Philomena Cunk has taken on a lot of topics in series produced by Charlie Brooker, from current events (Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe) to the history of the UK (Cunk On Britain) to Shakespeare (Cunk on Shakespeare) to the pandemic (a Weekly Wipe special). Now she’s taking on the history of human civilization in the new series Cunk On Earth.
CUNK ON EARTH: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: As we see a shot of the sun setting over the ocean, a woman in a long coat walks in the shadows. “This is our planet. Planet Earth,” says host and “Landmark Documentary Presenter” Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan). “It’s literally the planet I’m on right now. And unless you’re watching this on a long-haul flight or while falling off a building, chances are you are too.”
The Gist: Cunk starts the first episode simply enough, by talking about the dawn of man. She asks a real archaeologists if “early human man” was “made out of the same meat we were? Did we have a branding, like beef or pork?” The archaeologist somehow answers that and the rest of Cunk’s questions with a straight face.
She moves rapidly from the first civilized cities to the Pyramids to the Greeks and the Romans. All the while, she’s asking experts extraordinarily dumb and uninformed questions. “How did the Egyptians build the Pyramids?”, she asks another expert. “Did they start at the top and work down or start at the bottom and work up?” And when talking to a Cambridge philosophy professor, she insists that “the brain is full of pipes.”
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Cunk On Earth is in the vein of Da Ali G Show, mixed with just about any docuseries narrated by David Attenborough.
Our Take: With mockumentaries that are in the style of Cunk On Earth, you need the person being the dimwitted presenter and interviewer to be both credible-sounding and funny, and you need the willing experts she interviews to have an infinite amount of patience. Yes, the comedy in those interviews is seeing the incredulous looks on the interviewees’ faces and seeing how they respond. But the more credible (and credulous) the presenter is, the more authentic the whole thing looks.
Morgan has been playing Philomena Cunk for a decade now, and it shows in both the segments where we see her walking through different sites around the world and confidently presenting Cunk’s bullcrap to the camera or an interviewee, both with an air of confidence that’s completely unearned. Brooker and his writing staff seem to be able to expertly balance the idea that, in the broad sense, what Cunk is saying as a presenter is correct, but her notions and opinions on those facts are completely bonkers. It’s that tension that makes Cunk On Earth work.
If you’re wondering, by the way, if the interviewees know that they’re on a comedy show, it turns out that they do. According to Morgan, she starts the two-hour interviews off with relatively straight questions and then has Cunk go off kilter with her inquiries, and the interviewees have no idea what she’s going to ask. The interviewees are directed to answer as seriously as they can, but it still doesn’t prevent them from looking at Morgan/Cunk with incredulousness, some with mouth agape.
It’s important to know this, because this knowledge makes the experts’ participation feel different, They’re not being played off as patsies, like fake interviewers from Sasha Baron Cohen to Martin Short to The Daily Show cast has been accused of doing. They’re in on the joke enough where they can give their expertise and hope it gets the message across, even if the person asking the questions is a complete idiot.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: In a preview of the next episode, which is about religion, Cunk holds a bible and a copy of the Koran, and says we’ll finally find out “which is best.”
Sleeper Star: Each and every person interviewed is a good sport, though we continue to marvel at the British Museum’s Irving Frankel and his massive, white beard.
Most Pilot-y Line: Cunk stands next to an ancient wheel and calls the invention “The Circle.” She then explains how a wheel works in the most convoluted way we’re ever heard.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Cunk On Earth is funny without straining for laughs, maiun
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Cunk On Earth’ On Netflix, Where Fake Expert Philomena Cunk Baffles Real Experts With Her Take On The History Of Civilization appeared first on Decider.