In 10 Words or Less
More from sketch comedy's newest sensations
Loves: Sketch comedy
Likes: Key & Peele
Dislikes: Race-based comedy, MADtv
Hates: Sketch comedy studio segments
The Story So Far
After earning some fans as part of the cast of FOX' SNL competitor MADtv, Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key made their way around the comedy world with scene-stealing parts in TV shows, web series and movies, before Comedy Central decided to finally address their lack of sketch comedy by giving the duo their own series (the first of a new wave of CC sketch shows.) The show has blown up, to the point where the guys recently graced the cover of Time magazine, and their upcoming fourth season has been expanded to 22 episodes. The first season was released on Blu-ray and DVD in September of 2012, and DVDTalk has a review.
Note: The first season observations are taken from my review of the previous Blu-ray release.
Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key are veterans of the Chicago improv scene and were both cast members of the surprisingly long-running FOX sketch show MADtv. Long absent a good sketch show and a series that might draw a more diverse audience since Dave Chappelle took his ball and went home, Comedy Central took a chance on the duo and gave a pair of bi-racial comics their own sketch comedy series.
Key and Peele tend to avoid topical bits or pop-culture parodies, lending the sketches more of a life-span and increased universality, like the great sketch series, including the Upright Citizens Brigade and Monty Python. When they do try their hand at it, like when Peele plays Lil' Wayne in prison, it falls flat. Only their repeated Obama segments, which represents one of the few recurring characters on the show, works in this regard. SNL hasn't found anything funny to do with the President in four years, while Key and Peele managed to do it in a handful of episodes by playing up his bad-ass nature, either in himself or in his anger translator Luther. One sketch nails it, as Obama uses his Republican foes' contrarian nature against them, with an awesome coolness exuding from him.
There are some fantastic stand-out sketches in this set, most of which are either quick hits or sport ridiculous premises. Whether it's Brock Favors, the substitute traffic copter reporter, or Jayden Pinkett Smith learning about the world he is not a part of, or Bobby McFerrin taking on Michael Winslow in epic combat, the show knows how to establish a character quickly and get out before its worn out its welcome. It also knows how to touch edgy topics, specifically race, as seen in a hilarious slave auction sketch, a game of oneupsmanship between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and a WWII film about Nazis hunting black people (with Modern Family's Ty Burrell as a Nazi!)
However, the show is at its best when it's being ridiculous. A sketch about a '90s R&B duo not certain about who they are singing to. A pair of urban Bar Mitzvah entertainers. The military branching out to recruit in gay clubs. These are all terrific examples of perfectly-executed concepts. But nothing shows the series at its best like "Babysitting Forrest." You've never seen anything until you've seen an infant-sized Forest Whitaker in a onesie terrorizing Michael Keegan Key. It's an image that will be with me forever, and will earn a smile every time. Which is more than most sketch shows provide.
The second season of Key & Peele is more of the same, and that's not a bad thing at all. Obama and Luther return, this time in the midst of the President's re-election campaign. That gives the pair new material to chew on, including the Presidential debates, voting and, of course, the very opposite of Luther, Mitt Romney. Coming so long after the Republican candidate exited the political stage, this may feel a bit like kicking him while he's down, but in its time, it was hilarious (and it's still pretty funny today.) However, it does highlight a problem with this set, in that the material has, in places, dated poorly in just a few years. As stated before, this show is at its best when it avoids timely pop-culture references, which makes sketches about Chris Brown and Rihanna and LMFAO fall short now.
However, the hit to miss ratio is absurdly high, with the show's top sketches falling all over the map thematically, from a sketch about a pastor who has to follow Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, to a young Obama throwing a raging college party, to a game of Celebrities that gets derailed by a mis-recognized clue. The range in the comedy is the show's biggest strength, just ahead of its ability to consistently end sketches strongly. Though race is frequently a focal topic of the show's joke, like a racially insensitive team of Power Rangers-like heroes and the best Harriett Tubman scene ever, the series can deliver a ridiculously silly bit about replacing names with farts or a dog with Ice-T's personality (as well as Peele's head.) Though some of the later episodes aren't quite as successful as the earlier ones, they still feature solid bits.
What remains unnecessary though are the studio segments, where the pair segue between sketches. There's never been a series that's needed this element, especially not the great sketch series, and this show is no exception. If I had more free time, I'd time them out to see of there was enough space for another sketch, because these bits don't add much to the show.
More than a year after Key & Peele's first season was released on home video, Comedy Central and Paramount have finally gotten around to releasing the second season (months after the third season finished airing on TV.) Oddly, if you're a fan who picked up the first season already, they are forcing you to pick it up again, as they are only releasing Season Two in a set with Season One. It's literally the exact same disc and packaging, tucked into a slipcase with a Blu-ray keepcase holding the single Season Two disc (which is oddly labeled Disc 1.) If you held out, congratulations. Otherwise, find a friend who only wants Season One and split the set,
The two season arrive on one Blu-ray disc per seasons, which are packed in standard-width Blu-Ray keepcases, inside a slipcase. The Blu-Rays have animated menus, with options to watch the season, select episodes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. The first season audio options include English TrueHD 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfers are uniformly great, befitting the show's cinematic look, offering a high level of fine detail and quality color throughout. There are no obvious concerns or any digital distractions, with a clean, crisp and detailed image. The only thing that doesn't benefit from the clarity is the show's low special effects budget, which the HD can betray at times.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are solid for this show, which doesn't boast movie-like sound, but the audio does a fine job of delivering everything clearly, with no concerns about dialogue. There's nothing dynamic about the mix, but that's just the nature of the show, which is mostly focused on dialogue than anything else. The sound effects used come across well though, and the surrounds handle some music and atmospheric elements.
The big extra is a set of four audio commentaries by Key and Peele. There's a lot of good insight into the making of the show, along with their friendly banter and discussion. The tracks are almost entirely free of dead air, unless there's a particularly sexy woman on-screen.
A somewhat misnamed outtakes reel (6:57) shows the guys breaking and trying different takes on jokes, in a piece that feels like it should be funnier, even if it will elicit a few smiles.
Capitalizing on the show's most visible sketch, there are seven unaired Obama/Luther sketches (running between :41 and 2:38 each), though one seems to be from the series. They keep the same idea going, putting the duo in a few different situations, including a therapy session and a call from the First Lady. They are amusing, but the idea gets a bit repetitive.
A pair of clips from an appearance at the South Beach Comedy Festival, gives a look behind the scenes (though it would be nice to actually see some of their actual performance.) In one, they show how they procrastinate when trying to come up with jokes and the other journals a rare dual pants blow-out during their set, Though the bits are amusing, one can't help but think seeing the sketches would have been funnier.
A poolside interview with the pair (4:34) is probably the funniest extra on this set, as they facetiously cover topics like the theme song, their favorite sketches and their partnership.
The extras are decidedly lighter on Season Two, starting with a quartet of clips featuring President Obama and his anger translator, Luther, which run a combined 7:43. There's some fun stuff here, with Luther going off on the Republican and Democratic conventions and Clint Eastwood, along with an alternate piece for if Obama hadn't been re-elected, but one is, from what I can tell, exactly the same as one of the clips from the show, just bleeped. Why it's included again is unclear.
The other extra is a set of 10 webisodes of Critiquer's Corner, featuring Vandaveon and Taylor, a couple of guys who want to help Key & Peele improve their show. They spend over 27 minutes offering crass jokes that they mistakenly believe will improve the sketches. After one or two episodes, the one note has been beaten to death, and it's a slog to sit through them all. More Key & Peele would have been far more welcome.
Peek around on Season One and you'll find a fun clip featuring another comedy genius making a guest appearance.
The Bottom Line
Key & Peele has staked a claim as a modern classic of sketch comedy, with two great seasons and some wonderful characters. However, the first season isn't so great that you need to buy it twice, which is just what you'll need to do to get season one if you already bought the first one. That the new season comes up short in the extras by comparison is just further insult. If it was available on its own, and offered more substantial extras, this would rank much higher, but as it stands, it's just a recommended pick-up.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.