The cosmic microwave background (CMB) provides us with our most direct observational window to the early universe. Observations of the temperature and polarization anisotropies in the CMB have played a critical role in defining the now-standard cosmological model. In this contribution we review some of the basics of CMB science, highlighting the role of observations made with ground-based and balloon-borne Antarctic telescopes. Most of the ingredients of the standard cosmological model are poorly understood in terms of fundamental physics. We discuss how current and future CMB observations can address some of these issues, focusing on two directly relevant for Antarctic programmes: searching for gravitational waves from inflation via B-mode polarization, and mapping dark matter through CMB lensing.