Peele: “The greatest. Comedy. Or. Otherwise. Show. Ever. Made.”
Key: “Okay, well… I do enjoy our show. You think it’s the best show ever made?”
Peele: “Pure classic. It’s us, then like Dallas, then The Twilight Zone. There’s a list out there.”
Key: “Key & Peele, Dallas, Twilight Zone?”
Peele: “Just talking influential. Huge. I’m a visionary. I think that it’s very possible, like, we’ll go down like the Wright Brothers. Like, it’s gonna be one of these things where we’re— Am I going too far? Am I over-blowing it?”
Key: “Yeah, over-blowing it a little bit. I really just wanted to know what the first scene was.”
Key & Peele is a very intelligent show. That’s probably the one constant in every single TV Club review of the series and for good reason; since 2012, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have gone from “those two guys from MadTV” to weekly purveyors of humorous commentary on race, gender, pop culture, and society as a whole. The show has been praised heavily for how intelligent it is, almost to a point where the outside observer would possibly believe that it’s overrated. Either that or one would have to assume that the show does belong in the annals of television history amomg a Dallas or a Twilight Zone. Key & Peele is a show that has stylistically taken inspiration from these types of influential series (in fact, the first episode of the night does so directly), but the question becomes one of whether or not it has left or will leave its mark on the comedy and television world as heavily. Or will it constantly be compared to other series? The short answer is that everything is compared to everything, and even if Key and Peele are joking about it, their show kind of is a “pure classic.”
If there weren’t the knowledge beforehand that these would be the last two episodes of the series, then the very clear finality in the episode titles would do well to inform a person. The one-two punch of “Meegan & Andre Break Up” and “The End” make it clear that this is, in fact, the end, even if the former is a lot more complicated than the title outright says. These two episodes keep up the quality and heights achieved by a good portion of the rest of the season, thankfully sending the series out on top. There’s really nothing more you can ask for, unless you plan to ask Key and Peele to reconsider ending the series.
“Meegan & Andre Break Up” is the episode that’s most in tune with the rest of the fifth season, partially by virtue of being the penultimate episode and not having to live up to finale standards. The constant themes of masculinity and machismo remain through the episode, right from the opening sketch at the club. In an on-the-road segment, Peele even laments (Key calls it “mourning”) the fact that men can’t get pregnant like women can. The return of Meegan & Andre continues to display all the ups and downs (really just downs) of a toxic relationship like that, with Andre’s exit plan being nothing compared to every one of Meegan’s plans. Tough man rapper Young Bidness (Peele) descends into physical comedy madness when he tries to storm off, embarrassing himself with his ineptitude and a hissy fit. The exceptions to this theme of manhood are the Economy Plus sketch (a sequel to the Continental Breakfast sketch) and the Nazi/comedy fan sketch, but the latter still talks about cultural norms and makes a point (while being funny, of course). The former is just a reason for Peele to bust out that character again and maybe even to start an early connection between Key & Peele and The Twilight Zone. All the while, this episode is the slice of life, observational humor that Key & Peele does so well—comedy that shines through because of how true to life it is, even with twists or a booming score or impressive cinematography.
“Meegan & Andre Break Up” in full of non-stop laughs, which is unsurprising for the series at this point. Comparing the show one last time to a sketch show that really doesn’t share too much in common with it (besides the gender and race of the hosts), the opening sketch at the club has a very Chappelle’s Show feel to it. Peele’s over-the-top, loudmouth character and Key’s more low-key, simply oblivious friend could fit in very easily as a sketch in any season from that series; and that’s not to say that it feels dated but instead that both sketch shows have a timeless nature to them. Both Key and Peele get a chance to shine in the sketch, dropping as much nonsense as expected, both from their characters and from an incident as innocuous as bumping into someone.
Once you’ve seen one Meegan and Andre sketch, you’ve sort of seen them all or you at least know the beats. But at the same time, even knowing where they will go—Andre just can’t quit Meegan and Meegan just can’t quit being passive aggressive and manipulative—and knowing that the break-up won’t take isn’t the point. Just the pitch perfect way Peele’s Meegan flips it all around on the never-learning Andre is the point. Andre’s “What just happened?” at the very end could basically be the button to every Meegan and Andre sketch, and in an alternate universe where Key & Peele is still on the air, it just might be.
