Five seasons of frequent sketch-comedy greatness
The Story So Far
The number of stand-out sketches in this series is immense. To put together a list of the greatest hits is a fool's errand, but it's correct to say that the show's biggest strength is how it finds interesting concepts and builds them up, rather than relying on the situation to deliver the laughs. For instance, a scene in which Reginald Veljohnson (Peele) is arguing with a Family Matters producer (Key) about ridiculous Urkel plots takes a left turn into the surreal and becoming immensely better. Or there's a scene built around the concept of football players violently getting pumped up before a game that morphs into a ridiculous and hilarious parody of action movies.
Of course, the series has just as much success with a simple, quick-hit joke, often hitting its highest notes 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. 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. Among some of the top sketches are:
The two men at the core of the show are a big part of why it works so well, as Key and Peele are enormously likable and incredible flexible, capable of playing any character type, be it an old man, an obnoxious young woman, a British actor or a survivor of an alien invasion. There's nothing they try that's not, in some way, believable, because, like the guys of Monty Python or The Kids in the Hall, they are portraying characters, not parts of jokes. So when they face off as Michael Winslow and Bobby McFerrin, it doesn't matter if they look like them or not. You're in for the battle. Very few actors have the range that you see in Key and Peele. That they surrounded themselves with a who's who of comedy in supporting roles only helped, as you will spot Natasha Leggero, Jack McBrayer, Michelle Buteau, Rashida Jones, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Lapkus, Jason Schwartzman, Paul F. Tompkins, Jon Daly, Thomas Lennon, Arden Myrin, Allison Janney, Jason Ritter, Thomas Middleditch, Paget Brewster, Chelsea Peretti, Kate Micucci, Rob Delaney, Eugene Cordero, Jerry Minor, Janet Varney, Michaela Watkins, Gabriel Iglesias, Adam Pally, Jessica St. Clair, Bo Burnham, Cedric Yarbrough, