History of Swearwords – Review


3 stars

Fuck, Shit, Bitch, Dick, Pussy, and Damn. Nothing equally thrills and shocks an audience more than a good old fashioned curse word; a show deconstructing their origin and how their meanings have changed should delight. Throw in Nicholas Cage as its host and one would assume that it promises great things. Promise it does, but deliver it does not.  

Nicholas Cage is notorious for his public speaking prowess. His delivery is impeccable and he exudes the gravitas necessary for the weight of some of these words. However, him being the face of the show may be a little misleading. The show is a mishmash of Cage’s introductions, short commentaries on the history of slurs by experts, and the personal experiences that some comedians share with the curse words. If you are in the market for a serious BBC 4 style documentary on the etymological history of swear words, then History of Swear Words misses the mark for sure. Instead, be prepared for absurdist humour surrounding the episode’s words of choice. 

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Each 20-minute episode of this 6-part series takes a multi-angled glance at profanity and our relationship with certain words. The show’s comedic level lacks lustre and remains in the gutter along with its subject matter. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but History of Swear Words would have profited from a more in-depth analysis of the etymology and a more sophisticated play on words. Expect school playground style jokes about genitalia with overly enthusiastic comedians grinning following the mention of a dirty word. Nonetheless, Netflix did do their homework by choosing some of the most potty-mouthed comedians on the scene. American Sarah Silverman and British London Hughes are amongst the international stars sharing their views in an attempt to bag some laughs. Nonetheless, the international comedy team was a nice touch and an obvious marketing ploy to entice a wider anglophone audience.

Although the title should be somewhat of an indicator of the show’s level, most jokes come across as crude and unnecessarily bold. This outlandish style of comedy is probably more palatable across the pond, whereas a more sarcastic British audience may deem it uninspiring. Some laughs are achieved, though probably not for the right reasons, making the show somewhat entertaining. 

Unfortunately, this series lives up to Netflix’s reputed anything goes attitude. Its bitesize episodes and vague content resemble an underfunded short Youtube series rather than Netflix’s more reputable shows. This may or may not have something to do with the overuse of stock videos interwoven between remarks by the show’s famous faces. There is no doubt about History of Swear Words being a pandemic creation, however, Netflix’s budget definitely would have stretched to increase its production value. Had this show come out pre-pandemic, I suppose the rating would have been lower. However, thanks to fortuitous timing History of Swear Words has managed to scrape a 3-star review by providing more entertainment than reruns of You’ve Been Framed.