Nicolas Cage and a coterie of comedians and scholars parse the history and usage of f@cking swears.
Well. It’s here. Netflix’s promotional sensation – Nicolas Cage being Nicolas Cage while dropping as many f bombs as you can imagine. The series has certainly garnered the streaming giant plenty of attention. But is it any good? Or should I use the lingua franca of the series: Is The History of Swear Words shit, or is it The Shit?
The History of Swear Words (2020)
Nicolas Cage hosts this proudly profane, funny and engagingly educational series about the history and impact of the most notorious English swear words.
Episode 1: Fuck.
Right off the bat, Nicolas Cage earns his paycheck with a lyrical paean to the king of swear words. He begins professorially, builds into a swell of emotion, and caps it off with a crescendo of, well, fuckery. It’s kinda what you expected, and what most people paid admission for.
Backing this up are the two wobbly legs of the series formula: a scholarly look at the history, usage, and psychological function of the word, and a bevy of current comedians putting the term through its paces. The scholarship is real, but skimpy. The comedy feels like somebody really, really wanted to resurrect I Love the 90’s. It’s not bad, per se, just not exactly anything exciting.
Episode 2: Shit.
Shit does a better job of propping up the weaker aspects of the show. The scholarship is a bit more incisive, and the celebrity jokes seem more directed to reflect what point Cage or the researchers just made.
Episode 3-5: Bitch, Dick, Pussy.
I ran these three together as they really wind up being facets of each other. Each is a gendered insult, and results in a really solid discussion of historical bias, gender politics, social norms, and a myriad of other issues that are largely absent in the first two swears.
This opens the series up for new experts to chime in, making the science more than just history and etymology. It also lets the comedians feel less like pop-up video talking heads and more like relevant resources to the topics being discussed.
Binge or Purge?: The History of Swear Words.
I’ll admit I have some bias coming into this. First, I’m really finding a soft spot (in my head, if not in my heart!) for Nicolas Cage’s new “brand.” Second, almost all of the comedians here are favorites of mine. Lastly, the episodes are a svelte 20 minutes, which happens to be the perfect amount of time for me to get in a workout.
The History of Swear Words works, but it’s a tad bald in places. Sometimes it really takes a big bite out of unpacking a swear, other times it just kinda rolls around the floor giggling that it gets to say naughty words. For what it is, it works. I found it the perfect little amusement, offering up tiny insights that distract my mind from how much my body hates New Year’s resolutions.