WASHINGTON – For months, the never-ending Covid-19 restrictions have forced most of us to watch more TV than ever. Fortunately, both my esteemed spouse and me have long been addicted to video offerings from the UK. So no problem. We just watch more. After all, there’s plenty of this stuff available via various streaming services we access through our vintage Roku box. Our latest discovery from Britworld? Via Amazon Prime, we stumbled onto a rather weird series of short (less than 30 minutes) humorous videos entitled Horrible Histories (HH).
Secret origins of Horrible Histories
I was inspired to write a short review of this series by query I recently received from another informational site where I do occasional Q&As. The questioner — likely an American middle or high school student, wondered why teachers in US public schools weren’t showing HH’s educational programs in the classroom. That was news to me. An educational series? That explained why this program’s rather bawdy but humorous skits seemed just a bit simplistic.
This query prompted me to research the series. A few trips around the Internet soon revealed Horrible Histories’ secret origins. The show has actually been around in the UK since roughly the turn of this century. Beginning as a cartoon-only effort, the series is indeed an an educational TV effort. Even more surprisingly, it’s produced by the UK branch of the Scholastic Corporation, a well-known American educational firm.
The original HH was an animated show, somewhat similar in content to one time PBS series like The Electric Company. It originated as an animated history show for kids, likely aimed at pre-tweens and tweens. Its frantically paced skits, once exclusively animated, now mostly use a set cast of live actors to present the bulk of the show’s material.
How Horrible Histories rolls today
Introduced by a saucy handpuppet rat, the cast presents short, meticulously costumed period skits. These transform elements of British, European and occasionally US history into humorous riffs, piquantly spiced with naughty bits of bathroom humor. Or, actually, quite a lot of naughty bits involving bathroom humor. It’s guaranteed to get a laugh our of its target audience — not a bad tactic for keeping a young audience’s interest. The skits are often followed by a short multiple choice quiz to see what the show’s viewers actually know about the history presented in each skit.
HH is educational fun. What a concept!
It was refreshing to discover that Horrible Histories (HH) has been directed toward UK school kids for roughly two decades. My R&D effort on the show helped me understand why this sometimes sophomoric effort was still funny for adults. Even the American kind. It’s decidedly not content free like much TV today. Plus, it
- presents actual history in bitesized chunks
- makes fun of it when possible
- often casts its clever skits as contemporary TV game shows and reality series
- and frequently features medieval peasants introducing horribly “historical” hip-hop numbers.
All of which makes even adults like us figure they haven’t wasted their time laughing at this often silly but still informative little show. Better yet, the educational humor of HH is a useful antidote to the poisonous and often totally false news and scare headlines that America’s MSM spews out daily. Apparently, history is not yet out of fashion in the UK.
Hopefully, the school kids would agree. And we suspect they would, given the long run this series has already enjoyed. It also proves that UK and world history a lot less boring than young people might imagine it to be. Particularly with regard to, umm, personal hygiene, etc.
For American fans of UK TV, Amazon Prime is offering another winner
Successive HH seasons, as we’re viewing them, seem to be getting funnier and more polished, though not in ways American moms and dads might typically favor. On the other hand, Europeople, in my experience, generally seem to be less squeamish about such things.
Two more big pluses:
- The skits are blessedly free of PC
- Much of the humor in this show owes a real debt to those early masters of televised political and historical satire and hilarity, Monty Python, and its US successors, Saturday Night Live. (Which at least used to be funny before it waxes propagandistic over two decades ago.
Horrible Histories on Amazon Prime: Recommendation
My final thoughts:
Horrible Histories on Amazon Prime isn’t ever going to be part of any American public school’s curriculum. But there’s no point in denying yourself the fun and pleasure of viewing its good-natured historical silliness in the comfort of your own home while you and your family head back to the basement for Covid Lockdown #2. I.e., house arrest. Far from being just a kid’s show, it’s a show that’s fun for adults as well. And it’s also a great way for American adults (and perhaps their kids) to learn interesting tidbits of actual history they more than likely never learned in America’s fast-failing public schools.
Bottom Line: For viewers looking for a bit of un-PC fun involving something completely different, give Horrible Histories a try before the internet censors bear it away. Free on Amazon Prime if you’re a subscriber.
– Headline image: William Wallace is set to do a YouTube music video before his next battle on Horrible Histories.