“Season Three, Episode Three” feels a little lighter than usual, in part because we’re down a sketch from the usual six, not including Metta World News. Of the five big pieces, there aren’t really any show-stoppers like the musicals. Nothing ostentatiously cinematic. The closest is the Django Unchained parody, and even that trades Leonardo DiCaprio’s menacing Calvin Candie for adorable Jack McBrayer. No, this is just a good, solid builder with a number of escalating joke premises: The Latin thug who’s too cool to take a chair, the Dominican baseball player chemically addicted to announcing his intentions and then slapping his teammates on the ass, the fifth annual meeting of the Tallahassee Black Republicans who are an infinitely diverse group of men in leather jackets, jeans that keep inadvertently sagging, and white wives.
The only unequivocal homer for me is, once again, the opening, this time a video chat gone awry. Due to the lag, Key and Peele can’t stop speaking at the same time, and every time one pauses, so does the other. Then the cameras start skipping and freezing. It’s all the same joke about the disappointment of this otherwise amazing technology, but it’s hilarious thanks to the chaotic timing of the visuals and the exasperated performances. Every time the two take a moment to realize how funny this is, they get frozen on a rage-smile and get frustrated again. There’s also the relatability factor, video chat being somewhat more universal than ass-patting athletes and self-destructively proud Mandingo fighters. The punchline is almost cathartic as a long frozen glimpse of Key’s house over the frantic sounds of him repeating, “Gotta end this,” gives way to his legs dangling lifelessly from above. My head may side with Louis C.K.—everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy—but my heart sides with Key & Peele.
The Django sketch has a surprisingly cuddly surface for what’s going on. McBrayer (and Joshua Funk?) pit their slaves against each other in a fight to the death, but the slaves obviously don’t want to die. The thing is, both are too proud to pretend to die at the hand of the other. Best part: Key play-punches Peele, but Peele seems to grow from the force. “You are not getting stronger from my punches,” he complains. “I am though!” That’s pretty wicked when you get down to it, especially considered as part of a running theme on Key & Peele of black people participating in their own oppression, here because impressing the white establishment is more important than working to help each other. A frightening slave master might have skewed the point. On Django Unchained, the slaves fight because the alternative is a real and palpable threat of death. On Key & Peele, they do so even without such a present danger.
Pride is also what gets to the Latin gangster, leaning against a desk off to the side in spite of an open chair at his meeting in a seedy warehouse. “Man fuck all of you guys with your bitch-ass chairs,” he says right before the desk collapses, a great joke I probably should have seen coming. Unfortunately, some wood ends up lodged in his side, and Key tries to help. “You just got shivved, man. We gotta pull that out.” “Leave it, “ Peele says lying on his back on the broken desk. “I’m chilling.” He’s even too proud to agree to go to Heaven. It’s simple but good for a couple laughs. All the other sketches are, too, especially the slap-ass, which mostly lives on Peele’s goofy performance and the junkie tag. The Black Republicans number is a bit soft, or maybe it just reads that way to someone unfamiliar with the stereotypes, but for some reason the tag just got me: As a hotel worker tells the ballroom that someone’s white wife is here to pick them up, everyone pours out, and Key asks, “Is her name Emily?” The delivery of the response is just beautiful: “Uh, she was white?”
Finally, three episodes in, the Metta World News is still a reliably absurd bit. Today’s news is a moral dilemma: “In fashion, if you woke up, and there was a four-inch miniature human standing on your chest, would you swipe them off?” “In fashion” totally elevates the joke, right? Not to mention Metta’s intentionally stilted delivery. Every news item comes out the exact same way, overly serious and a little sweaty. This has been Key & Peele for Thursday, October Noise-Canceling Octagon Tire. Good night.
- The stage banter is kind of low-key tonight, too, but I’m still giggling about the slow, celebratory choke.
- Slavery’s abolished just in time. “If I may, who do you think would have won the fight?”
- “Gotta have more meetings, holmes, because I’m telling you, we’ve gotta be organized.” The gang meeting talk is so great, I kinda wish that were the whole sketch. “We gotta sell more drugs, but we gotta make more crimes happen.”
- The black Republicans are pissed, royally pissed.
- After tonight’s news, Metta screams offstage, “Does that fulfill my contract, Satan?!”