Humorous history on “Cunk on Earth”


Cunk on Earth | IMDB

Inga Keselman

Philomena Cunk can get down to the bottom of pretty much anything. “Cunk on Earth” is a Netflix mockumentary that follows journalist Philomena Cunk, played by comedian Diane Morgan, on her investigation and retelling of human history.

“She wrote in a book ‘The world will come to an end in 1881.’ A claim that has recently been debunked by experts through a careful process of looking around and seeing the world’s still here,” Cunk said on the eponymous hit show

This five-part series covers topics like early society, religion, the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Cold War, globalization and social media.

Directed by Christian Watt for BBC Two, “Cunk on Earth” follows the title character on a series of interviews with experts in history as they attempt to tell the story of human development throughout the ages. These painfully awkward yet hilarious scenes are at the heart of the show’s appeal.

“They are just told they are being interviewed for a BBC history documentary, I think,” Morgan said in an interview by TheCinemaholic. “They are quite flattered and are keen to explain their area of expertise. We are not taking the piss out of them, but it’s nice to see them struggling and having to recalibrate their ideas.”

“Cunk on Earth” is different from other mockumentaries because the show does not make experts look bad. Rather, Cunk’s character is the joke. Much of the time, the experts react in a completely understandable way. A lot of comedy shows focus on making someone else the joke, which is where “Cunk on Earth” delineates from viewers’ expectations.

Morgan claimed the interviews were her favorite part of the process. She sat down with an initial list of questions that she often had to deviate from. The improvisation made the conversation unpredictable. These absurd questions — combined with experts trying their best to stay calm and treat every question with respect — make for uncontrollable laughter. After all, there are no stupid questions.

At times, their laughable responses seem equally absurd, but they are rarely false. “Ancient people invented currency to make life on earth easier but in doing so they inadvertently invented capitalism, which is going to kill everyone,” Cunk says in one conversation.  Her analysis is not necessarily wrong, but fails to fit academic standards of explaining conceptual frameworks, as discussed in Defector.

Philomena Cunk originated as a recurring character on “Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe,” a segment on “The Daily Show.” Brooker, who also co-created Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” created Cunk as an ill-informed reporter without a filter.

According to NPR, “Cunk on Earth” is the latest in a long series of TV shows following this hilarious reporter. Morgan has also reprised her role on “Cunk on Shakespeare,” “Cunk on Britain” and “Cunk and Other Humans.”

Cunk on Earth” is brilliant because it is as educational as it is hilarious. The interviews feature experts across human history’s eras who try to give the viewer some perspective on the historical events being discussed. Cunk’s dry and witty remarks make the show feel a lot lighter than a typical historical documentary.

The episodes can be viewed individually. While the episodes follow a chronological historical order, Cunk tends to jump from one period to another quite often. There are also some running jokes throughout the whole series, and every episode features the “Pump Up the Jam” music video by Technotronic.

The Hollywood Reporter described the show as a “somewhat dead-eyed version of David Attenborough, traveling the globe.” Morgan’s deadpan delivery and genuine curiosity make the show such an uncomfortable pleasure to watch. It’s almost like watching Aubrey Plaza or Wednesday Addams try to teach you history.

The show provides a refreshing take on both comedy and history. At the heart of the show is Morgan’s ability and range as an actor to be able to deliver such unhinged lines while speaking to some of the world’s leading experts. “Cunk on Earth” is among the most absurd shows out there yet it keeps its audience wanting more.

Cunk ends the series asking some of the most important and thought-provoking questions plaguing humankind. “Will we rise to the challenge of climate change?” Cunk asks. “Or the opposite of that? Will computers learn to delete us? And if they do, how will we get ourselves out of the recycle bin?”