“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.” A great line from Men in Black that has always been true, no matter how far back we reach in our history.
When we view those who came before us as flawed, reactionary dummies, some historical events suddenly start to make more sense, and there is no better way to view stupid than through the lens of stupid.
Luckily for us, Philomena Cunk, Britain’s foremost dimwitted documentarian, is here to provide that lens in the hilarious, clever, and somewhat exhausting BBC/Netflix miniseries Cunk on Earth.
Created by Charlie Brooker and Diane Morgan for Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, a satirical British news program in the same tradition as The Daily Show, Philomena Cunk may not be the most informed character. Or the brightest. But she is undoubtedly the most present, at least in this particular case, and that will have to do.
Wonderfully brought to life by Morgan in past productions such as Cunk on Christmas and Cunk on Britain, Philomena is back once more, this time to tackle all of human history in five easy-to-digest 30-minute episodes.
Like previous mockumentaries featuring the character, Cunk on Earth strikes a near perfect balance of stupidity and cleverness as well as low brow and high brow humor; in between simple yet effective gags such as Cunk accidentally combining Vladimir Lenin with John Lennon there are some genuinely salient historical observations, albeit heavily disguised in humor and satire (“The North asked the South what kind of America it wanted to live in: one where white people leeched off other races while treating them as inferior, or one where they pretended they didn’t?”)
I watched all five episodes of Cunk on Earth in one sitting, and despite the brilliance of the show I would not recommend doing this. It can be quite easy to do, as each episode is a quick and breezy 30-minutes, but back-to-back viewings can lead to some fatigue of the funny bone. I could not stop chuckling in the first installment, but by the fifth I was starting to appreciate the still well-written and equally well-delivered jokes less and less.
When a punchline does occasionally arrive DOA in Cunk on Earth, which is inevitable in any comedy, there are usually a few right around the corner that more than make up for things, but there are also one or two gags in the show that don’t work and stick around for way too long. But if you pace it right and shake off the few stinkers in what is otherwise a meadow of sweet-smelling laughs, Cunk on Earth is a satire on par with some of the greatest that our modern day has to offer, from This is Spinal Tap to the golden age of The Colbert Report.
It won’t change your life and it won’t win any hoity-toity awards, but if you’re looking for some perspective and some laughs then Cunk is more than happy to take you there.
Cunk on Earth is now available on Netflix.