Comedy Central is touting this episode as the season finale, so I guess that 22-episode order is going to be split into two. As lukewarm as I’ve been on this season, I’d been looking forward to seeing how Key & Peele handled a full, year-round, Saturday-Night-Live-style season. Truth be told I’d been chalking some of the lazier sketches up to the episode order. But many of you might be interested to know that Key & Peele placed 24th on the A.V. Club’s list of the best shows of 2014. We hadn’t yet seen this finale when we voted, but it makes a good case. Season four doesn’t quite go out with a bang, but that’s just because of the infernal TSA.
The weakest sketch: In the sense that I didn’t laugh at all, the first sketch is the weakest. It’s a cable-news point-counterpoint show called Diametrically Opposed, with Key and Peele diametrically opposed on exactly how to prove Obama is a disgrace of a president. Turns out the producer hired two Republicans for this segment. (This isn’t a sketch that invites thinking about it the way the U.S. air support does in the African sketch last week, but once you do, shouldn’t one of those guys be the host, and therefore shouldn’t his politics be pretty well-known to the producer?) But it’s not really designed to have us laughing. It’s combative performances delivering realistic, unexaggerated rhetoric in a credible production of cable news. The point is that the one thing right-wing pundits know for sure is that Obama sucks at his job. In my sincerely overwhelming experience with right-wing news-watchers, I’d say the sketch hits a bullseye. Whatever the subject—the economy, health care, foreign policy—Obama fails. It may be an obvious point, but it’s an unassuming sketch. It doesn’t purport to have some incisive punchline. Not a bad way to start.
There’s one other sketch that isn’t quite there. The one about Peele trying to prove he’s the most loco one in the gang overestimates his high jinks, but Key’s narration, the vocal equivalent of shaking his damn head, saves every single gag. When Peele’s Carlito brags about having a bunch of unused punch-cards for free frozen yogurt, Key says, “Carlito, that’s just being cavalier with your finances instead of getting your free dessert.” Carlito also drops his pants and puts the garbage can on his head. Key: “This is like watching the British version of The Office. Like, it’s funny, but awkward and sad at the same time.”
The runner: Sometimes the runner segments play like wandering improv, and other times they play like all they have is a punchline. In this finale, the runners are some of the most natural vignettes of the season. Key’s stories about the time he went to a Marine recruiter and the way he treats his dogs both seem to run a little long, but they don’t feel like filler. They’re honestly, entertainingly lived in. Peele shines in the last sketch talking about the temperature discrepancy between himself and his girlfriend. He runs warm, she runs cold, so keep the thermostat low for him and he’ll warm her through snuggling. Or as he puts it, “I’ll furnace your ass out…I’m heatin’ for two.”
The movie-making: This is just a pretext to talk about the weird sketch about Key announcing his engagement to his family. His dad hugs him, his mom hugs him, and then we pan down (See? Movie-making) to reveal a bald long-hair giving the scene a slow-clap. It’s Peele as his older brother, Clive, who still lives at home if I read that costume and attitude correctly. What happens in the sketch is Clive tries to deflate everyone until at last his heart is warmed by his brother asking him to be his best man. Two lines later—enough for Clive to ask for a first-class ticket and his brother to tell him gently that’s not affordable—Clive is back to hating everyone, and he storms off. Key: “Well that went better than expected.” Mom: “I think so.” Dad: “Yeah.” It doesn’t have a high concept or a lavish art direction, but it’s a magnificent sketch nonetheless. The situation is elemental, an older brother insecure about being surpassed by his younger sibling. The character is over-the-top but basically recognizable. And Peele’s performance as Clive is just so venomous, his treatment of his mom so furious, that it’s hard not to laugh. The sketch doesn’t make fun of him. It’s just reveling in the awkwardness of a particular family situation. Better Key & Peele than a viral Thanksgiving dinner recording.
Topical: The terrorist sketch! At last, a funny premise from the headlines. The headlines of, like, eight years ago, but that’s still an improvement. It’s all right there on the surface, so there isn’t much to say about it. Peele: “We all know how much devastation we can wreak with 3.5 ounces of liquid.” Key: “The damage is incalculable!” Alas, the limit is 3.4 ounces. Key resurrects one of the show’s greatest phrase structures: “Those mothers of devils!” The TSA deserves harsher, but this is a very funny sketch.
The funniest sketch: Look, Megan is a divisive character. She’s Exhibit A in the case against Key & Peele’s sexism, and others just find her annoying. Me, I think she’s hilarious, and I practically cheered when I saw the time and realized the season was ending with a Megan sketch. The sexism complaint is going to take some more work than citing Megan, because for one thing Key’s faux-hawked boyfriend is only slightly less empty-headed. But I do see the outlines of an argument, and I’m open to it. Key & Peele has been known to settle for a lazy joke a time or five.
Here, I see a specific woman who is self-absorbed to the point of obliviousness. In this case, Megan is disrupting everyone’s viewing of a movie (starring Jordan Peele!). She walks the long way down her row to go to the bathroom, not taking any care to quiet herself as she says, “Excuse me,” to each person she passes. When she gets back, she can’t find her boyfriend, so she wanders around, winding up in the front. She calls for him. Then she pulls out her phone and doesn’t dial the numbers but rather, standing there in front of the screen, tells Siri to call him. When Key is understandably frustrated with her, she threatens to cause an even bigger scene, but she pulls it together. (Point Megan!) Then she wanders to the back row and looks through the projection window, covering up most of the movie with a silhouette of her big head, the metaphor of the sketch. At last she manages to find her way to her boyfriend. “I couldn’t find the bathroom,” she says nonchalantly, before taking a swig of her empty drink with just enough liquid to make that annoying straw noise.
It’s all funny to me: Peele’s whiny vocal performance; the cosmic joke of Key paying for his girlfriend’s sins; each and every instance of Megan choosing the annoying option. The violation of theater etiquette in specific and the public space in general. What’s that recent definition of an asshole, someone who demands all social interaction occurs on their terms? Megan isn’t just an asshole. She’s one of the greats.
- When Clive tells his family his fiancée is a model from The Price Is Right, Mom turns to Clive. “The Price Is Right? Clive, that’s your show.” “Shut up, Ma! No, it’s not!”
- A second later: “Oh, yeah. Stephanie. People always underbid on her showcases. Not the best presenter.”
- Megan: “Andre, where are you? Will you FaceTime me?”