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‘Cunk on Earth’ asks the big (dumb) questions
Cunk isn’t trying to mislead people, but ironically, out-of-context clips from the show are now going viral on TikTok.
“So there’s a dead dog somewhere in the frame of every film shot in space, like Star Wars?”
This is just one question Philomena Cunk asks in Cunk on Earth, the BBC mockumentary series now on Netflix. It’s in response to learning that Laika, the Soviet dog sent on a one-way journey into space in 1957, died up there. Later in the same episode, she challenges the director of the U.K. National Space Academy: “Can you prove the moon exists?”
Presenter Cunk (Diane Morgan) muses on art, ancient civilization, religion, and war in the five-episode series from Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. The character comes from Brooker’s long-running Weekly Wipe series, but this is the first time American audiences are being introduced en masse to Morgan.
In the two weeks since the series debuted on Netflix, screenshots circulated on Twitter, including one about the invention of capitalism, which satirizes how people think on Twitter. Reducing the show to memes is perhaps not how Brooker intended for it to be consumed, but then maybe he shouldn’t have made every line Cunk says memeable.
If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ll see that facts are apparently revisable and history malleable to any one person’s worldview. TikTok, a place where people were convinced Helen Keller wasn’t real, is one of the biggest amplifiers of historical misinfo. Cunk isn’t trying to mislead people, but ironically, out-of-context clips from the show are now going viral on TikTok.
Morgan has to play dumb for the premise to work, a la Sacha Baron Cohen, but she never makes the interviewee look dumb. The variety of academics she speaks with go along with her daffy questioning, which includes probing one expert about anal bleaching. (One of the experts featured confirmed on Twitter it’s not scripted and there are no “extra takes.”)
Cunk asks another academic if the pyramids were shaped that way to “stop homeless people sleeping on them.” It gets a laugh of recognition because America has embraced this dumb question as infrastructure.
“Cunk on Earth is legitimately far more accurate and has better experts than Ancient Apocalypse, yet Cunk is categorized as ‘comedy’ and Ancient Apocalypse is still listed as a ‘documentary’,” said one tweet.
The series is largely satirical, though Cunk often arrives at some bigger truth while stumbling around in history, like: “Christianity was the fidget spinner of medieval times, a huge craze that would last forever.”
Why it matters
Brooker said in 2020 that he wasn’t sure people wanted new episodes of Black Mirror when reality was crumbling, and was instead trying to write things that made him laugh. Cunk on Earth made me laugh harder than I have in weeks. It’s just a shame it’s not longer.