This episode of Key & Peele is a bit more obvious in its humor than the season’s previous two installments. The subtitle of the episode is “Country Music,” and that’s the subject of a central sketch where Key invites Peele over to his house and gives him a tour. They get to the basement, where Key has a bunch of guitars, and he asks if Peele wants to hear a song. “I grew up in the South,” Keegan-Michael Key says, so all the songs he plays are country ballads with racist undertones. Jordan Peele points out how racist they are, and Key claims to be oblivious. This happens twice. We all know where it’s going to go the third time.
But at the last second, Peele saves it. Key promises the next and final song is going to be not racist at all, to which Peele replies, “It seems like you’re about to play the most racist song so far.”
That little bit of meta humor is enough to completely change the rhythm of the sketch. At first it was a back-and-forth between Key and Peele with vaudevillian simplicity, casting Peele as the straight man in this dynamic. But suddenly, with Peele’s remark, it’s all the more ridiculous that Key still has no idea, and the joke’s completely on him. He’s suddenly the straight man—a very accidentally racist straight man.
Small moments like these occur throughout the episode. A sketch involving Chris Brown and Rihanna plays out as expected—Peele as Brown sings that he’s gonna “hit that,” and Rihanna flinches—until she busts out a Taser and abruptly ends things with her own violence. In one of the odder scenes, two valet drivers freak out over the awesomeness that is Liam Neeson, raising the stakes only a little bit each time they name a new movie he was in. Then Key says the name, “Bruce Willis,” and the duo literally explodes.
Sketches on this show are rarely entirely predictable, but the second season’s third episode is more of a cut-and-dry half-hour, where the majority of each sketch is evident from the beginning, and nothing really changes until near the end. I mean, this is the only show on television on which Tim Cook would pee all over a woman’s purse before electrocuting himself with a teleportation device, so you can’t predict everything. As far as episodes go, though, this one seems less cohesive than previous ones, and at time too jarringly weird.
For example, this episode will forever be known as “The One Where Jordan Peele’s Head Was Digitally Grafted Onto A Dog’s Body, And He Waddled Around Speaking Like Ice-T.” Or “The One Featuring Two Dudes Hula-Hooping Their Way To The World Record While Whispering To One Another And Maintaining Eye Contact.” The episode dares you to like it despite its oddities.
But as strange as things get, it’s hard to outright hate Key & Peele. Even when its sketches don’t personally hit, I find them interesting, and they capture my attention simply based on how into the sketch the two actors seem to be. The ability to act is often a skill that goes unpracticed in the world of sketch comedy; I’ve seen plenty of shows here in New York to know that, at least in this town, that’s the case. The people who are most successful at sketch, as I’ve observed here and during my time in Chicago, are the ones who can play the dramatic moments of a sketch just as hard as the funny ones, who are so into the lines that they never have time to ironically wink at the audience—nor would they if they had the chance.
Both Key and Peele are cut from that cloth. A sketch can bomb, and they wouldn’t even know until much later, when somebody tells them. They’re that committed to their craft. And obviously, it’s kind of a cart-before-the-horse situation, because that level of commitment means that it’s less likely any scene will bomb.
In the middle of this week’s episode, there’s an Obama-Luther sketch that, to my knowledge, was written and recorded the day after last week’s debate. It’s very short, and Key and Peele wrote it after a long press tour in New York, at the end of which they had to catch a super-early flight back to L.A. (Look for my interview, conducted during said press tour, next week I believe.) But you’d never know it by watching—it’s just as relevant and salient as any Obama-Luther sketch, demonstrating the level of ferocity both Key and Peele bring to this show.