It’s a slow week, with four substantial sketches, two quick bookends, and four—count’ em, four—car interludes. Episode eight isn’t very funny, but it’s not bad. The thing is that’s par for the course for this season of Key & Peele. Even when it’s great it’s a step down, like it’s leveling off. It’s getting to that place all beloved comedies go where people who watch a little TV will still find plenty to like but anyone with a crowded DVR might start to burn out. The writers are apparently loath to rely on recurring characters, which is admirable after season three leaned so heavily on the Liam Neesons guys, for instance. But they’re also staying away from some other Key & Peele perennials, like race in America and nerdy subjects galore. So what’s there to pick up the slack?

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The decent but weakest sketch: Again, none of the sketches are groaners. It’s just that none of them are pause-to-catch-your-breath funny. They’re all pretty good. So take it with a grain of salt that the weakest is the Benjamin Button sketch. The punchline comes at the end, so it builds a little tension with the mystery of what exactly the relationship is between these two restaurant patrons. Peele is acting all hard, and Key is rather effete. He tells Peele to eat his vegetables, he wipes his face, he pats his back. Peele keeps saying, “I’m a grown-ass man.” At first we think Key’s the transgressor, then it seems like Peele’s crossing the line by overreacting, but by the end it’s clear Peele has been the transgressor the whole time. The writing gently guides our assessment of the situation: an odd couple of friends, then maybe a date thanks to the intimacy, and at last, a father and his son with “that Benjamin Buttons disease.”

See? It’s a decent sketch. It’s just not that funny, although it does offer some delightful tonal somersaults: “This three-bean salad is the bomb, though.” The dad’s trying to entice his son into eating something healthy-ish. When Peele flips out, Key tells him, “I want a mother-fuckin’ inside voice up in this bitch,” but it’s too late to stop all the excitement. “Who pee-peed himself? Did you pee-pee yourself?” Apparently Peele is really four and three-quarters. Which is closer to Jack than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but whatever. I chuckled. Golf clap.

The runner: Heat, obviously.

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Fly-Bys: Is it a clue that this episode is bookended by the most commonplace actions, peeing and drinking? Both sketches are pretty weird, if easy. The first has Key cry-laughing at a urinal next to Peele, so thrilled is he with the feeling of relieving himself. Except he ends his little moan performance by saying, “Okay, let’s start peeing,” which he does basically like everyone else, give or take some seconds. It’d be funny if anyone peed like that, but as a pre-game ritual, it’s way weirder.

At the end, Peele sits down for a nice coffee, and a nuke goes off in the distance. The joke is that he finishes his coffee (with a trauma-ready dose of sugar) instead of panicking. The minimalist sketch about this maximalist event is exciting. It isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s ambitious in a way that has me eager for more.

Other funny sketch: The annoying henchman sketch is a solid piece of engineering. Key’s a Slavic evil mastermind named Dravitch, and he’s trying to torture U.S. secret agent Jack Something. But Peele’s henchman Duquon keeps interrupting. The first thing is probably the funniest. After being asked to leave the room, he keeps popping his head back in just to see what’s going on, but it’s not some silent background gag. They’re in a giant warehouse, so this entails Peele sliding open this noisy industrial studio door each time. And whenever Dravitch turns around to see what’s up, Duquon shuts it really quick. The interruptions can’t really escalate from there, but half the fun is in anticipating when Duquon will pipe up again. The ending is a classical punchline: Duquon gets tied up right next to Jack. There’s no torture worse than that.

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The funniest sketch: That’s a solid sketch, but it doesn’t match the invention of the road trip sketch. Not that this one doesn’t rely on age-old structures, too. For instance, of course, the DJ plays the song again just when Peele thinks he’s in the clear. He was cosmically asking for it. But the sketch is also more realistic and unbalanced than a rule-of-threes setup-punchline sequence. At first you’re wondering what the joke is. They’re going to Vegas to celebrate their friendship, a song comes on, they both say they’re excited about it, but neither actually seems that enthused. Once the lyrics start (“ever since I was rockin’ a onesie / I know that you was second to none, B”), once you realize Peele doesn’t really know the words, it’s a dance. How many ways can he disguise his non-singing? The answer is a lot, and they’re all funny, especially when Key tells him to take this next verse, and he just cups a hand over his mouth and muffles his mumbles. After Peele turns off the radio to protect himself (he suddenly wants to know what they’re going to do in Vegas), there’s a protracted bit of convincing where Peele tells Key, on their friendship, that he does know the words. So he turns back on the radio, the DJ plays the song again, and Peele has no other choice but to open his door and roll out of the moving car. That’s another old joke, the drastic escape from embarrassment, but from the lifelike structure to the ridiculous song, this is still the best sketch of the night.

Stray observations:

  • “I was thinking, like, maybe I could be, like, your torturin’ assistant or something?”

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  • The Scared Straight sketch is decent, too. Peele tries to scare a class with stories of all the times he suffered consequences of gang life, like when a piano fell on his head or when he went back in time and came up with “Johnny B. Goode.”
  • “I was like you…and then one day I got shot out of a catapult! Into the mouth of a dragon!”

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