The History of Swear Words, one of Netflix’s new shows, is going to be challenging to review. I actually don’t have any problems with swearing. I think using profanity, especially at the right time and place, has its uses. Unfortunately, this viewpoint of mine is not shared by a lot of people out there in the world. So, to keep things safe and “child-friendly” in a sense, I will be attempting to write up this review of the History of Swear Words, a show that specifically talks about and uses swear words liberally, without using any profanity.
With that being said, I’m still going to be including a lot of clips that are available from the Netflix show that do have a ton of swearing. So… yeah. If you don’t want your pristine brain to be left untarnished by all the bad words, this review is going to be safe. The videos, though, aren’t.
The History of Swear Words is a six-episode Netflix educational (kinda) series that covers several of the most popular swear words we love to use… but not in front of our kids. Each episode focuses on a specific word, its history and etymology, how it became a swear word and its usage over time. That’s basically it. Yet, despite the very simple premise, The History of Swear Words is a very engaging watch. The mix of irreverent humor from the comedians Netflix brought in to give their background of using the word and actual experts explaining the origins is rather fun. And since each episode barely scratches half an hour, there’s not much of a time investment to watch all the six episodes they’ve put out so far.
The MVP of the show is, hands down, Nicolas Cage. The folks over at Netflix genuinely picked the best person to host an educational program about swear words. Initially, I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t go with Samuel L. Jackson since, well, he’s known for his liberal use of profane vocabulary in his films. But there’s just something about Nicolas Cage here that makes him fit right in. There’s a definite cheesy yet sincere manner wherein he articulates the bad words. He doesn’t have to yell them as well, The way he emphasizes specific syllables to give them weight fits well with the comedic tone of the entire series. It’s actually quite amazing how serious he sounds to kind of subvert your expectations. Oh, I don’t doubt Samuel L. Jackson would have done a great job hosting The History of Swear Words. But Nicolas Cage? It’s just perfection.
As good as Nicolas Cage is when it comes to the art of cussing, I don’t think he knows squat about the words’ origins. Which is why it only made sense for Netflix to get actual experts regarding all the word stuff. It is kind of funny to see some straight-laced intellectual types saying a bad word here and there so casually. However, the experts do show one of the weaknesses of the entire show’s premise: there’s actually really very little to discuss regarding each word’s histories. They do try their best by talking about their impact on history and culture as a whole and how their uses have changed over the years. Still, it should only take around ten minutes to really go over it all. It’s all very interesting, for sure. But even the historical impact portions lack the necessary punch.
So what fills up the rest of the time of each episode? Well, there’s Nicolas Cage coming into frame for a minute or two. The remaining time is mostly devoted to comedians and actors like Nikki Glaser, Jim Jefferies, Nick Offerman and Sarah Silverman. It gives perspective on how profanity is used in everyday life and these bits are generally humorous. Unfortunately, not all of these bits are good. I found some of them mildly annoying, actually. These are fairly minor occurrences in the grans scheme of things, though, so I didn’t mind them all that much.
Each episode explores the topic as much as it needs to while still remaining entertaining. The combination of Nicolas Cage’s overviews, the celebrities talking about their personal connection with profanity and the linguistic and historical experts do make watching each episode a breeze. In fact, there are times when things seem to be moving a little too fast. There would be times when the expert will say something witty or smart then it will immediately segue to the celebrities without the previous statement able to sink in. It’s easy to follow but I would hope for a little more breathing room in between some of the segments.
Oddly enough, I do feel some people will get triggered by The History of Swear Words not because of all the cussing and the dirty humor. Rather, there is going to be this segment of the viewers that may be set off by some of the political slants. An example is how the rap group NWA used curse words as part of their lyrics, which prompted conservatives to slap their albums as well as others with a Parental Advisory sticker. These people might be miffed at this portion of the episode was dedicated to an agenda or something along those lines. Still, I don’t really see this segment of the population watching a show about the History of Swear Words in the first place. So I might be overthinking all of this. I just would warn you about things like this here and now.
The History of Swear Words is a really good watch for geeks like me who want to be entertained while learning about stuff. I would like for Netflix to give this a second batch of cuss words to delve into but they pretty much used the most popular swears. Maybe they can focus on the use of slurs but talking about them is going to be a touchy subject. They can talk about other profane items in the lexicon but they just won’t have the same impact since they’re just not as “dirty” or as used as the ones in this batch of episodes. Still, I personally enjoyed watching all six episodes. I would say it’s worth watching for Nicolas Cage alone. I do recommend you give this a watch if you’re not offended by swearing.
Have you seen the History of Swear Words? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!