Have you encountered Philomena Cunk yet? You may want to track her down. She’s the fictional host of “Cunk on Earth,” a quick five-episode British mockumentary series that premiered on Netflix last week. She is unforgettable.
Played by Diane Morgan, who has played the same character on other series, Cunk is a TV host who travels the world exploring human history with her documentary crew — but she is something of an idiot. She asks history experts inane questions and she makes absurd comments about the development of civilization, such as: “Rome’s empire rose to supremacy under the leadership of Julius Caesar, the most notorious Roman until Polanski.”
Morgan is entirely straight-faced throughout, so Cunk is unaware of her own idiocy, which makes it all so much funnier. She presents her questions and comments with the cool intellectuality affected by so many hosts who lead these TV travel tours through history. She talks as if she’s the next Sir David Attenborough. Indeed, the whole show looks just like one of those real documentary series, and if you watched “Cunk on Earth” with the sound off, you’d probably think you were seeing the real thing.
The show, which was created by Charlie Brooker of “Black Mirror,” gives us real academics sitting across from Cunk as she asks, “Was Beethoven good at music?” or “What was the Soviet Onion?”
But unlike Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters, she is not trying to make them appear silly. She’s the stooge in this scenario. They seem to know it’s all a joke, and they answer her with some mild degree of seriousness.
I found myself thinking fondly of “Drunk History,” the six-season Comedy Central show that used to give us actors re-creating moments from history as remembered by inebriated people. “Cunk on Earth” is funny and fast, so that each episode gives us just enough giddy foolishness and not too much. The episodes are a great way to break up a night of more serious viewing.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.