Key & Peele’s fifth season premiere is a bit like getting a terrific high five from your coolest friend at a party that’s so cool you can’t even believe you were invited. You make eye contact as soon as you see this cool friend from across the terrifically lit, cinematically impressive room, and when you walk in slow-motion toward this cool friend, you just know that the rest of the night is going to be one to remember. Your life is so much more interesting for having this cool friend back in it, and that’s not even as lame as it sounds.
“Y’all Ready For This?” asks the eternal Jock Jams question that few people can really ever answer in the affirmative, but with regards to the rest of this season, the answer is a hopeful “yes.” Returning to the giant sandbox that was their endless road trip from season four—this season was originally just the second half of that one—Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele continue to bring up some of the most inane one-on-one conversation possible to usher in sketches that are often anything but.
By the way, it’s never bad to mention the show’s transition from the in-studio audience bits to the more intimate road trip interludes were and are an absolute upgrade for the show. Especially since it allows for less of a flimsy comparison to Chappelle’s Show in conversations at less cool parties than the hypothetical one from before.
The opening sketch, “Pre-Game Pump-Up,” was released in advance, perpetuating the perception from people who have never seen an episode of Key & Peele that it is a sketch comedy show about football players with very specific names. This time, it’s in the form of Jammie Jammie (Key) and Duckings (Peele), the co-hype men of their team, the Rhinos. As a sketch solely about one-upmanship and getting the last word (which would certainly be an issue when you have multiple hype men), it’s a fun little bit, though the question becomes one of how it can organically end. But then the sketch does what a lot more sports movies should probably just try to do: It blatantly transforms into an ninja-inspired action movie. Why? Why not, actually? Again, there’s the question of how it can organically end, and when Key & Peele paints itself into those kind of corners, it simply escalates things to a point where it feels like a seemless transition to become another genre completely. When Peele’s Duckings ends the sketch with the line “Play this game like it’s the last game of your life,” it’s clear that this sketch also somehow became a literal manifestation of an inspirational sports speeches from movies. It’s a proper homecoming for Key & Peele.
“Fuck you, dream stealer.”
After a road trip interlude about farts versus “butt queefs”—the type of conversation that is much better left an internal thought than spoken aloud—the episode smoothly segues into “Hillary Translator,” a face-off between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton (Scandal’s Kate Burton), and their respective anger translators (in the case of Hillary, it’s MADtv’s Stephnie Weir as Savannah). When Key & Peele first premiered and introduced Luther, it was one of the freshest, funniest bits and one that really showed what the show could do. Saturday Night Live’s recurring sketch “The Rock Obama” also existed, but compared to Luther, it was child’s play. But honestly, the gimmick can get repetitive—much like the East/West Bowl—and the introduction of Savannah for Hillary gives it a freshness that has been much needed and was never going to come from the White House Correspondents Dinner. The righteous frustration of an even angrier translator feels like it’s delivering on a comedic dream for Weir, and her physicality is absolutely amazing as she manages to play both out of control and restrained at the time.
“C. Draxx them sklounst.”
The biggest laughs of the episode, however, come from two sketches that couldn’t be any more different, the TSA sketch (“Air Marshall”) and the pirate shanties sketch (“Pirate Song”). The former is full of nonsense sounds and words, while the latter is actually a fairly poignant feminist commentary set to a jaunty tune. When people say Key & Peele covers all bases comically, these are the type of sketches they mean. The TSA sketch combines the stress of strangers on a plane who want to socialize with those delightful people who believe they could stop another 9/11, with Malcolm Barrett’s straight man character unfortunately being the sounding board for all of this. It’s difficult to even truly describe the the words coming out of Key and Peele’s mouths in this one, save for such gems as “terries” (meaning “terrorists”), “we gon’ get our Bergeron,” and “we gon’ be eatin’ like Diane Keaton.” But the more incoherent they become, the funnier it gets. The sketch ending (before it becomes a training tool) is perfect too, as it ends the only way it can—with a bunch of white guys subduing Key and Peele and assuming that Barrett’s character is with them.
As for the pirate shanties sketch, that one is a catchy bit that even manages to feature an age-old riddle (from another MADtv alumnus, Will Sasso) in the form of a song: “I bet you assumed the doctor was a man.” It’s a simple enough set-up, right down to having the ship’s captain be a woman (Rebecca Romijn), but it comes off the heels of the interlude about Key and Peele trying to reconcile their male feminism with the fact that sometimes they want to objectify women. Or at least check out her pair of “aardvarks,” as Peele amazingly calls them. To anyone else having trouble figuring out how to treat a woman, the songs from the sketch are the type that stick with you. And in case you forget:
“We say ‘yo ho,’ but we don’t say ‘ho’ / ‘Cause ho is disrespectful, yo”
- Hello, all. I am your Key & Peele reviewer this season. Go easy on me, huh?
- My favorite bit of the opening sketch is toss up between the smoke bomb and the decoy Duckings with an actual bomb. Those gimmicks never fail to put a smile on my face.
- The trigger-happy cop sketch is short but sweet, in a funny because it’s sad and true sort of way. Remember when “trigger happy cop” was just a fun movie trope?
- A personal highlight of the “Air Marshall” sketch is the mangling of Hayden Panettiere’s name. Fellow TV Clubber Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya and I once spent about half an hour just throwing variations of Panettiere’s name at each other in GChat. Good times.