I enjoyed episode five of Key & Peele more than any other episode since the pilot, and not just because of its Looney Tunes sketch costarring Paul F. Tompkins. The episode maintains a consistent sense of humor, and it makes me understand that Key & Peele is most successful when there’s any sort of through line at all. The pilot killed because the sketches involved big surprises; the fifth episode features sketches that take us as far out of the realm of normalcy as it can get away with, giving Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele a humongous sandbox to play in.
The episode demonstrates how to do fantasy-based sketches really well: Figure out the rules of the world, and stick to them. In one of the first sketches, a businessman is visited by a janitor (Peele) who imparts sage words of wisdom while flickering lights come out of his hands. A copy-machine repairman (Key) enters soon after, ready to offer up similar advice and similarly use his magical powers to light up the copy machine. The two notice each other, and it’s decided that there can only be one “magic negro” in the sketch; as such, the two battle it out, Harry Potter-style, shooting spells at one another. I’m totally game to go along with this extraordinary premise because it only took the characters a minute to agree on the fighting-based premise, and from there they’re free to do whatever the hell they want. Plus, the ending—a wise old woman enters, and is offended when the businessman asks if she’s a magic negro too—knocks us back to reality in a way that makes sense.
The build of tonight’s sketches is methodical and deliberate. A sketch about Jaden Smith’s inability to relate to normal people first has his agent describing a house as a “tiny mansion,” then ends when he doesn’t even understand the notion behind the word “choice,” having never lived without something he wanted. In another scene, Peele plays a man on his way to a business conference, testing whether or not his limo driver is actually listening to him. So he says a bunch of stuff about how he wants to murder people by cutting off their faces, and the limo driver just sort of repeats the words back to him. Then, when Peele arrives at the conference, the limo driver reveals that not only was he listening the whole time, but that he’s a freakin’ psychopath to an extreme degree.
Then there’s the Obama sketch, where the president sits down with Republican congressmen who start the chat by saying they disagree with everything Obama stands for. Taking them at their word, Obama recites Republican platitudes the congressman can’t help but disagree with. He claims to want small government, they disagree, so he concedes that a larger government is best. “I’m taking a beating out here,” he says. And each time it happens, the Republicans say they disagree but kick themselves afterwards; they just cannot help themselves. Basing a sketch around reverse psychology seems like the work of a high-school sketch group, but the major difference is that Key & Peele takes things way further than it has to, and it’s all the funnier for it. At one point, Tompkins literally tapes his mouth shut to keep himself from speaking. Obama ends the sketch by looking into the camera and saying, “Ain’t I a stinker?” as the Republicans self-flagellate with office supplies.
The fifth episode also demonstrates one of the series’ better uses of its stand-up segments. Not only are they individually longer than they’ve been in a few episodes, but they translate the sketches into real-world practicality. Before the sketch about magic, Key and Peele discuss how much black people hate street magicians. At another point, the two make fun of each other for having different responses when they see a clipboard-toting Greenpeace volunteer on the street, establishing the social rift between the businessman and the psycho limo driver. And in one of the best back-to-back segments the show has done, Key and Peele discuss their relationship statuses, followed by a sketch taking place shortly after a historic gay-marriage bill passes. Key doesn’t want to rush into his relationship with his partner Peele, but Peele is just so excited about finally being able to marry that he wants the wedding to happen right now. There’s a great rhythm in that sketch, and once again it’s very clear right from the get-go what the sketch is all about. Fast is almost as good as funny, and this episode has both qualities.