After last week’s solid premiere, “Airplane Showdown” is a bit of a letdown. It’s one of those episodes that’s not going to reinvent the Key & Peele wheel; while it’s a perfectly capable episode in some respects, something is missing. It’s an average episode of the series, which is still pleasant and better than lesser shows, but knowing what both Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are capable of, this is just lacking. From the moment the premiere began to that episode’s last sketch, there was a big time feel to it and possibly the rest of the season. That big time feel isn’t here, not even a little bit, despite a title like “Airplane Showdown.”

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Actually, speaking of the titular airplane showdown, it probably wasn’t the best idea to have it appear in the episode right after the TSA/“terries” sketch. That sketch was a delightfully bizarre one and only became more so as it went on. This week’s airplane sketch is a different animal entirely, but even as such, it falls short. The sketch evolves (or devolves, depending on your perspective) into an airplane thriller, but like most Key & Peele sketches, it starts out with a simple enough premise: the fasten seat belt sign on a plane. With Key as the passenger here, he finds himself needing to use the restroom once the sign is lit, and it’s Peele’s flight attendant Mark (“with a K”) who gets in his way. Things don’t get interesting until Key brings up the classic excuse: “I read on the Internet that it’s not against the law for me to go to the bathroom when the fasten seat belt sign is on.” Yes, “I read on the Internet” is the perfect start to any argument.

For most of the sketch, it’s simply Key and Peele talking back and forth or over each other, passive aggressively accusing the other of shouting at him, and then the two of them just mouthing things until one of them submits. That’s great, in a tedious sort of way. And then it becomes a thriller, with Mark proving his own point by telekinetically creating an intense turbulence situation for the unseated Key, until he finally gets back to his seat and learns his lesson. And it’s somehow a less seamless transition than the one from football game hype to blockbuster action movie, if you can believe that. It’s not really a battle for the ages, and it peaks with the childish fighting—it clearly just needed an ending, and the one it has is telekinesis.

Let’s go back to the beginning though. The episode opens with a hip-hop radio show sketch, and unlike last week’s opening, this one is short and to the point. Key, Peele, and Ginger Gonzaga get it right with their incessant use of “crazy” or “ohh!” or all of the noises that supposedly make an entertaining radio show. Then the sketch asks the simple question of whether or not a group of people—professionals, when all is said and done—can stay hyped non-stop. The answer’s an extreme no, and it’s fun, even a little cute. And that—“fun, even a little cute”—is the case for a good portion of this week’s sketches. Key & Peele isn’t a perfect sketch show, and an episode like “Airplane Showdown” is a reminder of that. There are chuckles to be had throughout, and the episode’s sketches as a whole pick up towards the end, but it’s all mostly “fun, even a little cute.”

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The stretch of sketches from the British explorers to the end are the real sweet spots for the episode, but even those don’t quite rise above to a state of greatness. The menstruation orientation sketch is the return of Shaboots Michaels (Key) and T-Ray Tombstone (Peele), and while the sketch doesn’t just go for the reveal of them really being women again, it’s a lot more of the same. On the plus side, “more of the same” still includes the fun of their tandem speechifying. But there’s also the question of how this sketch is supposed to be taken on a larger level.

Despite Key and Peele’s identification as male feminists (though the qualifier isn’t really needed), that doesn’t necessarily mean every sketch they do in favor of women is a hit. Mildly funny, yes, but an absolute hit on the mark, not so much. There’s a difference between men explaining to other men how to treat a woman and men speaking for women, and Key & Peele, for the most part, knows that. The former is more of a code of conduct among men, while the latter is something that comes across as men saying something and making it more valid than if a woman were to do the same. The menstruation orientation sketch fells extremely like that latter. It’s not even the fact the the secret women reveal isn’t a part of this version of the sketch—it would be Key and Peele saying it all regardless. Periods are pretty terrible, and I don’t necessarily need Key or Peele to be the ones to explain that.

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The British explorers sketch is actually the polar opposite of that sketch, and as such, it works for completely different reasons, despite how one note it is. Excusing the using of local women (and some men) in third world countries as “participat[ing] in the customs” is an interesting approach to the situation, as is their pointing out that the people saw them as savior figures. It’s especially nice in contrast to the end sketch, with a true savior figure’s (you know, God) arrival only leading to His followers pretending he’s a ghost to get out of a real life of servitude to those less fortunate.

Then there’s the spoilers sketch, which criticizes how spoilerphobic people can be over pop culture (and just about anything at this point) and just how ridiculous that is. It’s true, and I know it’s true because I just recently witnessed someone get upset over a spoiler for Arrow’s first season. It’s also a sketch that Portlandia did back in 2013, complete with the double date aspect. (Speaking of, the double date discussion before this particular sketch is pretty great. “I’ll go an entire night and not notice my girlfriend hated this bitch. I’ll go, ‘Oh, there was a whole subplot.’”) Again, there are humorous moments, but this sketch—and this episode—is basically the argument for how much Key and Peele’s personalities can really elevate the material. Well, that and Danielle Nicolet scatting.

Stray observations

  • Jordan: “Stewardesses be looking hot to me.” Such a beautiful sentence. The way he says it is even better.
  • I’ve heard a lot about big situations being made out of getting up when the fasten seat belt sign is on, but I can’t say I’ve ever experienced it (or seen it outside of pop culture). Do any of you have fasten seat belt sign stories?
  • The literal magical negro (or is it a literal magical precocious kid) sketch is another one that’s short and to the point. It’s also another one that’s good for a chuckle, but it’s also the shortest of all the sketches, and it’s not looking to be the next great bit.

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