Perhaps the least funny sketch of the season resides in this relatively low-key affair. I’m talking about the “I already pushed the button” sketch, with Key and Peele playing businessmen at a crosswalk waiting for the green walk light. The thing is, the performances are typically top-notch: Key flashing that passive-aggressive smile after “trying to reason” with Peele about how crazy it is to press the walk button after someone has already done so; Peele actually trying to reason with this crosswalk troll; Key getting increasingly physical in protecting his principle. As written, the sketch is as good as it can be. It’s just not very funny, and aside from the kernel of their argument, funny is the whole point. Even the ending is kind of boring: Peele finally sneaks a press, the lights change, and he gets immediately hit by a car. Key tells the next guy who walks up not to press the button, because he already did. Then again, what a thoughtful consideration of Hell: Businessmen fighting with you to control the crosswalk button.
The other sketches are all pretty funny, although a couple are a little calmer than usual. For instance, the “Brothers, brothers, brothers” sketch sits quietly for a while before its cascading punchlines, but it still lands. Peele plays an older African-American who walks the streets watching the younger generation and offering helpful advice. So there’s a fair amount of him just silently walking and observing, but then there are moments like him getting all ministerial with his speech encouraging kids not to steal television sets right before he discovers that they are actually being paid to help the sets’ owner, or Peele calling out the baggy pants and colorful clownish costuming of what turn out to be actual clowns, or him interrupting a self-defense class because he mistakes the play-acting robbery for a real black man trying to steal a white woman’s purse. Some good laughs, but the drama is more interesting, the intersection of race and generation. Just yesterday came the news that Bill Cosby, no stranger to the old-fashioned generational critique, is trying to sell a sitcom corrective to today’s party comedies. Key & Peele stick up for young black America but without completely selling out their forebears. The joke is on Peele’s character in every case, but he realizes it immediately. Cosby’s still banging on about Kids Today.
I smiled more than I laughed at the funk sketch, but that thing is a masterpiece that needs to be in a vault somewhere in case of nuclear war. That early cut from the wide camera to the poorly composed handheld sideways medium shot of Peele is spot-on. It’s an ostensibly ‘70s TV broadcast of a funk group performing a song, but the joke is that the song doesn’t make sense. Except for the needless aside between Key and Peele about how neither knows what he’s singing, a redundancy after the stage banter that introduces the piece, the sketch is nothing but aesthetics: the sparkly/spandex superhero costumes, the mad-lib cacophony, the yellow-brown visuals of ancient TV. It courts and parodies nostalgia, it presents some delirious word salad (“Penicillin trap-door laser currency bees”), and it looks good doing it. Library of Congress, ball’s in your court.
“Doug Duggart’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” is similarly dresssed-down, this one square and cheap because it’s a local broadcast, not because it’s from the ‘70s. It’s a great commercial slowly rolling out the idea that Doug teaches self-defense to white women with an ulterior motive, one which actually becomes quite explicit when he pops back up in the “Brothers, brothers, brothers” sketch: “Now, ladies, it’s gon’ get really intense today. No matter what happens, I will be groping your breastices as if you were being attacked by a real attacker.” Key & Peele seems to be dipping its toes into the idea of a runner lately. The camping opener—in a tent Peele warns Key that he talks in his sleep and then, presumably in his sleep, curses him out for taking him on this stupid camping trip in the first place—comes up again later, too. The second one just reiterates the first, but Peele’s quiet, methodical delivery is worth it.
Peele has generally been having a great season, actually. He even keeps the strip club scene afloat. But the standout is “Meagan’s Fight.” This thing is an aesthetic marvel, too, from Key’s fauxhawk to Peele’s makeup, not to mention their club-wear. And Key’s bro accent. And Peele’s accent, too, for that matter. I never got lost in the character of Meagan, but there were moments when it was pretty difficult to reconcile her with Jordan Peele. The idea behind the sketch is stale and frankly kind of sexist: Crazy bitches picking fights with guys that their boyfriends have to physically fight. But what motivates the sketch isn’t what animates it. Peele’s performance is what gives the sketch life, needling tough dudes and walking around like she owns her boyfriend and giving that exceptional look of offense and that almost imperceptible click that says, not in so many words, “Uh-uh!” “Meagan’s Fight” even has the best ending: Meagan’s boyfriend calls her a crazy bitch, so she makes him (stares at him just the right way) punch himself. She wheels around toward the camera, shouts in that high-pitched squeal, “Nnnnnothing can stop me!” and goes off into the night in search of her next power trip. I’m just sad we don’t get to see what that is. She had me at “Pussies Of Anarchy.”