Key & Peele is a very traditional sketch show, which means that all the vignettes are theoretically supposed to be unrelated. This episode takes that idea to the extreme, and finds itself all over the map, playing up Barack Obama’s intelligence and playing down the intelligence of a street urchin (Jordan Peele) who is trying to win the unwinnable game of “get slapped.” Or a basketball player who doesn’t understand how the electoral college system works—and rightfully so, because it’s confusing.
There are a lot of ideas crammed into this midseason episode, and at times it can be jarring. The first few minutes have an Obama/Luther sketch followed by one where hobos sing in a rap group as they dig through trash. It’s a pretty big leap, and it’s not the only one, or even the largest.
Still, the more Peele and Keegan-Michael Key shove into an episode, the more likely a sketch is going to be a success. And at this point, that means the sketch escalates very quickly, going beyond any expectation we might have had going in. In one sketch, Key and Peele are playing a game of Celebrity against their girlfriends, and Key accidentally outs Peele. It happens in the span of about 45 seconds, and they wisely pull the plug quickly thereafter, aware the joke is over. Then there’s one where Key gets his crotch bitten by a dog… and that’s it. Or Peele plays Harriet Tubman and flips over hay bails. These don’t enjoy the rapid build of the others, and without room to grow, they feel stunted.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the duo’s longer stuff. It lets the guys get increasingly weird and take risks that wouldn’t necessarily translate in a 30-second or one-minute space. Take the sketch where Peele orders a massive amount of pizza, playing off that he’s having a big party so he can order a whole lot. He goes around the room and talks to his action figures. Key, on the other end, inquires about one named Claire, and begins asking questions about whether or not she’s cute, single, etc. (You know how flirtations work.) Peele was the odd one in this sketch at the beginning, and suddenly he’s creating an elaborate fantasy just so Key, now the odd one, can feel relatively normal. The sketch is given room to breathe, and thus Key can deliver more than just his pizza (boom goes the dynamite!) but also an impassioned speech meant to win Claire’s heart. Peele’s forced to play his trump card, “killing” Claire and ordering Chinese food. This sketch has all the twists and turns I’ve come to expect from this show, patiently playing out.
This is all well and good when talking about a show that routinely churns out quality. But every good sketch comedian knows that at a certain point, you’ve followed the rules long enough that you can break them. And that’s where I see Key & Peele having some massive potential.
Let’s go back to the Obama/Luther sketch from the opening. We all know how these sketches work now, right? The president speaks, Luther translates, bada bing bada boom. And as far as Obama/Luther sketches go, this one’s pretty great. It makes points that none of the other shows have yet to make, particularly the fact that Romney thinks having two parents will somehow stop violence. Because, as this sketch wisely points out, single-parent children can grow up to be the motherfucking President of the United States. So far, so good.
Near the end, the rhythm breaks down. Luther goes too far, making jokes about Candy Crowley, and Obama stops him. Luther apologizes, eases up on the anger, and lets it be known that this woman is untouchable. Confidently, Obama finishes Luther’s point for him, the roles reversing. Key & Peele may be consistent, but it’s allowed to break down every so often, and I sure hope it does. Let’s let these guys have as much fun as possible.