Cunk on Earth: The Beginnings
February 4, 2023 5:45 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Philomena Cunk's epic 5-part essay on civilization, tracing humanity's journey from prehistory to the present day.

Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) looks at human history and dares ask profound questions like: "Did a mummy ever ride a bicycle?" and "When building the Pyramids, did the Egyptians start at the top and work down, or start at the bottom and work up?"
posted by SPrintF (35 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Currently streaming on Netflix.
posted by SPrintF at 5:50 AM on February 4, 2023

Oh, and here's the BBC trailer.
posted by SPrintF at 6:02 AM on February 4, 2023

hunting animals 
every day was a pain
in the arse
until someone came 
up with the idea of 
also eating plants
which were easier
to catch because they couldn't
run away

posted by sixswitch at 7:38 AM on February 4, 2023 [9 favorites]

How I love Diane Morgan. Cunk on Earth is amazing. Her Mandy series is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I would love to see her as a sort of seemingly-clueless Dr. Who, always acting the fool, like Patrick Troughton did. She's already wearing a cool Dr. Who-type outfit in Cunk on Earth!
posted by jabah at 7:40 AM on February 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

I love the range of personalities of the experts. They can be polite and accommodating, or sweet and gracious, or quick-witted and playing along, or a bit of a blowhard who doesn't want to give an inch. They all try their very best not to react in their own way.
posted by ishmael at 8:03 AM on February 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, I don't mean to threadsit, but I discovered Philomena Cunk last night and I've been chortling ever since. Philomena Cunk's Moments of Wonder: Time.
posted by SPrintF at 8:06 AM on February 4, 2023 [3 favorites]

This woman looks hilarious. I started watching it, but then I saw that she was interviewing people and noped out. I get the cringes from Borat-style interviews of unsuspecting people. Is it like that, or is it more like Space Ghost where people are in on the joke? I couldn't tell.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:05 AM on February 4, 2023 [5 favorites]

(also, until I looked at the show, I thought Philomena Cunk was a real person, the kind who is famous for bad takes and is in the Guardian anyway)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2023

Countess Elena, I wouldn't describe it as Borat-esque.

Philomena Cunk asks ridiculous questions. The experts realize it's ridiculous, they're smart people. But try to give genuine, thoughtful answers. Everyone comes off well.
posted by champers at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2023 [10 favorites]

The Royal Astronomical Society "science man" halfway into the "Time" video just above is definitely not in on the joke. Her questions are hilarious, like the one about storing time on her clock and needing to get it back out again, but I totally get where you're coming from on that kind of interview, Countess Elena. It's definitely cringey and yeah, feels a bit abusive to the nice science man.
posted by mediareport at 10:00 AM on February 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Countess Elena - many of the interviewees are already well aware who Diane Morgan is. Some of them, like the military expert, have appeared with her on previous Cunk shows.

Regardless, all of the interviewees are informed by producers in advance that this is a comedy. They are not, however, prepared for the ridiculousness of the questions, and you can see some struggle to keep a straight face.
posted by theory at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2023 [14 favorites]

Cunk's dry presentation reminds me of Will Cuppy, an early 20th century humorist whom I find to be remarkably underrated. Some of his lines:

Life was very difficult for the average reptile in the Mesozoic era, what with the Dinosaurs and the humidity, so some of them took to the air to get away from it all.

The Rhamphorhynchus could never have become popular, if only because of his name. Lots of people wouldn't get it.

[The Pteranodon] also had a birdlike beak and a bony crest almost two feet long on the back of his skull. We do not know exactly what this thing was for, but the Pteranodon probably knew.

...could have fit right into a hypothetical Cunk on Dinosaurs segment. If you find Cunk's deadpan delivery funny -- and I find her, it, and this series hysterical -- I strongly recommend digging up some of his works.
posted by delfin at 4:40 PM on February 4, 2023 [7 favorites]

Diane Morgan probably wouldn't, but I kept imagining Philomena Cunk doing the running man offscreen while the Tektronic track played.
posted by ishmael at 6:04 PM on February 4, 2023 [3 favorites]

What's ironic about Jesus Christ becoming a carpenter

was he was actually named after the two words you're most likely to shout

after hitting your thumb with a hammer.

posted by sixswitch at 6:05 PM on February 4, 2023 [11 favorites]

There's also a book (and audiobook read by Diane Morgan) of this series. I enjoyed what I listened to.
posted by Catblack at 5:36 AM on February 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

The interviewees are told to answer the questions seriously as if she were a nine year old.
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:32 AM on February 5, 2023 [6 favorites]

I've only seen the first two eps so far, but I hope my boy Irving Finkel keeps showing back up - he is solid gold already. I was kind of surprised he wasn't the one getting asked about cuneiform, since that's kind of his bag..
posted by FatherDagon at 6:57 AM on February 5, 2023 [3 favorites]

I love Philomena Cunk, and honestly I've loved the idea of taking a character that is comically naive, and getting her to present a documentary, completely nailing what a documentarian is supposed to look and sound like but talking absolute nonsense. Certainly it wouldn't work nearly as well with Barry Shitpeas.
posted by Merus at 7:48 AM on February 5, 2023 [3 favorites]

I get the cringes from Borat-style interviews.

