Netflix’s UI has been much maligned, and we were happy to see its recently revealed visual makeover. But you've got to love its bizarre content recommendations. It seems to throw in a bit of everything, including randomly specific categories, in an apparent bid to make it as difficult as possible to find something we want to watch.
But, according to a viral TikTok video, now it's just making things up. Among the 'boating movies', 'understated Australian independent dramas' and 'dark suspenseful viral plague movies' (these are starting to sound like prompts written for an AI image generator like DALL-E 2), someone claims to have discovered a new category that left viewers totally perplexed: just what is a Shmunguss?
Netflix's approach to organising its content reminds me of how shops switch around their layouts to make us get lost in the hope we might stumble across something new we want to buy while we're looking for the milk. Although purportedly personalised, its recommendations hit us with everything in an attempt to get us hooked on some random 10-season series that will keep us paying our subscription.
But things reached a level of absurdity a couple of days ago when the TikTok user ‘channel.everything’ shared a video that claims to show a collection of films about 'Shmunguss'. The Tiktokker claimed he was at his girlfriend’s house using a VPN service to connect to Netflix in other countries. "Can someone tell me what these categories are?” he implores. “What the hell is a Shmunguss?”
The category includes such Shmunguss-themed classics as The Shmonguss Among Us, I married a Shmunguss and The Shmunguss King, which appears to star Paul Giamatti. The Tiktokker lets out a yelp when he reaches a film entitled The Shmonguss’ Revenge, and a menacing voiceover says, “They stole my Shmunguss".
None of these titles appears in Google searches, and so far nobody else seems to have been able to find any Shmunguss-related content on Netflix despite the TikTok video having notched up over 12 million views. Some compared the discovery to an episode of Rick and Morty, where Rick invents a cable box that gives access to television shows across every dimension.
There are several theories. Perhaps a Netflix UI designer briefly went rogue, or maybe Netflix was testing a potential April Fools' joke ahead of time. Some have taken it as being related to the use of a VPN. “A Shmunguss is someone who uses a VPN to stream global content,” one wrote. “Netflix created this category to say they know what we are doing.”
But some soon questioned the authenticity of the video. “He edited the ‘Netflix’ screen beforehand and is playing a video on the TV,” one person said. Someone else did some research and pointed out that the picture of Giamatti is actually from the film Ironclad, in which the actor plays King John, not the King of the Shmunguss.
There's also inconsistency in the spelling of ‘Shmunguss’. Who knows, maybe that's US vs UK spelling – we often get US readers complaining about our use of British spelling (we are frightfully sorry, ya'll). But it seems the most likely explanation is that the TikTok video is a well-designed, convincingly edited joke parodying Netflix's absurd categories.
The TikTok account has a record of sharing news of dubious veracity, and it added a link in its bio to “Shmunguss” merch available at shmungussrevenge.com suspiciously soon after the video took off. So perhaps we should now all add the word 'Shmunguss' to our lexicons to describe someone who designs elaborate hoax videos in a bid to go viral.