A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Horrible Histories uses a sketch-comedy structure to put a humorous spin on well-known historical events, famous people, and outdated customs. Based on a Scholastic book series of the same name, this award-winning British show explores a different time and place in each episode, from Ancient Rome to Tudor England. Skits, songs, and various other formats present viewers a picture of life during the different eras, focusing on the most disgusting and bizarre practices of the time. What violence is shown (typically scenes of war or other battles) is more humorous than realistic, and when blood or gore is involved, the props are easy to spot. The show's use of irreverent comedy is its most notable feature, so expect a detailed exploration of bodily functions, bathroom habits, and body odor as they relate to the time and place. That said, there is value to the history lessons, untraditional though they may be, and to the fact that this is one "class" your kids won't mind sitting through.
What's the story?
The British sketch comedy series HORRIBLE HISTORIES highlights the gruesome, crude, and downright bizarre aspects of famous world events between the Stone Age and the mid-20th century. A live-action cast rotates through skits that explore customary practices of the times, putting a comical spin on realistic concerns like the plague, poor sanitation, and war. Other formats include animated shorts, music videos, games, and quizzes, bridged by visits from the show's host -- a rat puppet -- who clarifies the factuality of the sketches' content. Often the shorts also parody popular British TV series like The X Factor and Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.
Is it any good?
If Saturday Night Live turned to dusty textbooks for its material, the result would be much the same as what Horrible Histories has to offer. It's clever, laugh-out-loud funny, and even a little shocking in its delivery, at least to those with weak stomachs for bawdy bathroom humor. But that's not likely to be the case with your tweens, who will love its fresh approach to illustrating notable events and historical figures in ways that appeal to their sense of humor. Because the series jumps around from one time period to the next with little warning and touches on issues like illness, death, and execution, it's best suited for older kids and pre-teens who can put the subject matter into the appropriate context.
The caliber of the comedy is so high in this show that it's tempting to disregard the subject matter as mere fodder for laughs, but visual clues (pop-up signs read things like, "Romans really did this!") and brief fact-based lessons dropped in between sketches point out what's true. Even though Horrible Histories focuses mostly on the bizarre and curious aspects of the different time periods rather than on following one event from start to finish, it paints a general picture of customs and politics that complement what kids will learn from their more traditional history lessons. And perhaps best of all, because the show's humor is so engaging, parents will enjoy it almost as much as tweens will, making it a fun pick for watching as a family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why it's important to understand history. Kids: Can you draw any correlation between the events you saw in the show and our culture today? Do you think world politics have evolved in a positive or negative way?
On what modern conveniences are you most reliant? How do they improve the quality of life beyond what you saw in the show? Are there any drawbacks to some of those "conveniences," like the internet? If so, what?
Take time to further explore one or more of the time periods touched on in the show. What stands out as markedly different between now and then? What do you think the world will look like in another 100 years or so?
Themes & Topics
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