After a solid season premiere and last week’s uneven episode, Key & Peele’s fifth season finally hits it out of the park with episode three, “A Cappella Club.” It’s an episode that’s just plain funny, from top to bottom, devoid of problems with sketch endings or even throwaway sketches. Every sketch is funny (social commentary or not), and while Key & Peele is a “revolutionary” comedy show, it still needs to be funny (viral or not). That’s what “A Cappella Club” is.
It’s a good sign from the episode’s opening, with a sketch that balances out the manic game day hype sketch of the premiere and the low-key hip hop radio station sketch from last week’s opening. As a take on those Christian Children’s Fund commercials with Alan Sader and his glorious beard—commercials that I’m certain haven’t changed since the ‘90s—Peele plays the bearded savior of the impoverished African kids just perfectly.
Saturday Night Live actually made its own approach to this topic in last year’s Bill Hader episode, focusing more on the “cup of coffee” cost aspect of the ads (again, they haven’t changed since the ‘90s) and how asking for the minimum amount of help wasn’t really the best way to help. Here, Key & Peele just goes for the most surreal, yet pretty proactive, route in giving this strange village of children costume beards.
“What if I told you that all it took was just one beard? For the price of one costume beard, you can save a child from becoming another statistic.”
The sight gag of these children (even the girls have beards!) not just embracing their disguises but also basically transforming into old people with canes, electric scooters, games of shuffleboard and dominoes—the list goes on—is amazing, especially for the brief moment where it turns into a thriller (and no longer really a commercial) at the arrival of warlord Key. It’s instantly a feel good start to the episode, setting the tone for what follows and also providing expectations. Luckily, they’re expectations the episode reaches.
Despite the fact that Key and Peele’s biracial status was something that was heavily talked about in the first season, it’s not something that comes up as much these days. Even in the sketches where they play white guys (as that is an equal part of their identity), it’s easy to sort of forget it’s not just two black guys pulling a Dave Chappelle or Eddie Murphy and playing a white guy. They’re in both worlds always. So as Peele tells the story of his tambourine fail back in chorus and jokes about being embarrassed to be half-white at that point in his life, it’s interesting to think about how this is something he and Peele have had to deal with all their lives, despite most outward appearances. On a more personal note, both of my younger siblings are biracial, and it’s still something I don’t and can’t completely understand.
All of this is a roundabout way to talk about the a cappella club sketch, the episode’s name sake and crown jewel. It might sound strange to say, but there can often be a sense of competition in being the token black person in a sea of white people (with this particularly sea being led by Bo Burnham). It doesn’t usually get as aggressive as it does between Peele’s Troy and Key’s Mark, but that’s only because it’s usually an internal conversation or debate. Their one-on-one interactions are really the answer to Brad Williams in Happy Endings asking the ever-poignant question: “What we be sayin’ when they ain’t around?”
From the moment the two of them face off and get really real, it’s an expletive-filled competition for two of the most aggressively white clubs in school: a cappella and improv. Of course, being “the” black guys, they’re the added “flavor” in these scenarios (Motown outros and big penis jokes abound), even though they’re hardcore fighting for something so, so lame. But as the sketch points out, “white boys gon’ do what white boys gon’ do,” and so will the token black guy they choose as their own. The “moral” of the sketch being about black on black crime is similar to the button from the premiere’s TSA sketch, both out of nowhere yet making all the sense in the world. And it’s hilarious.
Keeping it real is also a part of the final sketch with the two old men who want to prove they’re still in the know but don’t even understand who Drake is. It’s really an excuse for Key and Peele to riff and make up intricate Drake rhymes like “I need five breaths to blow out my birthday cake,” but for the brief time the sketch runs, it’s delightful nonsense (which is the best kind of nonsense). The sketch is followed up by the related on-the-road interlude of Peele explaining “on fleek” to Key and trying to make “jump in full dingle” a saying. “Put the pussy on the chain wax” hasn’t quite blown up, but you never really know how these things will go down.
The episode even manages to put a new twist on old characters, with a flashback to the first date between Meegan and Andre. It’s basically treated as the anti-romantic comedy, with Meegan dropping every warning sign of how much of a drama queen she is (though it’s not like Andre is the brightest bulb either). Especially as she verbally abuses a waiter—really, she’s amazingly cruel at taking him down, especially with the Mad Max reference—and she and Andre inadvertently have their first fight of many. The sketch works well in making the audience feel for Andre and hope he’ll retroactively make better decisions, even though we all know it’s inevitable. Key & Peele’s recurring sketches can have a case of diminishing returns, especially if you compare them to the intricacy of the character world from Kroll Show. But a variation on the old standard, like we have here, revitalizes it, and that’s enough of a reason to hope there’s more.
- “Call today 1-888-BEARDS-4-KIDS. Send us your money. We’ll put a beard on an African child.™”
- The potential terrorists turned capitalists food truck sketch is obviously a good one too, and it’s just as tight as the rest of the episode. It’s a good question: What if the power of entrepreneurship is the key to saving us “infidels?” The finish is not a big, out-of-nowhere ending to the sketch, which is really the key to this episode. It’s all not so much predictable as it is logical.
- It was 87 degrees outside. She really didn’t need that jacket, Andre.
- Peele getting furious at Key for taking over his super villain scenario—as The Puppeteer!—is just plain adorable.