The Morty Jepsen (Key) sketch speaks for itself, with “tough” rapper Young Bidness having a Chris Brown-esque on-air tantrum, only having to deal with the very difficult process of mic removal. This is a definitely a sketch where the little things make all the difference, maintaining a ridiculous amount of awkwardness with every single second it continues (and every moment Louis is berated):
As for the Nazi/comedy fan sketch, the biggest surprise of the entire sketch is that Key’s character doesn’t also use the “history buff” excuse for all his behavior and items. Key looks absolutely menacing from the very beginning (“You know I’m a fan silent film comedy, right?”), despite not really doing anything menacing (and having an excuse for everything). And Peele’s increasing fear until the very end (“Nope. You a Nazi”) is just the icing on the sketch cake.
“The End,” on the other hand, gets a little more leeway to be more of a hodgepodge of concepts (perks of being the series finale). It’s still about something—at the end of the day, Key & Peele is and was always about something, even during the fart sketches—but it’s also an episode that has a farewell blooper reel. Even with the blooper reel, it’s one hell of a memorable episode to go out on, as it will now be known as the episode that featured Ray Parker Jr., Negrotown, and one hell of a callback to the pilot episode.
Somewhere in between all of those are the two riskiest sketches of the episode, the “deez nuts against your chin” and the 911 sketches. “Deez nuts” boils down to a fancy-looking testicles joke. But it also follows a simple comedic principle: Repeat something enough, and it will go from stupid, to hilarious, back to stupid, and end up at hilarious again. The sketch is presented as a sappy drama, even featuring a bit with a third act b-roll footage (riding a taxi over the bridge, taking a flight, then riding a taxi to a hospital to see his dying father, Charles Robinson) transition. At first, Peele’s character’s dedication to his “deez nuts” retorts feels like this sketch is a strangely-placed Michael Scott/The Office joke. Instead, the only continuation of that possible thread is when Peele and Key’s characters argue if it’s even a funny joke. It’s just a goofy, dumb thing portrayed as deadly serious, and the acting is impeccably on point: Watch the scene on mute, and it’s absolutely believable that this is a scene from a more serious project. And ignoring the dialogue but keeping the sound on, the same is true of the score for the sketch. It’s that attention to detail that Key & Peele excels at.
The 911 sketch also feels like a master class in film-making, only there’s more of an outright message in it than there is in the “deez nuts” sketch (unless you count the lesson as one of how empty such sappy films can be). The sketch is so sleek and stylized it’s easy to miss it at first. It’s a sketch about how expectations are different for women: Key’s character’s “love at first sight,” while hilarious, is seen as way, way too fast by Peele’s female 911 operator, while the object of his affection (Anthea Young) is immediately told to lock it down by the same woman. All of the CSI-style shots and NCIS-style music surrounding it don’t change that basic concept.
“The End” opening with the Ray Parker Jr. sketch gives just one more opportunity to compare Key & Peele to a different sketch show: That show would be MadTV. In fact, my favorite MadTV sketch is a fake music compilation commercial, one that relies heavily on repetition as the key to comedy. A lot of talk about Key & Peele early on discussed how crazy (crazy) it is that these guys came from MadTV, which wasn’t exactly considered the mecca for intelligent comedy. It’s something that comes up quite often with MadTV alum (if people even acknowledge that status), which would make one think that maybe MadTV was at least a good breeding ground for talent—whether that was really on display on the show or not—but that rarely comes up in the discussions.
It would be slightly ignorant to assume Key and Peele didn’t at least pick up a thing or two about televised sketch comedy (whether it be what to do or what not to do) from MadTV, and watching the Ray Parker Jr. sketch, it’s extremely easy to see it as a MadTV sketch. It’s hilarious—albeit slightly low-hanging fruit—and Peele makes it a classic by unleashing that part of him that can be downright scary. It’s sort of like with his Neil deGrasse Tyson impression from “The 420 Special”: Even as Ray Parker Jr., there’s a fear that he will come through your screen and make you buy those eight cassettes or three CDs. There’s also just a genuine sadness from this Ray Parker Jr., not just in his aggressive drinking but all in the eyes. Keegan-Michael Key may be one of the most prolific comedy actors right now, but Jordan Peele will be just fine.
Negrotown is a sketch that should be considered one with a simple premise: In a world of chaos and the concept of “Black Lives Matter” being a necessity, Negrotown is a utopia that’s wonderful for black people to imagine. So heed my warning when I say: Do not read the YouTube comments for this particular sketch. Do not do it.
