My neighbors should have called the cops when I was laughing like a banshee in the middle of the night. In the wide view, Key & Peele pitched a perfect game, practically every sketch funnier than the one before it. The closest “Season Three, Episode Six” comes to Serious Content is an infectious riff on “Racist-Ass Mellie Gibsons,” history’s noblest rebranding campaign. Then again, the final sketch, which I had to pause twice to catch my breath, charts the limits of no-limit insult comedy, effectively reframing lazy “I call ‘em like I see ‘em” roast humor as pure, dumb assholery. Breaking a bottle over Key’s head is a symbolic victory. Peele had won from the moment he appears.
The opening sketch is the kind of thing anyone who’s ever seen a football game has joked about with friends: Post-game interviews are unfailingly platitudinous, a ritual that exists for pure pageantry, parading our heroes for the audience one last time before they leave. I swear I’ve seen an interview where the player repeated the exact same canned lines to three questions in a row before being mercifully dismissed. Obviously, people ought to be able to form responses to softballs, but who cares? They’re athletes, ones who have recently finished some serious exercise. What are they supposed to say about how it feels to win a game? So I love that Peele’s Ozamataz never gets it (and the fact that simply looking at the camera requires the majority of his brainpower). The joke’s on Key’s reporter for doing the same thing and expecting a different result. He even walks off-screen and returns for more punishment! As always, mounting exasperation is hilarious.
Ozamataz and the Liam Neesons guys aren’t the only recurring characters to show up. Now the guy who’s so desperate for social interaction that he calls Skymall customer service to complain (and get a second Fortress Of Solitude bed in the process) recurs. The joke is the same, but at least the scene offers another great Southern Peele performance, calling his son Stimpy, bragging about sex with his smoking hot doll wife, throwing his son out the window as a stopgap measure to keep the operator from finding out there is no son. And the Superman bed does make for a great reveal. The Liam Neesons guys are back really soon after their last sketch, but it’s for a good cause: rebranding Mel Gibson as Racist-Ass Mellie Gibsons. What’s more, there’s an interesting kernel there about the conflict of a black man supporting a virulently racist actor-director. It’s not an uncommon hypocrisy. Consider supporting gay rights but loving Chick Fil-A. Or believing in justice (whatever that means) but paying to see the latest Roman Polanski film. Key & Peele’s view is cynical but not unreasonably so: When it comes to that level of abstraction, financially supporting artists with opposing interests to one’s own, people are going to do whatever they want to do most, and if that doesn’t happen to align with their perception of the moral good—not that that perception isn’t a factor—then, oh, well. When the day comes that a black man finds himself irresistibly drawn to some Mel Gibson movie or other, at least he can make up for that ticket price with a good schoolyard taunt for Racist-Ass Mellie Gibsons.
The real genius begins with the showcase Mr. T sketch. It operates first as pitch-perfect parody: ridiculous period fashion, practically unwatchable videotape aesthetic, self-consciously stilted performances. And then it turns out that Mr. T’s after-school specials are really just defensive reactions to personal insults. The kids make plans to drink alcohol to no response from the off-screen Mr. T, but as soon as one insults the other’s hair, Mr. T has a friendly reminder about laying off of people’s personal grooming habits because they may turn out to have a very specific form of male pattern baldness. And then—yes, there’s even more—Mr. T breaks into song! Off to the side are three female backup singers with microphone stands in front of the swing-set as Mr. T sings about hypothetical hurt feelings when you make fun of someone’s appearance. The joke of Mr. T as a wounded softie is the gift that keeps on giving as the sketch gets more and more absurd, and the ending is perfect: a zoom on Mr. T’s face as he slowly breaks down about his hair, then a rudimentary graphic that reads, “RESPECT! It’s a pretty cool thing to do!” which barely makes grammatical sense. Thanks, 1980s!
The ending of the cunnilingus class is even better, a double evil-scientist laugh cut off by the editing. And after dialogue so rapid it’s impossible to take notes and still catch all the jokes, that slow finale stands out. It’s partly shock value, but the sketch is nonstop hysterical, and offers up some friendly advice for those who are interested (“Communicate with your bitch!”). “That’s because penises are easy!” Now I’ll turn the floor over to Metta: “Forget about the teleprompter. I need to speak from the heart! Well, that wraps up Metta World News.” Jokes like that are straight out of Kevin Nealon’s Weekend Update gig, but Metta giving that meta the old college try is really something else. Finally, the sketch I nearly choked on, Key’s crowdwork comic butting up against Peele in a wheelchair with abaroque amount of burns and speaking with an electrolarynx. He’s waving at Key, eager to get ribbed, and watching Key deflect is hilarious in itself. It’s so dark he “can’t tell” that Peele has burns on his face, so the woman next to Peele shines her phone on his face, making the sight even more ridiculous. Eventually, he tosses something off half-heartedly, and watching Peele break down crying is even funnier.
Some weeks Key & Peele gets visually sophisticated; some weeks it gets socially conscious. “Season Three, Episode Six” is just plain funny, an especially entertaining half-hour of television beautifully sold by Key, Peele, Atencio, and the rest. The cast and crew of Key & Peele really gave this episode 100 percent, execution-wise. Execute.