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“Cunk on Earth” is Hilarious

Philomena+Cunk+%28Diane+Morgan%29+surveys+the+history+of+the+world+in+Cunk+on+Earth.+%28Jonathan+Browning%2FNetflix%2FTNS%29
Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) surveys the history of the world in “Cunk on Earth.” (Jonathan Browning/Netflix/TNS)

Released in the United States on Jan. 31, 2023, “Cunk on Earth” is a delightful fake historical survey of humanity’s progress on Earth. This five-part mockumentary stars British comedian Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk, an assertively self-involved and slightly oblivious journalist. Watch as she interviews experts and asks ill-informed though interesting questions to which the answers are genuinely interesting to discover.

Morgan’s character has a history. She began as a member of an ensemble on “Charlie Booker’s Weekly Wipe.” In fact, “Cunk on Earth” is written and produced by Booker. Cunk’s other “documentaries” where she is the star are “Cunk on Britain,” “Cunk on Shakespeare,” and “Cunk on Other Humans,” which are worth tracking down as well.

The series looks good too, very polished and professional, like an actual documentary. If the sound was turned off, one would not be able to tell it was not real. She is in location at actual Greek ruins, the Pyramids, and the Great Wall of China. These are authentic ancient locations with historical significance, except for one extended bit that resembles and possibly is an infomercial for a resort.

She is interviewing actual experts. Not in a mean or ambushing way like a “Borat” interview. These experts are in on the joke and they are good sports. Cunk may make ignorant statements and pose baffling questions but the authorities and academics like composer Dr. Shirley Thompson and history professor Joyce Tyldesley answer sincerely, frankly, and patiently.

In one segment where Cunk is interviewing military expert Professor Ashley Jackson, there was a surprisingly affecting moment where Cunk was corrected on the fact of the continuing existence of nuclear weapons. Her reaction to realizing these WMDs exist of starting to cry was very funny but also elicited sympathy. They are truly terrifying to think about.

There are segments where she narrates among actors dressed as historical characters in period costumes. They relate to the subjects she is discussing, even if tangentially. But in other parts, she is also in costume for no discernible reason.

And then there is in each episode an unusually long sample of a hit song from 1989, “Pump Up the Jam,” by Technotronic, a Belgian group. At first, the driving beats and vivid graphics of the late twentieth-century music video, and the body-conscious style of clothing and fanny packs are startling and incongruous. But after the second episode, one begins to anticipate it eagerly. It is in every single episode.

Just as someone needs to be familiar with the news in order to get the jokes on comedy news shows, a general knowledge of history, or more specifically western culture is useful in appreciating “Cunk on Earth.” But even if history is not a familiar subject, the show is funny and engaging. It could spark interest in further actual study. It is refreshing to see experts valued for their knowledge even if Cunk appears not to. The character Cunk balances obliviousness and earnestness in a good way

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“Cunk on Earth” is Hilarious