Gotta love that the season concludes with Key and Peele playing dogs. Yes, the season comes to a close with a black-and-white segment at a people park. It’s basically a montage of riffs on the premise, the kind of thing The State would do, like when the entire cast goes camping inside a house. That feeling might have something to do with the presence of Thomas Lennon (prissily stewing in anxiety) and David Wain (taking a dump). Regardless, it’s a nice way to curtain the season, a simple, absurd experiment that spotlights the goofy physicality of Key and Peele.
Another way to do that would be to have the series’ infinity-th sketch with the Liam Neesons valets, since talking about cherished actors never fails to get those two worked up. I wonder how little it takes to bring back the Liam Neesons guys for another sketch. Is any opinion about celebrities worth it? Does it take a network note? Maybe they were being saved for a big event, like a season finale. Regardless, even though the Shafte sketch was an inspired twist, every other reappearance is the same basic joke. So the sketches live and die not on the premise but on the variations, and even then there’s bound to be a certain disappointment.
In this case, Key’s upset because, “They straight hatin’ on Annie Hathaways.” Which is true, if a little out of date. “Confident Hollywood woman whose sole flaw is that she cares too much?!” They get a handful of great lines—Key’s fast-forward sing-song paraphrase, “I dreamed a dreams and dreams got dreamed” is a highlight—but almost none of their usual pantomime. The movement is uncharacteristically contained for these two, but they compensate with surprisingly comprehensive knowledge. Even though, you know what, it’s not their shit, they’ve seen Brokeback Mountain (“Broken Backs”) and respect Hathaway’s performance. Key even has Princess Diaries 2 on DVD, VHS, and Laserdisc. Then, after they come up with the world-historical idea to team up Annie Hathaways with Sandra Bullocksies, they get struck by lightning. Actually, they expect to be struck, and then spend some time wondering why nothing happened, and then they repeat the line hoping something does happen this time. Cue lightning.
Endings are sudden and chaotic throughout the episode, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The revelation of Mr. Mahina, for instance, is going to give me nightmares for weeks. That’s a good thing. It’s unexpected, absurd, and appropriate. Even the turn from office drudgery into freakshow feels right, given the predatory plot (one drone passing along orders that another has to stay late and trade parking spaces) and the horror setting (fluorescent-lit cubicles). It’s the tossed-off endings that undersell certain sketches. After a civil rights activist’s Hollywood reel reveals a history of smiling subservience, Key just awkwardly retakes the stage and continues his respectful eulogy. Just like the Liam Neesons guys, it depends on a certain unspoken awkwardness, and if that doesn’t come through, it’s a slow limp across the finish line. Later, after letting a criminal get away because he kept repeating, “Freeze!” without actually backing up his command, a cop in a movie says, “Dammit, not again,” which earns a nod and a smile. “Of course,” we say. There’s no “of course” with Mr. Mahina.
But then it’s impressive how much connection there is among sketches, like the two united by goofy, supernatural (read: CGI) endings. The first two sketches take the piss out of some adult male melodrama, the first having to do with a guy who lost his brother and the second having to do with someone fact-checking nonsense slang (“You keep saying some shit that don’t exist, and you got Thing 1 and Thing 2 corroborating your story like it does!”). Later there are two sketches about the business of Hollywood, the Liam Neesons sketch about reputation and the eulogy reel, along with a couple about Hollywood clichés, which you can tell by the widescreen formatting. Even Mr. Mahina finds a sort of counterpart in the people park, another absurdist, dehumanizing sketch.
This episode really feels like a season finale in the way it plucks so many of Key & Peele’s strings. Key displays his physicality. Witness his hunched walk in the Mr. Mahina sketch, or the way he dives onto the pool table with his feet up in the air in the chain-wax sketch. Peele gets animated with the old Hollywood clips, playing a shoeshine boy and a cannibal native in some knockoff ‘30s and ‘40s stuff. Director Peter Atencio gets a handful of restrained but expressive sketches to play with. The writers, led by Jay Martel and Ian Roberts, land a catchphrase I can’t get out of my head. The supporting actors are total naturals in that sketch, chanting, “I put that pussy on the chain wax!” with the best of them. And everyone gets to shine in the grand finale. The Liam Neesons guys may have returned as a gesture of finale, but the rest of the episode is finale enough.
- Key & Peele has already been renewed for season four, so this isn’t the end of the best sketch comedy on TV.
- Peele gets mischievous in the stage banter: “There was that other girl last week, half-Paraguay, half-Uruguay? Criznushed it.”
- “Pussy On The Chain Wax: Coming to a conversation near you.”
- On Annie Hathaways’ tricky balancing act in Broken Backs: “She kept her integrity at the same time as showin’ her breastices?”
- Even with the “how do we end this?” feeling, the eulogy sketch is the standout of the night for me. “Yes, sir, you better believe I will. I’ll shine those shoes blacker than Momma’s booty.” I’m still cringe-laughing, but what a complicated set of issues to bring up.
- One last reminder that Key & Peele is the best directed comedy on television: How refreshing that we don’t go inside the videos in the eulogy. Glee, for instance, has practically no membrane between the show’s reality and videos within that reality, so you can go inside a video and jump from camera to camera with in it and then come back out. Not here. We’re watching a screen with videos on it, not the actual shooting of those videos themselves. It’s a small thing, but something almost no other show does this way.
- “I am Mr. Mahina, and I’m a real, real person in here.”