The Bottom Line
- Stars Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
- Created by Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
- Premieres January 31, 2012, at 10:30 p.m. EST on Comedy Central
With Key & Peele, the only real difference is that it’s two comedians hosting the segments and starring in the sketches, former Mad TV co-stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Key and Peele are likeable performers who’ve done good work for years in a variety of supporting roles (Peele has been quite funny on Childrens Hospital), and some of the sketches in their show’s first two episodes have clever premises, even if the execution can be a little lacking. But the whole thing feels shapeless and haphazard, and the format of having the two stars banter in between sketches really kills the momentum. Key and Peele may be funny as actors and as sketch writers, but as a stand-up duo they deliver rambling, often unfunny stories that seem designed to emphasize their camaraderie but mostly come off as forced.
The first two episodes’ sketches are sharper, and even the ones that don’t quite work start from decent ideas. The biggest problem the show has is a common one in sketch-comedy, taking one-joke segments and running them into the ground. A long sketch featuring two guys paranoid about saying the word “bitch” in front of their wives gets its single laugh and then goes on for what feels like five more minutes. A quick bit in the first episode featuring Lil Wayne getting stabbed in prison is an amusing comment on the emptiness of gangsta-rap bravado -- which then gets less amusing as it’s repeated two more times later in the show.
But Key and Peele do have a funny take on reality competition shows in their Hell’s Kitchen parody, which uses its escalating joke to great comic effect, and Peele does a better Barack Obama impersonation (in a couple of mediocre sketches) than pretty much anyone on TV right now. The show’s best bit is the first episode’s opener, featuring the stars as two white-sounding black guys who affect “street” voices when they pass each other in public. It’s a simple, direct and funny commentary on race, the kind of thing that Dave Chappelle might have pulled off in his heyday.
A later sketch featuring a pair of community-theater actors pandering to an all-black audience as they portray Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X is even more biting in its indictment of minorities embracing their own stereotypes. The in-between segments place a lot of emphasis on the stars’ biracial heritage, and that’s a perspective that’s genuinely underexplored in TV comedy. The more that Key & Peele can find and use those unique angles, setting it apart from every other forgotten Comedy Central sketch series, the more chance it has to survive. Otherwise it will end up as just another of the network’s trademark one-season wonders.