Horrible Histories TV Poster Image

Horrible Histories

Books-inspired British sketch comedy yields laughs, facts.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show makes light of serious historical events like plagues, wars, and laws that seem barbaric by today's standards, but the creative structure is designed to engage tweens and teens in the subject of history itself. It also pokes fun at different cultures and beliefs from years past that seem strange by modern standards. The topics are often crude, employing bathroom humor (poop jokes, flatulence, and body odor are favorites) to entertain viewers, but the show delivers a decent quality of educational material in a creative way. 

Positive role models

All of the representations of historical figures play on their weaknesses or failures for comedy's sake, but they do make note of their victories when they're relevant as well.

Violence

Depending on the episode's topic, you'll see battle scenes, sword fights, gun use, and other scuffles between opposing sides, all presented in a comical manner. There's no blood, and various players' deaths are meant to be funny rather than upsetting. Occasionally props like severed heads are used in the stories. Expect references to other violent themes from the times, including execution, suicide, murder, and dismemberment.   

Sex

Some humor related to sensitive body parts, as when a cartoon shows the backside of a man who's raising his tunic to flash someone.  

Language

Rarely "hell."

Consumerism

The show is based on a series of books of the same name.  

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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Histories uses a sketch-comedy structure to put a humorous spin on well-known historical events, famous people, and outdated customs.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?

QUALITY

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. 

Families can talk 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? 

TV details

Premiere date:April 16, 2009
Cast:Simon Farnaby, Matthew Baynton, Martha Howe-Douglas
Network:Online
Genre:Comedy
Topics:Book characters, History
TV rating:TV-PG
Available on:DVD, Streaming

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 9 years old May 5, 2014

More like hilarious histories

Horrible histories is a hilarious series that teaches you a lot you know when in history the teachers skip out the most interesting bits well those bits are revealed right here . No violence just cartoony fights. Hope you enjoy
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 8, 11, and 16 year old Written byBeverleyAnne December 20, 2014
A brilliant British programme that really teaches the children (and adults) the right amount of history to get them through school. My children know all the songs off by heart and can tell you all the kings and queens of England. Every age must watch this programme!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byDarky'sReviews June 19, 2014

Funny, Witty And Shocking Enough To Make A Boring School Subject More Of A Splendid Viewing

This is rather a popular favorite amongst my family and relatives and it deserves it's high treatment. I have had a better time and have learnt a lot more stuff in this show than I've had in any of the history lessons I've taken throughout my entire schooling. Some might say it's rather disturbing at some points when a fake dismembered limb is exposed or when the show exposes more of it's crude potty humor side but it's all done to shock you and make those times in history seem more memorable. This should be shown in schools as part of the curriculum to teach kids about the olden days from a different perspective. ON: 10+ IFFY: 6-9 OFF: 0-5
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence