Fly-Bys: Even with a third of the scenes in Key & Peele being devoted to the interstitial runner, episodes this season seem to have a lot of quick, one-joke sketches. Not one joke that gets repeated over and over and not one joke that takes a lot of careful build-up, like the Miami Vice parody. I’m talking about sketches like the opening newscast and the veteran’s homecoming video, where it’s just one joke and out. It certainly solves the problem of how to end a sketch. In the first, a reporter is telling us about two successive heinous crimes and the arrested parties. “And that’s it for sports.” Zing! It’s a great little opening, because it sells the reality. From the look to the delivery, it feels like a real newscast.
The home video starts out promisingly in that regard, but then… well. Mom and Daughter wait on the porch for Dad, but he’s way more preoccupied with the family golden. Whatever I said about the one-joke format solving the problem of how to end a sketch wasn’t quite right, because this one ends with the vet getting back in the cab with the dog and going off somewhere. Which certainly gets the point across, but it was funnier when it was slightly believable. There’s a pretty big line between spending an inordinate amount of time petting the dog and all-out abandoning your family for the dog.
The funniest sketch: Of the four substantial sketches in this episode, three are really cinematic—a vague word, I know, but I’m saying they wield things like lighting, camera movement, etc. with clear purpose—and the other is the one that made me laugh the most. I’m talking about the steampunk sketch, which is just Peele in a ridiculous costume, the ridiculous prop of the bike, and Key getting increasingly exasperated. “Sup, dude?” he asks. “‘Tis well, Cedric. ‘Tis well.” Steampunk, for those who don’t know, is defined as “Jules Verne and shit.” So Peele has a top hat with a braided belt and googles, a door chain connecting the lapels on two different jackets with an aiguillette on the side, a digital watch head attached to a chain like a pocketwatch, fingerless gloves, and on and on. His bike has a giant horn and the like. He claims to live in a clock now. In a faintly English accent he tells his friend, “I’m just an ill-ass Lemony Snicket in this bitch.” Steampunk is all about excessive detail, and excessive detail is what makes this so funny. It’s all so silly, and there’s so much of it. Add to that Key’s straight man (“I’m telling you, Levi, if you put that piece of pipe up to your eye and use it as a telescope I cannot be your friend anymore”), and the truly ridiculous ending (there’s a mouse living in Levi’s top hat), and this is the funniest sketch of the episode.
The weakest sketch: Not for lack of trying, the one about the guy in the halo brace—think a post-bus Regina George—kind of just lies there. The opening is magnificent, but as soon as it starts going in earnest, it really is just Key making a variety of squeals and sharp inhales. I’m tickled by the concept. This guy is fresh out of the hospital and decides to spend his first night of surely prescribed bedrest hitting on women at a bar. But that doesn’t come through nearly as loudly as the screams in comic agony. Which is kind of funny, but the writing really doesn’t live up to the effort everywhere else. Talk about one joke over and over, and it ends with him returning with a giant fake mustache instead of the halo brace and doing his best Speedy Gonzales for the bartender. Speaking of which, it’s nice to see Peele in a sort of macho role, and I can’t put into words how note-perfect his delivery is when he’s trying to wrap up a story for the ladies he’s boring and get to his new customer, but I can at least give you the hilarious, practically tossed-off story: “It was the first time in a heavyweight battle that the two fighters ended up getting married.”
The movie-making: Strong episode for subtle cinema, but first and foremost, there’s the ostentatious opening to the halo brace sketch. It’s Key & Peele’s Goodfellas/Boogie Nights. We’re watching the guy’s shoes as he makes his way down the stairs. When he catches up to the camera, we go up his side (there may have been a cut in the dark there). Then we weave behind him, first catching a table on his left staring at him in disgust, then a table on his right looking on with concern, before finally getting up to the back of his head and the brace. Now that’s how you build up a character with the camera.
The World War II sketch is decked out, too, but the cinema is a lot quieter, more a part of the fabric of the scene than the scene itself. That said, one of the jokes is entirely camerawork. First Key, playing dead for the Nazis, moves himself out of the sunlight, and then he kills a fly on his face. The third time Peele, the Nazi guard, looks at him, he seems to be in the same position as before for a change. And then we pan down and see a bar of chocolate with a bite out of it resting on his chest.
The runner: The True Detective thing is here to stay. I hope eventually they get somewhere and get sucked into a decades-long murder mystery. But it looks like we’ve mostly just traded the stage for the car. And it’s an improvement. The Willie Talk ventriloquist doll conversation is more real than any stage scene, whether it was true to life or not that Key just then got the pun. Him cracking up about it got me cracking up, too. That scene sets up the “Little Homie” sketch, but the other two are a lot more tangential (like Peele describing his process behind the eyes before a sketch that is half about him silently expressing his anxiety). The finale would have made more sense, but it’s the perfect, simple ending:
Peele asks, “Can you imagine if we had to fight in World War II?”
“We would not make it. We would not make it.”
- What is there to say about “Little Homie?” It’s funny, surprising, intense, it doesn’t makes a lot of sense, and the voice of the doll is perfect. “What you need to be doin’ is get back into some criiiimes, man.”