In the opening sketch, Key and Peele have just parked in a garage, section H5. So Peele comes up with a handy mnemonic—high five—which Key takes around and around winding up with Buster and Michael Keaton. The camerawork is even more disorienting as they walk down aisles, around corners, through beams and cars. When they get to the elevators, Peele realizes he left something in the car, but he’s been so focused on how infuriating Key’s redundant, roundabout mnemonic was that he forgot his own. So key walks him backward: the Keatons, Diane Keaton, The Godfather stars, James Caan, Scott Caan, Hawaii Five-0, etc. At last he gets it, and Peele, trying to race him, can’t keep the steam in any longer and just explodes: “High five! High five! I had it! Damn!” The joke is just that Key’s ridiculous memory device worked better than Peele’s simple one. Considering this is the cold open, it could have ended at that, but Peele’s sudden rage is even funnier. There are only four other sketches, but they’re chockablock with hilarious performances. For all the writing and expressive direction, this episode shines thanks to Key and Peele.
The second funniest sketch: Case in point, the fro-yo sketch. It’s nothing but Peele getting brain freeze—the thought of which is enough to crack me up again—and Key trying to save face. Machismo is a major theme this season, with several sketches about trying to look tough or cool under ridiculous circumstances. And that’s not incidental here. Over the course of Peele’s dance, Key goes from embarrassment to respect as Peele continues to eat the fro-yo that’s giving him brain-freeze. Key’s running commentary adds some structure disguised as exasperation, but the star is Peele, and he’s on from bite one. Just setting the cup down on the table takes him through a whole parade of expressions, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. He mimes silver balls clacking into one another on his head, he Thrillers, he Three Stooges himself. It’s a very physical episode, and Peele’s brain-freeze dance wins the gold. As he continues to eat, it’s enough to turn Key around. “Real talk though, real talk though: This is crazier than the time, man, I strangled Benny with my bare hands because he didn’t have my money.”
Suddenly Peele stops and says, “All right, we got him,” pulling out his badge. “You under arrest for the murder of Benny Tacktheritrix.”
The weakest sketch: Marvel finally gets to work on a Black Panther movie, and the best Key & Peele can do is make jokes about Stan Lee being old?
While there’s a lot of disappointment in the fall from the Marvel chiron to “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” jokes, this isn’t about what the sketch isn’t. It’s about what it is, a bunch of jokes about Peele’s Wallace-Shawn-sounding Stan Lee being old and out of touch and suspicious of his fat Jamaican maid. That “fat” is on me, actually; the writing’s so limp it goes with “overweight.” All this comes in the form of new superheroes Lee pitches, like Heyday, who lives in 1982, and Thermostatro, who can always control the thermostat. Naturally all of these get rejected, but on his way out, Lee comes up with one last pitch: The Fired Bunch, a team of superheroes who are unemployed because they bit the hand that fed them. Get it? This one they love, and not pretend-love but love-love, which is even more patronizing. As old jokes go, Heyday might be a keeper, but the way this season is going, talk about having seen better days.
The funniest sketch and the movie-making: The aerobics sketch takes us for a ride. It starts as retro goofiness with this completely illegible videotape scene of the 1987 Jazz Fit Championship finals, between Peele’s Flash and Key’s Lightning. There’s a lot of humor packed in there: ‘80s fashions, the Donny and Marie smiles Key and Peele are flashing as they go through their routines, the whole bleary look of the thing. Is it just an exaggeration of old aerobics videos? Is it about those plastered smiles? Is it about the competition?
With a cut from the video to a behind-the-scenes shot of the crew filming the video, everything changes from that boxy, battered VHS look to the polished widescreen that represents real life. The soundtrack switches, too, from a rhythmic electronic keyboard beat to the ambient sounds of a thriller. After hanging up the phone, a crew member starts flashing key cards at Lightning. The story keeps escalating—there was a hit-and-run…with his wife, his daughter was in the car too, they’re both in the hospital—punctuated with periodic reminders to keep smiling and dancing because this is live. The sketch pulls as tight as possible. Every time we cut back and forth, the soundtrack gives way to the other tune, both the comic and suspense halves fueling the tension. Peele’s the straight man in that his character’s blissfully unaware of everything, so every so often he looks at Key with that phony grin as they go through their synchronized dance. The dissonance is hysterical.
Endings: Best of all, there’s no fuss about the ending, no trailing off, no worry about a button. The cue-card guy asks Lightning who might stand to gain from this. We cut to the show—the aerobics song, the videotape look—one last time as Lightning dances his way over to Flash and starts choking him to the ground. That’s it! I mean, people pull him off, and a “technical difficulties” card comes up, but still, the sketch goes out right after it releases the tension.
And while we’re at it, the stepdad sketch has a notable ending, too. The sketch itself is mostly a bunch of slapping followed by the subtle transformation of Key’s expression: “Try me” to “Aw, shucks” to “Psych!” The broadness of the main gag plays off the delicacy of his facial expressions so well that most of the laughs come from the acting. He’s testing his future stepdad as the last one got dumped after some spanking incident. At last Peele can’t stand it, and he shouts at this little shit to behave himself. Key gives him a slow clap, and keep in mind he’s playing a small child, and says,
“I will respect you, Charles, if you play your role. Now listen up. I’m a bad, bad boy, Charles. I don’t need a fucking friend. So go ahead. Marry my mommy. Move in. Fuck her as hard as you want. Just leave me the fuck alone. You do that, 11 years from now, I’ll be out of the house, and we won’t have any problems. You don’t, and I will break you.”
The mom comes back, and Key tells her how much he loves his future stepdad. It’s a happy ending—for the Antichrist.
- Key, improvising: “If I was beating a dude and pissing myself at the same time, that’s okay as long as I’m making contact.” I have no doubt the producers know exactly how this sounds.
- The car runner is hit or miss this week, but the ending is particularly weak. The guys reminisce about actresses in sexy movie scenes. There’s no joke. The humor comes from the way they reminisce, I guess, like how easily the mention of a scene takes them back, and how these touchstones resonate for both of them like some universal but unspoken code. Good for them!