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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Key & Peele: “MC Mom”

Illustration for article titled Key & Peele: “MC Mom”
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When an episode of Key & Peele really gets going, all of its sketches—no matter how much of a variety there is—feel interconnected. This latest episode, “MC Mom,” does just that, building a throughline of swagger and bravado with each sketch while the road trip segments maintain the right amount of confidence to jump from these sketches effortlessly. And in case you were willing to live in a state of denial about Key & Peele’s upcoming series finale, “MC Mom” is a reminder to everyone that, very soon, Key and Peele will no longer be Key and Peele. Until then, it’s a relief to see that they won’t be going out on a low note. “MC Mom” is one of the most consistently funny episodes of the fifth season, with a great balance of the series’ observational humor, surrealism, and some genuine surprises.

The episode is off to a terrific pace from the start, with the wannabe gangsta sketch immediately descending into absurdity—Peele’s character’s fake car and gun aren’t even a little realistic, and he just wants to pull one over on everyone in the hood (even though a much darker conclusion to the sketch could be him actually getting shot for that). Key and Peele play “hard” characters often enough that it’s great when they recognize just how ridiculous that is (especially when last week’s episode had Peele acknowledge that he could never be a legitimate action star). But while the social commentary in their sketches is often discussed, there’s room for more discussion about the “what if”s. That’s really what makes a lot of their sketches so relatable and identifiable: These are “what if”s that you don’t have to be a great comedian to ask. It just so happens to be great comedians that are asking them and putting those answers on the small screen (with the look of the big screen) for everyone. What if a supposed thug—“a fake ass gangsta,” as it were—was really a wannabe, to the point of not even being able to have a low rider or gun? What if he was just a nerd with some movie magic?

Then there’s the eponymous sketch of the week, with Peele as MC Mom (right after his road trip impression of Key’s “candid” mother). The MC Mom sketch is one that is so obvious (in the beginning) it’s impressive that it works so well. In fact, before the sketch, I told myself that it wouldn’t go the obvious route—MC Mom secretly being good—but even when it does do that, it builds to and earns that transformation. “Crispy socks” is easy, but at the same time, it’s still more advanced rapping than you would expect from a person who should not be rapping. The rap is so much more than “my name is [name] and I’m here to say,” even before the beat changes and MC Mom becomes “the baddest bitch in the biz.” Chalk it up to Key and Peele being bad at creating bad work. But as good as everything about the rap and Carl (Key) and his friends’ reactions are, the sketch wins instant classic status as soon as it ends with the actual punchline: MC Mom “PUT THE PUSSY ON THE CHAINWAX.” With that one moment, I take back what I said in an earlier review about “put the pussy on the chainwax” not sweeping the nation. If Key & Peele is going out, it’s going out on its own, nonsensical terms.

The “Big Man” sketch is one of those bits that’s mostly Key and Peele riffing off of each other, this time with the purpose of their characters attempting to pull the same scam on each other. It’s still amazing how absolutely on point some of Key & Peele’s sketches can be, while still being comedically strange. The attempted one-upmanship of the scammers, with the multiple IDs to prove how “legit they are,” is still strangely realistic, right down to the empty gas tanks. It’s a similar situation with the car insurance sketch and Peele’s character trying to drive away, only that one gives up on any subtlety with the final exclamation of “I am a sociopath!” The Undercover Boss sketch also provides a more honest reaction to an improbable situation by having Key’s Joseph react poorly to being the one terrible employee when it most mattered. It’s another “what if” scenario, because based on the very concept of Undercover Boss, it makes complete sense: If you’re the employee who doesn’t get to reap the rewards of being on Undercover Boss, wouldn’t you try to do everything you could to change that? Most people wouldn’t go with a chopped up penis excuse, but Key doesn’t just go there—he keeps going there, with Peele’s Don/Undercover Boss as the only thing interrupting his flow.

As Key & Peele ends and Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele eventually go their separate ways, the conversations about who is the Simon and who is the Garfunkel are only going to get louder. After all, they’re conversations that have around since the beginning of the show, before there was even a series end on the horizon. It’s always been a lingering question, and this week, they finally address it. Key and Peele bring up the comedy aspect of it, with Lucille Ball or Desi Arnaz; but in professional wrestling, it’s Shawn Michaels or Marty Janetty; with acting twins, it’s Shawn Ashmore or Aaron Ashmore (sort of); with acting twins plus their sister, it’s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen or Elizabeth Olsen. A duo’s strength is talked about just barely more than the question of who is the duo’s strongest member. So even though the Outkast sketch isn’t a fresh discussion—it’s just a small screen version of conversations and jokes that have been happening since Speakerboxxx/The Love Below—it still applies to the topic at hand. Even in the sketch itself, there’s no clear choice between Big Boi and Andre 3000, it just highlights the absolute differences between the two. Maybe that should be the convesation about Key and Peele with the end of Key & Peele coming. They’re different, and that’s a win-win for comedy.

Stray observations

  • “How many crispy socks she gon’ find, dawg?” Excellent question.
  • Key: “So are you still on the reality show bandwagon?”
    Peele: “It’s not a bandwagon, it’s a way of life.”
  • “Nothing’s real as soon as the camera appears,” says Key, and of course this road trip he and Peele are on is real. Peele’s wink to the camera is perfect, and now I’m slightly disappointed this bit couldn’t be saved for the finale.
  • I’m also glad we learned why Peele never drives. “More than anything, it seems generally, like, unpleasant.” He has his permit though. Third time’s a charm.
  • Key (as Andre 3000): “…look into the pinwheel with your third eye.” I would not be surprised if this sketch was just a result of Key wanting to play Andre 3000 as strangely as possible. With a vase.