Diane Morgan

Diane Morgan

Cunk on Earth

TV review by Steve Bennett

In the past couple of weeks, there has been no shortage of serious people on television screens, speaking with solemnity and great authority about any number of ‘facts’ they cannot possibly know – hoping their confidence will hide the ignorance behind their conjecture.

So the scene is set for the return of the quintessential idiot with an undeserved platform, Philomena Cunk. However – and it seems like sacrilege to say it – her brand of wilful ignorance is starting to wear thin.  Although she was a key part of what made Charlie Brooker’s Wipe programmes so brilliantly acerbic, holding up a whole show, let alone a whole (second) series, on her own proves a much more demanding challenge.

In Cunk On Earth, Diane Morgan’s alter-ego has no lesser aim than to trace humanity’s journey from prehistory to the present day in her own version of Kenneth Clark landmark’s 1960s series Civilisation, only without the budget. Morgan gets to visit Italy, but otherwise the stock footage libraries have done well out of the producers.

Her perpetually uninterested presenter has such an ironic detachment from anything she talks about that it can be hard for the viewer to maintain attention, too.  The frame of reference is, as always, in the trivial and the mundane. Cave paintings are likened to a prehistoric Fast And The Furious 7, and the big question about Alexander The Great is his haircare regime.

Yet there are moments of brilliance. Cunk’s funniest moments come when she floats the more bonkers ideas to the ‘clevernauts and expertists’ who must maintain a humourless deadpan response to her surreal questioning.   The high point of episode one is her asking an expert in classical philosophy: ‘When you're having big ideas is it best to break it up into lots of little thoughts about the size of peas and squeeze them through in quick succession or just bite the bullet and force it though your mind pipe in one big clod?’ And then discovering that wasn’t such a dumb question after all.

Likewise, her inappropriate obsession about the ‘bumholes’ of early Olympians has a comic bluntness, and the show can still surprise – witness the entirely random blast of irrelevant pop music played for just too long.

But over the long form, the show doesn’t offer enough reason to invest, with bland-but-true statements linking the set pieces: ‘Civilisation was invented by people or persons unknown in Mesopotamia but whoever they were they were ahead of their time,’ she says, as if reading from a mid-grade GCSE paper.

It means Cunk On Earth is likely to be a better prospect as individual sketches on short-attention-span platforms such as YouTube or TikTok as it is a TV series. But when it’s good, it’s brilliant.

• Cunk On Earth is available on BBC iPlayer.

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Published: 20 Sep 2022


She’s made her name on TV as Philomena Cunk and…

The Cockfields

Joe Wilkinson has become known as the weird one on…


Book (2018)
Cunk on Everything

Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2006

Four On The Floor

Edinburgh Fringe 2007

AAA Stand-Up [2007]

Edinburgh Fringe 2009

Two Episodes of Mash [2009]

Misc live shows

Funny Women Final 2006


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