Comedy websites have two big challenges: One is the enormous pressure to be actually funny, something that not even the big-time pros at Funny Or Die can always manage. Secondly there’s the self-imposed stigma that comes with calling yourself funny. It’s the pathetic “Am I right folks? Is this thing on?” cringe factor. When you first look at Cracked.com, you’d be forgiven for cringing.
Cracked suffers from a bit of a wonky brand legacy. The site was born out of the collapse of the Cracked Magazine comedy publication, which itself was struggling to maintain relevance in the early 2000s. Launched in 1958 in response to Mad, it turned to a more “lads’ mag” feel in 2006, which tanked. Thankfully, the powers-that-be had enough sense to kill the magazine and focus its work online, and throughout the years Cracked.com has developed a solid core writing team and a distinctive presence. I was introduced to the site the usual way: a friend sent me a funny article they thought I’d like. When I explored further I found not only more funny articles, but also a burgeoning online video presence.
The site has a number of online series, both serialised and in more stand-alone episodic formats (including the Streamy Award winning Agents of Cracked). Maybe in another article down the track I’ll review some of them, but today I’m focusing on After Hours, my personal favourite.
After Hours has a lot of basic things that make it good:
- It’s a simple (if slightly unoriginal) premise: four members of the wider Cracked editorial and video team (Dan O’Brien, Soren Bowie, Michael Swaim and Katie Willert, playing fictionalised versions of themselves) get together after work and debate classic pop-culture meaningless stuff like ‘Why Star Wars is Secretly Terrifying for Women’ and ‘5 Classic Movie High Schools it Would Suck to Attend.’
- Four different illustrators animating the arguments of the gang adds a unique narrative dimension.
- While on occasion patchy, it’s mostly well-written, performed and produced by the team.
- It has some really funny gags (most delivered by Swaim, who is a truly gifted comedian).
- It cleverly picks cultural references that play straight to its target audience.
On top of this, as I watched the first season unfold it became clear to me that After Hours was something better than good. It develops and grows. Whilst all of the episodes do stand alone, I thoroughly recommend watching from the first episode to truly appreciate it. There is no overarching story, but the writers subtly call back to other episodes and weave in character arcs, like the underplayed sexual tension between Willert and Bowie that comes to a head in ‘Why Batman is Secretly Terrible for Gotham’ (a standout episode I would recommend you catch, but it’s better to watch them all). You also get more joy from watching if you know the wider Cracked landscape as Bowie, O’Brien and Swaim extend on the voice and tone they use in their other Cracked pieces. Without sounding ridiculous, After Hours gives you the sense that you’re peering into the heart of what makes Cracked funny (hint: it isn’t the brand).
It is this aspect of After Hours that makes it a good web series: It knows how to walk the fine line between being in-jokey and broad, bite-size but within a context of it’s parent site. And it lets writers and performers shine. Sure, it probably could do with more polishing, and some performers are stronger than others, but for a bunch of relatively young filmmakers it’s quite impressive
It’s clear Cracked.com made the right move away from blokey magazines and toward smart young writer/performers who are quietly doing some cool stuff in their corner of the internet.
Season 1 of After Hours is available on YouTube.
Season 2 of After Hours debuted on 12 March 2012, see the first episode of season 2 here.
Explore all of Cracked.com’s videos (and the wider site).