“History of Swear Words” opens with Nicolas Cage, solemn as a rock, turning to the digicam and unleashing a torrent of well-known strains joined by one essential, undeniably satisfying component: the fun of forcefully exhaling the phrase “fuck.” With the canny mixture of intellectual and lowbrow that Cage has became a worthwhile persona all its personal, the actor rips into iconic strains starting from the essential (“who the fuck do you assume you’re speaking to?”) to the perversely iconic (“fuck it, we’ll do it stay”) to the legendary (“I’ve had it with these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ airplane”). It’s a brief intro, however one which nonetheless units the tone for a self-aware sequence that delights in exploring previously bleeped phrases simply as a lot as its host does in saying them.
In principle, “Nicolas Cage hosts a Netflix present about swear phrases” appears like a wacky sport present the algorithm spat out as an afterthought. In apply, “The History of Swear Words” is extra academic and easy than that, delivering six bite-sized classes on six verboten and/or controversial phrases with the assistance of etymologists, comedians and historians. Cage, who’s made a sport of revving up his inherent depth to absurdist new heights, proves a wise alternative for a bunch. That is each as a result of he’s an enigmatic actor who’s sport for something, and since the present doesn’t overplay its hand with him, holding his contributions transient sufficient that you simply don’t go away an episode going, “alright, we get it, Nicolas Cage is a weirdo wish to curse.”
Every of the six episodes offers a quick overview of how six completely different phrases — fuck, shit, bitch, dick, pussy, rattling — got here to be, and the way their definitions have since advanced. The steadiness of historians in opposition to comedians like London Hughes and Nikki Glaser give “History of Swear Words” a kind of documentary meets “Finest Week Ever” vibe that actually works for the subject material. Everybody’s engaged, however nobody’s taking themselves too severely to have enjoyable with it.
So the primary downside with the sequence isn’t the presentation, however with how shortly it breezes by its materials. Normally I’m begging Netflix reveals to pare themselves down, and but by the tip of “The History of Swear Words,” I used to be left pissed off that I didn’t get deeper dives. Every episode does an admirable job rushing by all of the medieval mythology, socio-political context, popular culture reflections and weird enjoyable details behind every swear phrase. However with solely 20 minutes a pop, these chapters barely have sufficient time to put out the essential details, not to mention dig in. Anybody actually within the historical past of swear phrases might discover themselves falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes so as to fill within the many blanks this present leaves behind. Anybody who idly flips “History of Swear Words” on as a result of they needed to see Nic Cage passionately monologue in regards to the magnetic energy of pussy, nonetheless, must be happy.
“History of Swear Words” premieres Tuesday, January 5 on Netflix.