Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 2, 2016)
Before they made the leap together to the big screen with 2016’s Keanu, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key enjoyed success with their Comedy Central series. Graduates of MadTV, Key and Peele offered a sketch comedy show that showcased their talents.
With this massive “Complete Series” set, we can check out all five seasons of Key & Peele from its debut in January 2012 to its finale in September 2015. With 53 episodes in all, I won’t attempt a complete review of every show, so I chose a selection across the series’ run.
Bitch: At the episode’s start, Key and Peele relate their biracial status, and right off the bat, that fact seems to make a difference. Due to their appearance, they’ll be regarded as “black comics”, but their life experiences come from someplace different, and it seems the series will reflect that.
Take the sketch that gives the show its title. Two henpecked husbands try to impress each other with claims they aim the “B-word” at their wives – but they go to extreme pains to make sure these spouses don’t hear this. “Bitch” launches the series with self-assurance and plenty of funny bits.
Das Negroes: Two episodes in, and my only question mark about K&P becomes whether the emphasis on humor related to racial areas will get tiresome. So far? Nope. “Negroes” has ups and downs – the title sketch is spotty – but still comes with plenty of hilarious moments. High on my list: the slaves at auction who get offended they aren’t sold.
Flicker: S1 continues with another good episode. The title sketch probably works best – it shows an epic game of “Flicker”, where one person flicks the nose of someone tricked into looking at a nonexistent shirt stain. Other bits succeed as well and make this a solid show.
Soul Food: As we near the end of Season One, “Soul Food” seems like more of a mixed bag than its predecessors, as a couple of sketches flop. In particular, one about ditzy women who obsess over cute puppies fails entirely. Still, others work well – especially the action movie parody that pits jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin against “mouth noise” specialist Michael Winslow.
Obama College Years: While the title sketch offers some amusement, a bit that mocks Civil War re-enactors works best – and showcases the series’ strength. At its peak, K&P delivers laughs along with insight, and that happens during that piece. A few moments sputter, but most fare pretty well.
Michael Jackson Halloween: Given the episode’s title, I feared it would stick us with a cliché sketch about pedophilia. Happily, the MJ bit briefly alludes to that area but mostly focuses elsewhere and delivers laughs. As usual, the overall arc seems up and down – I’m not wild about the White Chicks-style girls who I mentioned earlier - but the positive outweighs the negative.
Non-Stop Party: I suppose it was inevitable, but “Party” finally gives us a dud episode. It’s not a total loss, as a few mildly funny bits emerge, but it’s easily the weakest show of the ones I’ve viewer so far.
Biological Dad: S2 rebounds here – to a reasonable degree, at least. Nothing here kills, but “Dad” comes with enough good moments to bounce back after the flat “Party”.
Les Mis: S3 starts off pretty well with the consistently effective “Mis”. Its title sketch offers a clever parody of musicals, and a few other bits score points as well.
Sexy Vampires: Another Halloween episode, “Vampires” mostly spoofs horror movies. It starts badly with a limp frat boy sketch but improves from there, especially when it focuses on an awkward extra in a zombie movie.
High On Potenuse: The sketch that inspires the episode’s title is average, but it comes with a great stinger later in the show. Otherwise, “High” is up and down.
Pussy on the Chainwax: With its attempt to launch a catchphrase, the title sketch works really well, and a quick spoof of the racial sins of Hollywood past also amuses. Throw in a funny bit related to Anne Hathaway and “Chainwax” finishes S3 well.
Alien Imposters: The series’ format changes slightly with S4, as the show no longer uses Key and Peele in front of a studio audience for interstitials. Instead, we see filmed shots of K&P as they drive through the desert and chat.
We also find a new title sequence and a different version of the theme song, but otherwise S4 shows the same series we’ve known for the initial three years. That’s a good thing, as “Alien” gives us a pretty solid episode.
Quarterback Concussion: Here we find a better than average show, as all the sketches work well. Even bits that should seem stale – like one about the overly passionate owner of an Eastern European restaurant – amuse due to good performances and fun twists.
Scariest Movie Ever: Another Halloween episode, “Ever” seems a bit spotty. A piece that mixes horror movies with the “Make-A-Wish Foundation” works pretty well, but a few of the bits go on too long, so this becomes an average show.
Terrorist Meeting: Is it a bad sign that the annoying Meegan character returns here? Maybe. A few parts of “Meeting” work – such as the title sketch, which lampoons the TSA – but the show’s overall impact seems less than stellar.
Y’All Ready for This?: Season Five starts with a fairly spotty show. The bizarre anti-terrorists in one sketch become a highlight, but other parts seem more lackluster.
Killer Concept Album: This show’s title sketch works best, as it looks at a rapper who can’t keep his actions out of his music. I also like the bit with a politician who apologizes for transgressions – but can’t stop committing them. Otherwise, the episode feels average.
The Job Interview: Recurring characters seen earlier, I like the valets who feel really enthusiastic about movies. A few other elements succeed as well, though some – like the action hero who doesn’t understand holograms – fizzle. That leads to a good but erratic show.
The End: As implied by the title, K&P concludes with this episode. “End” acknowledges the series’ finale, as K&P reflect on the past and finish with a throwback to the very beginning.
It also tosses in a blooper reel, which feels awfully out of place. Other parts amuse, and I especially liked the Ray Parker parody – it’s one of the series’ more SNL-type moments, but it’s funny. Even with the bloopers, “End” concludes the series on a positive note.