The era of Obama and Luther is over. At least, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s pressure to satirize the president on a weekly basis is over. For a few weeks now, Key & Peele mixed the timelessness of most of its sketches with the very prevalent timeliness of Peele’s pitch-perfect Obama impression, doing their small part to ensure we don’t elect a nincompoop. It was glorious. The “anger translator” conceit worked wonders, and never felt stale or tired—due in large part to the pair’s willingness to just cut to the good stuff, and leave the segments lean and mean, even at the expense of screentime.
I have a good feeling that no matter where there is news, there will be Obama/Luther. At the moment, smartly, Key & Peele has shelved those sketches, probably recognizing that we are all tired of politics and just want to have some good old fashioned fun. (Shameless excuse to link to one of my favorite Human Giant sketches? Check.)
Tonight’s episode is a no-frills affair. Key or Peele set up each sketch during the bantering segments, then we see pretty much exactly what they describe. They discuss how the funniest time to laugh is when it’s the most inappropriate, like at church. Cut to a Wire-type sketch about a dealer lamenting the loss of his pal, with whom he used to play childish games. Key can hardly contain himself, and when he finally starts laughing, he gets shot.
There aren’t that many surprises throughout the second season’s eighth episode. Peele plays current country star and former Hootie And The Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, upset that people think his name is “Hootie”—only to embrace the nickname when the audience is about to turn on him. There’s a fart-joke sketch, too, where a badass substitute teacher comes into the classroom, lets one loose, then has to exit. And I hate to say it, but jokes about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” just feel stale at this point, despite how talented and game both Key and Peele are to fully commit to their stylistically impeccable parody of the wintertime standard.
There’s nothing really wrong with this episode, it’s just that there have been stronger ones where the material doesn’t rely so heavily on dated pop-culture knowledge. Personalities always shine, like last week when Key had a breakdown while wearing the Kinect ankle bracelets. Or, sheer silliness that just doesn’t stop, like the football names sketch that will live on long after the show has been canceled (unless it enjoys a Saturday Night Live-esque master-run). I get the feeling that in tonight’s episode, Key and Peele were making a lot of effort to get everybody on board before the sketches aired, as if they were worried we wouldn’t get the joke. They talk about watching Breaking Bad, which is followed by an applause break, which is the kind of thing comics would do when they are trying to read the room. But the thing is, we all love Key and Peele. At least I do. I want them to know it and trust it.
Not surprisingly, I’m a bigger fan of the times Key and Peele create odd characters for themselves with no real plan, then plop themselves into that world—like when they play two slimy dudes checking out Muslim women wearing long robes, getting excited when they see just the slightest bit of an ankle. When they don’t, they just get themselves off on the idea of how tall the woman is. Later, the duo plays drug dealers collecting payment for their heroin and insist on counting the money. The rest of the gang puts up with their scheme, and that’s the heart of what Key and Peele want: “Yes, and.”
There’s a beating heart in this show, one that’ll carry it far beyond the Obama and Luther’s newsworthy bump. A lackluster episode is easy to overlook when you’re already along for the ride, as I am.