Nicolas Cage can make anything cool, and that certainly applies to cursing, as confirmed by Netflix’s History of Swear Words (debuting Jan. 5), in which the Oscar-winning superstar plays host to an inquiry into our most beloved profane utterances. Cage’s participation is the highlight of executive producers Brien Meagher and Rhett Bachner’s comedic look at taboo English-language terms, lending it just the right amount of educational seriousness and tongue-in-cheek humor. Charismatically demonstrating naughty words’ vitality and power, and flashing enough bravado to show that he’s also in on the proceedings’ fundamental joke, he’s the main fucking reason to watch this goddamn entertaining six-episode affair.
Those easily offended by such vocabulary will definitely want to avoid this lesson on the tradition and different meanings of expletives, which focuses each of its 20-minute installments on a single forbidden expression. Naturally, the word “fuck” is the first to be addressed, with Cage kicking the series off by reciting numerous famous movie lines that take full advantage of that infamously frowned-upon four-letter word. Boasting a nicely trimmed beard and a designer suit, and situated in a drawing room decorated with a grand fireplace, built-in bookshelves, and a leather armchair sandwiched between a stack of old volumes and a fully stocked drink cart, Cage opines, “An actor’s greatest tool is their imagination. But swearing is definitely up there. With swear words, we can cut, soothe, delight, frighten, insult, and seduce. Of all the swear words in the English language, none is as malleable as ‘fuck.’”
With its lighthearted tone, generated by its witty commentary and diversely animated sequences, title cards, and graphical timelines, History of Swear Words is energized by Cage’s self-consciously erudite schtick but is largely dominated by talking-head remarks from a collection of comedians—including Sarah Silverman, Nick Offerman, Nikki Glaser, London Hughes, Jim Jeffries, and Zainab Johnson—who are more than slightly familiar with this subject matter. With a jokiness befitting the endeavor, they do their best to dissect the many ways in which “fuck,” “shit,” “bitch,” “pussy,” “dick,” and “damn” are used in casual conversation, in mixed company, in their own routines, and by the culture at large. They’re a generally agreeable group, and capable of succinctly pinpointing how the meaning of each of these words changes depending on the context of their usage.