Just like the Ray Parker Jr. sketch, the music here is extremely catchy, to a point where Key & Peele being over doesn’t mean it’s gone. But even with the catchy tune and extremely eye-popping, vibrant, and old school technicolor musical outfits, the sketch itself isn’t so happy-go-lucky. Again, this is a utopia that’s wonderful to imagine. The impetus for the sketch is a cop (Justified’s Nick Searcy) arresting Key’s character simply for standing while black. Key’s character bumps his head, knocks himself out, and is escorted by Peele’s homeless character to this magical land. An elaborate musical number punctuated with a freeze frame black power fist isn’t the end. An unconscious Key waking up and being taken to the “real” Negrotown—jail—is the end of the sketch. It’s one hell of a sketch to end the series on, even though plenty of people will just focus on the singing and dancing or how black people should all be moved to their own town (again, don’t read the YouTube comments; they’re like an actual version of the Nazi/comedy fans sketch).
So with that festering in your brain, the series really ends with the conclusion of the men’s road trip. They’re not going to Vegas. This isn’t an acid trip. Bill Nye probably hasn’t hooked up with Peele’s girl. Instead, this entire trip has been the result of that very first sketch:
Yes, this entire road trip has been an excuse for the guys to find a safe space to say “biiiiitch.” The episode even brings up the fact that “I said ‘bitch’” was the first sketch of the series—it was laying the groundwork, just like Peele’s Ghostbusters ring (even one episode before the finale) set up the Ray Parker Jr. sketch. “Everything’s connected” is a theme used for plenty of TV shows and films, and Key & Peele effortlessly and subtly made that clear for five seasons. It deserves to ride off into the sunset. It put the pussy on the chainwax so damn much.
- First, it was a Continental Breakfast and The Shining. Now, it’s Economy Plus and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Let it never be said Key & Peele never managed to turn legitimate thrillers into the most mundane events.
- Economy Plus Peele: “Move over, Colin Mochrie. There’s a new face in the biz. His name’s Captain. You have to be in Economy Plus to get it, I guess.”
- Nazi Key: “I was thinking what we could do is put all of [the comedy haters] in, like, one little small section of town and then we demonize them in the media.”
- Peele: “Do you think a girl would be disappointed if I got her a ring that was diamonds made to look like the Ghostbusters symbol?”
Key: “Do not make me stop this car. ‘Cause I will stop this car and strand you in the middle of the Mojave Desert…That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard you utter in my life…Is that a thought that was in your mind?” I honestly don’t even think that was in the top five of most ludicrous things Peele has said on this road trip. The “daddy” exchange might already make the list!
- The list of Ray Parker Jr. movies songs is as follows (bolded are the ones he sings): Jumanji (“You tried to play the game / But it’s driving you insane / Jumanji / Danger in the jungle / Jumanji / There’s a lion in my house”), Lawnmower Man, Armageddon/Deep Impact (“When Armageddon is near / You better get outta here / Lookin’ like a Deep Impact / I ain’t ‘fraid of no s’troid”), Pelican Brief (“It’s getting legal, y’all”), Face/Off, Cloud Atlas, Major Payne, Amistad, Passion Of The Christ (“Passion Of The Christ / You know my daddy is the boss”), Hedwig & The Angry Inch, *Batteries Not Included, Bull Durham, Gummo, Disturbia (“Disturbia / That’s not even a word”), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, King Ralph, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, Hated: GG Allin & The Murder Junkies, Indecent Proposal, The Burbs, Fifty Shades Of Grey (“Alright, white people”), Encino Man/Bio Dome/Jury Duty, Midnight Run, Big Trouble In Little China, Johnny Mnemonic, Romancing The Stone, Twelve Years A Slave (“Twelves Years A Slave / Whoops”), Step Up/Step Up 2, and Apt Pupil.
- Fainting Girl: “There’s an attractive, confident, well-to-do black man, and he just passed out, right here in the street.”
911 Peele: “Okay, ma’am. Listen very carefully: I’m going to need you to marry him.”
Fainting Girl: “Okay. Shouldn’t I give him, like, mouth to mouth first?”
911 Peele: “Yeah girl, get you some. Shoot.”
- Peele: “What would this country be like if black people— Say we were brought over as slaves and then early on, black people revolted, took over the country, said ‘These evil motherfuckers are now the lower class. These slave owners’?”
Key: “You know what would happen then? Then the song ‘Chocolate City’ by Parliament Funkadelic would be our national anthem.”
Peele: “That’s it.”
Key: “That’s what it would be.”
Peele: “And white people would have a song talkin’ about Vanilla—”
Key: “Vanilla Village. ‘Vanilla Village / Where all the whites live’.”
- Peele (of all people): “Try acting the character a little less.”