The beauty of improvisation is also its curse. Performers create something in the moment out of absolutely nothing, with the audience acting as a conduit for whatever ideas play out on stage. The brilliance is in the danger, and in the knowledge that this moment will pass, only a ghost of a whisper of a memory in the comedy timeline. It’s wonderful, and it’s tragic.
The Second City in Chicago—a place both Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele orbited, if not actually worked—took things one step further. If an improv scene is great, a Second City mainstage cast sits down and scripts it out, making it repeatable for future audiences. The danger was sapped, but much of the magic remained. Ephemera in comedy was still a hot commodity.
I think about this when watching episodes of Key & Peele, because that’s sort of the blessing and the curse of the show. Key and Peele can create some extremely memorable sketches—like the time each of them put on silly wigs and listed themselves off as two whole football teams. They can put on the Obama makeup, pull down the backdrop, and talk about politics. Or they can open a season finale with a heavily stylized homage to post-apocalyptic films, including a callback to the LMFAO-type song from a few weeks ago. It’s all amazing in the moment, but as I think about the second season of Key & Peele, it all blends together. The sketch they’ve created was meant to be enjoyed as I was enjoying it, and only occasionally burst out from the other side of the TV screen.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think that both Key and Peele understand that they could roll the dice and try to create something that would be THEIR SIGNATURE SKETCH, to be remembered for all time. Or, they could put their collective heads down, do the hard work, and churn out material of a consistent quality, knowing many scenes will be lost in the ether, but that the good vibes will continue. They chose the latter, and the proof they made the right choice is in the pudding: The world might not need Obama/Luther, but Key & Peele got a third season anyway.
This finale is a celebration of the second season, pulled together under nearly impossible time constraints and a defining moment for any show on Comedy Central, where a first season is an inevitability and a second is a real test of longevity. Each and every sketch in this episode pops, and maintains the crystal-clear perspective Key and Peele have honed. Hell, they felt confident enough in what they’ve been building that they had Peele play himself in a sketch, reuniting with his long-lost father who’s only interested in getting to know his son once he finds out Peele’s on TV. And then he realizes his kid’s on Comedy Central.
There are these ridiculous meta jokes, and the playfulness doesn’t cease. You get the sense Peele delighted himself trying to think of funny ways to enter the Black Panther scene—from the top, from the side—and Key was beside himself as the flustered straight man to Peele’s alien, inquiring about what’s actually below the belt of a foxy lady he’s scoping out. By the time they get to the barbershop scene, wherein Key basically plays a subdued version of himself, it doesn’t matter that nothing truly crazy is happening, because there’s been enough wackiness for one episode.
Key and Peele hone in with laser accuracy on the subjects of their satire, which means some of the sketches in this finale have a bit of staying power. They notice the trend of kids wearing hats with tags on them, so the two try to one-up each other with hats currently behind plastic as if they’re in a museum, or actively being sewn together atop Peele’s head. The next time anyone sees a hat with a sticker on it, I have no doubt they’ll think of this sketch, which had one audience member dying with laughter. He could barely breathe, he was laughing and crying so hard.
The show ends its second season on that moment. Key and Peele leave the stage, directing the camera guy to get this dude’s reaction, immortalized forever on future DVDs and Blu-ray discs. They value the moment just as much as their audience, and their ability to throw caution to the wind—to put out their best work and let the sketches fall where they may—means there’s nary a whiff of desperation in Key & Peele. I’m thrilled and excited to see what they come up with next, because given their ability to stay in the moment, I have absolutely no idea what to expect.