Me too, but I think the difference here is that Morgan makes herself the butt of the joke. She's never punching down at her interviewees, but inviting us to laugh at Cunk's own idiocy instead.

That said, I do think the character wears pretty thin when stretched over a full series. I preferred the short inserts Charlie Booker's show gave her, but I suppose her success there made the BBC's current Cunksploiation inevitable.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:07 AM on February 5, 2023 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I also love the on-location shouting bits where multiple locations are cut together in one sentence.
posted by ishmael at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2023 [2 favorites]

Some of the weird non-sequiturs and tangents she goes on are great, the writing on these is brilliant. It does make me miss Charlie Brookers various Wipe series though.
posted by Marticus at 5:35 PM on February 5, 2023 [2 favorites]

There is no mean-spiritedness to the interviews, which drastically decreases the squirm-factor to something manangeable for me.

I preferred her monologues to the interviews. I work in a customer-facing job, and while the profound ignorance of her questions and attitude are pretty funny, their style of “not even wrong” is maybe a little too real, as I found it deeply enraging. Which itself is also pretty funny to me.

“Pompeii was so advanced it had its own volcano, which is Latin for ‘angry hill’.”
posted by hototogisu at 2:24 AM on February 6, 2023 [8 favorites]

It's easy to see why the smartphone has become

the most popular invention this century.

It's incredibly advanced,

yet at the same time,
so simple a child can make one.

posted by sixswitch at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2023 [11 favorites]

The Greeks invented a kind of theater for the stupid, and called it sport.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2023 [7 favorites]

I had no idea who Philomena Cunk (or Diane Morgan) was, thank you so much for posting it! I pretty much binged the series.

This is one respect the same type of humor as in Three Men in a Boat: A character who is totally, utterly clueless and never gives the slightest sign of intelligence, but it's impossible to imagine the real life person doing the bit as anything other than a genius. So I'm busting a gut laughing and always feel I'm laughing with, not at.
posted by mark k at 11:31 PM on February 6, 2023 [2 favorites]

I watch each episode twice: once normal, once pretending Mr. Weasley and Luna Lovegood teamed up for an earnest documentary series about Muggle achievements. I can recommend giving this method a try. Unless the whole Rowling ruins that for you, of course.

The expert interviews are certainly the weakest part, but they rarely feel mean to me.
posted by Ashenmote at 6:33 AM on February 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

I love dry humor and this is hitting all the buttons in glorious ways. You know how people hit all the buttons on an elevator and it's annoying? Mentally all of my "elevator buttons" are being pushed and instead, it's fantastic!

"Maybe I'm cold, but I just don't give a shit about people in ancient Greece"

"If someone had spoken this stone tablet with the egyptian comic strips on it out loud, would it have been the first audio book" (I paraphrased here).

"Here's the Greek philosophers. Not the actual ones, just simulations made of rock."

This show will be forever be on in the background.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 AM on February 9, 2023 [3 favorites]

I think sixswitch's quote presentations really hit the nail on the head for me. She really does have the cadence of William Carlos Williams.
posted by ishmael at 6:49 AM on February 9, 2023

Credit goes to the closed captioners for those! (But thanks! I agree)
posted by sixswitch at 10:35 AM on February 10, 2023 [2 favorites]

Oh man these were brilliant. So very very dumb, until they weren’t.
posted by Mchelly at 4:53 AM on February 13, 2023

Absolutely loved it and it is, amazingly, one of the things my 88 year old mom can watch and enjoy and understand. I sure hope they put out more Cunk; I looked at the YouTube ones but there are no subtitles and she needs them.
posted by The otter lady at 8:57 PM on February 17, 2023

This series has inspired dozens of comments on Fanfare, all published decades after the release of unrelated Belgian techno anthem ”Pump Up the Jam”.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 7:43 PM on June 23, 2023 [4 favorites]

"If someone had spoken this stone tablet with the egyptian comic strips on it out loud, would it have been the first audio book" (I paraphrased here).

I'd already had some good, deep laughs while watching, but this line, whatever precisely it was, made me absolutely lose it.
posted by solotoro at 9:35 AM on August 24, 2023 [1 favorite]

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