Well, pressure’s off. Key & Peele is a legitimate ratings hit, and has the full backing of its network behind it. So might as well take some risks and have a hell of a lot of fun with its viewers. Tonight’s episode is one of the loosest they’ve ever done, mostly for the duo’s willingness to speak directly to the audience—both in the room and those at home.
It goes both ways. The stars admit during one of the interstitials that Jordan Peele had a weird idea for a tweet a while back: “What if names were farts?” What if people identified each other with a fart sound, rather than a string of letters pronounced as a word? They then decided to use Comedy Central’s money to shoot a scene that takes place at a party, where there are lots of introductions happening. Hence, lots of farting. Rob Delaney makes an appearance, and his name is the filthiest-sounding fart. Frank Caeti pops into the background to actually say someone’s name out loud, and is shunned for it. And this whole thing is probably the longest sketch in the entire episode. It’s an okay sketch—I mean, to their credit, Keegan Michael Key and Peele stick with the premise and see it all the way through. But they let the audience into their process, freely admitting beforehand that they did the sketch as a test to themselves to see if they could actually do it.
There are also moments where they let the content dictate the form, which is always a smart thing to do in comedy. Before a prison scene, Key is talking to the audience when he notices a woman laughing harder than usual. The camera finds her, and her friends gamely point her out. The duo takes a moment to let things sink in. “Ma’am,” Key says, “take a deep breath.”
We cut directly to the next scene, but the show’s willingness to acknowledge what happens in the room makes the entire episode feel footloose and fancy-free. In one scene, Key straps a bunch of babies to himself as if they’re body armor and starts a fight with Peele, who’s actively trying to back down. In another, two gang members find each other in a dark alley, realize they have an affinity for Twilight, and strike up a lifelong friendship that involves pointing guns at each other for the entirety of their lives. The moment with the audience member hasn’t yet happened, but the playfulness is already there, with something as simple as the act of pointing a gun at someone while splashing them in a pool.
My favorite scene, though, requires a lot of backlogged knowledge and isn’t overtly set up. It’s a spoof of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers wherein Rob Huebel and co. refer to Jordan Peele’s Green Ranger as the Black Ranger, repeatedly. That show was insanely racist. The Yellow Ranger was Asian and the Black Ranger was actually black. But not knowing this doesn’t hinder the experience of watching this particular sketch, which includes Key as the Yellow Ranger, who’s a blatant stereotype of a Native American. It’s just a little inside joke that makes things all the funnier. And it’s even better that they didn’t have to explicitly call that out.
The guys are having some fun out there. When a policeman is an amateur magician, they make him so bad that Peele would rather have a ticket than a 2-for-1 coupon to the guy’s show. They crack each other up onstage talking about how the two of them need each other to make one entire black person. There’s a lot more laughing in the moment when they’re not trying to make us laugh, and it’s infectious.