“I’ll tell you one thing,” Key says to Peele in the first line of the episode. “When the Unsullied make it to Westeros, they’re going to annihilate people!” The writers on Key & Peele are masters of the moment before. By now there might be a whole episode in Key and Peele just walking through sketches trying to talk about Game Of Thrones as various parties interrupt them. The last sketch is even better in that regard, with one of those off-kilter opening lines like that corporate vice president asking his secretary over the intercom for a cupcake. Key’s Sammy walks through his living room greeting husband LaShawn and their daughter Carousel. “Ooh, Sammy, Carousel had another premonition!” LaShawn squeals. “She says an ostrich is going to escape from the zoo today.” Sammy explains, “No, she heard that on the news last night, so that’s a thing that happened already.”
These ridiculous moments feel like pure decoration, but they’re not extraneous. The first continues a running joke on the Key and Peele personae, and the second sets up the sketch’s tension between LaShawn’s outrageous inanity and Sammy’s even keel. Even working off of old ideas—like the groaner about how gay people can now be as miserable as “the rest of us”—a Key & Peele sketch is so powerfully executed that it’s still funny and absurd.
Take Sammy and LaShawn (and Carousel). There’s the camerawork, beginning in a sort of walk-and-talk (minus the talk) in an episode full of such maneuvers, and then pulling back to a proscenium set, like a multi-camera family sitcom without the studio audience. The art decoration is so obnoxious—a cow-hide couch in the foreground, eclectic glittery lamps in the middle-ground, a male torso statue in the back—that you understand everything about their relationship. He probably hates being called Sammy. Then there’s Peele’s hyperactive LaShawn, festooned in a satin, feathers, and a World’s Best Dad sash, out-flamboyanting every Nathan Lane character combined. He lies on Sammy’s lap while doing the bicycle with his legs at the beginning of a sentence, rolls over and repeats, then kisses Sammy on the cheek repeatedly as punctuation. Then there’s the line itself: “Why you gotta be the ‘80s to my disco right now?” They’re arguing because now that they’re on the same insurance (“Oh my god, I wanna see, I wanna see, I wanna see, I wanna—no, don’t show me, just tell me”), LaShawn thinks his rights extend to all manner of elective medical visits and procedures. So there’s an absurdist litany of Seth-Morris-style medical jokes: “I wanna get my earlids done. And my foot pockets. Foot pockets are this invention I’ve been thinking of where you can just put your keys up by your ankles.” As well as not-very-Morris jokes like, “I’m gonna go to the gynecologist. Just ask questions till I get it.” And it resolves like a modern Revolutionary Road as beleaguered husband Sammy slips on his noise-canceling headphones and lets LaShawn blather on. The main joke is that they’re now as miserable as every stereotypical straight couple, but there are a lot of great branches off of that tree.
Half of the sketches have some reference to race, although the first is quick and muddled. Key and Peele see a white guy speaking obnoxiously to black friends, so they assume he’s stylistically appropriating their language until he addresses them in more formal terms. But they’re not wrong, exactly, even if the sketch would rather linger on their confused crow-eating. Next is a sketch about what Dr. Cosby called the not very subtle racism of weather metaphors when white anchors Jamie Throneberg and Marci Whitchurch chalk up dangerous conditions to black ice (which sounds an awful lot like “black guys”) while Key’s weatherman and Peele’s field reporter counter with the oppressive blankets of white snow. It’s amazing how much mileage the four of them get out of this war, from the graphic of black ice with a graffiti label, a backward cap, and a scary facial expression to thinly veiled lines like when Marci, says, “Black ice just snuck up on me and practically robbed me of my balance.” Key and Peele counter with logic, mentioning how the oppression of white snow makes it hard for all people to advance, but Jamie and Marci have nothing but fear-mongering, talking about the dangers of sneaky black ice invading a neighborhood. The performances even enhance the material, Marci running out of steam toward the end of a line so ridiculous she can barely spit it out. Key and Peele are increasingly exasperated, but Marci and Jamie keep their hideous smiles the whole time, which is infuriatingly true to life. And naturally Marci has the last word: “Next up, why is America being ruined by black people?”
Naturally the news sketch looks exactly right, but the other three sketches are the most stylized. Again, it’s never pure decor. That faint electronic beat in the background of the cop sketch, the gritty coloring, the exaggerated close-ups of Peele intoning about the unfillable shoes of his partner, Jimenez, who it turns out is just on vacation in Florida, those are all about parodying genre tropes. Same with the jazz club, which looks spectacular from the gradually focusing intro to the high-contrast black-and-white. That first shot through the audience sets the scene vividly, two almost silhouettes acting as curtains to the performers on stage whose trumpets are sparkling in the various stage lights, smoke filling the atmosphere. The joke is this nonsensical jazz-off which Key obviously wins on merits but Peele steals through antics like treating his trumpet as a hot potato or rocking it back and forth like a sleeping baby.
But everything about Key & Peele comes together in the Star Wars sketch, which is made up of several long walk-and-talks through a beautiful set with a matte background visible through stupidly shaped windows as Peele’s working class man appeals to Key’s Lando Calrissian like that sketch about people coming up to Key and Peele themselves, only this is a little more social since it featuers the only two black men in the galaxy. It’s a nerdy take on a social issue, it’s elaborately stylized, it’s hilarious. Peele is actually playing that old character. “Ideally though, i-deally, on an ideal situation, I would be doing like what you doin’. I be up there in, like, the high chambers of Cloud City, dawg.” Lando just wants to shake the guy, and at the end, as a blurry backgrounded Peele shouts at him about the pig-workers society has stuck him with, Lando stares past the audience and says to himself, “Outrageous.” And the scene ends with a wipe! Every excess is about serving the sketch. Except for the Lobot character. That’s just showing off.
- “That’s right, Marci. Keep your loved ones safe and warn them to stay off the streets at night because of menacing life-robbing black black ice.”
- The Jimenez sketch is a personal favorite. “You think Jimenez worked off theories like some needle-dicked Charles Darwin? Not on your ass! Jimenez always shot straight from the . . . dick.” Again, Jordan Peele is having an incredibly versatile year. Can’t wait to get my hopes up about an Emmy nomination.
- Metta World News introduces a new segment, Homemaker’s Corner, which involves Metta turning around with a mask of himself on the back of his head. “Thank you, Metta. You need five plastic grocery bags to make an authentic parachute.”