-form program—but tonally it is cohesive and preserves the excitement and joy of discovery well. Seeking to maintain energy through its construction and edit, the show’s producers have done an interesting thing with the format and have kept individual segments to around 5 minutes max (this is not to say that the films are capped at 5min however, more on that later). While 9 distinct works are credited in this first ep, two pieces comprise the bulk of the runtime, as the rest of the show is filled by animated micro-shorts and series, and by even shorter interstitials pulled from familiar and acclaimed animation short films. You can watch what I think is the standout segment of the first episode below.

We’ve heard rumblings about Cake for months and naively, in the run up to tonight’s premiere, we thought the show might be rather straightforward—something akin to a film festival program of shorts in sequence. Cake is not this, it’s a mishmash of commission and curation philosophies that pushes against attempts to classify, but the rundown of the first half of the premiere makes the approach clearer.

The show begins with a very short clip pulled from Réka Bucsi’s marvelous student short Symphony No. 42then segues into above-linked installment of Quarterlife Poetry, a new series from S/W alums Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. which played Sundance’s Indie Episodic program earlier this year. From there we are treated to a 45 second micro-short from two-time alum Joseph Bennett. This short is one of several Bennett is producing for the season, and Cake’s press materials tease future installments of the “Joe Bennett Collection” featuring guest appearances from the likes of Joe Pera, Felipe Di Poi, John Early, and Kate Berlant. Next up is Oh Jerome, No, a show from Teddy Blanks and Alex Karpovsky that we first noticed in 2016 as a branded short for Ray Ban, then produced by our friends at Yours Truly. That runs for 5 min until the commercial break, after which we return with the 2min short kittykat96 which was an online hit on YouTube and Vimeo in 2017. Then—more Oh Jerome, No! The plot from earlier in the episode continues after a natural act break, and this segment is accompanied by a killer guest appearance from Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange is the New Black). 

So rather than being solely an anthology of shorts, it seems that the backbone of Cake is more akin to a network slate within a show. Furthermore, longer eps and potentially even longer short films will be intercut within an episode to keep variety and momentum high. This strikes me as smart, as it allows for continuity between episodes and gives these shows-within-a-show a chance to really make an impression on audiences over time. FXX has laid out 9 such recurring series, some of which seem like they might be sequentially oriented, others, like Bennett’s, appear to be more akin to an anthology. Aside from the 3 described above, Cake will also premiere a new live-action series from alum Philip Burgers which is executive produced by Tim & Eric, and new animated series from Bucsi, and alum Bernardo Britto

As you might be able to tell from the excessive amount of hyperlinks so far, we’re pretty jazzed for Cake. Whatever disappointment we might have felt from it not being a straightforward curation of shorts is more than mitigated by the creative roster the show has assembled. It is a smartly gathered group of some of our favorite up-and-coming talents—many of whom we’ve been pushing for years. In describing the show, Kate Lambert, SVP of Original Programming for FX Networks, notes “FX Networks is very excited to be showcasing the amazing and diverse talent and voices in the short-form medium on television. We’ve had a lot of fun in one-hour, half-hour and limited series over the years and are now thrilled to expand into the short-form world.”

Even more so than curating these voices for a new audience, we’re excited to see these creators given the chance to create new work in a network setting, and be exhibited alongside acclaimed comedy heavyweights such as Archer and It’s Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaCake has also shown a commendable willingness to be flexible in the environments this work is received—alum Nicole Delaney directed a short for the show called Thirstywhich premiered recently at TIFF, and was included in our roundup of the best shorts from the festival, and FXX has sponsored the FXX Elevation Award the past two years at GLAS Animation Festival, giving a generous $25k development package to acclaimed animators Niki Lindroth Von Bahr and Sophie Koko Gate. We look forward to seeing work from them as the season progresses. 

As a collection of talents beloved by online shorts viewers, Cake is shaping up to be a must-watch for fans of Short of the Week. Furthermore, our first taste of show seems demonstrate an interesting and considered method of presenting this work in the context of TV and a 1/2 hour program. We’re excited to see more. 

If you want to check out the first episode, tune in tonight, Wednesday 9/25, to FXX at 10:30. Subscribers will also be able to watch both the weekly showcase and individual programs on-demand via the FXNOW streaming service. We’re not sure about international availability at the moment, but we’ll keep you updated.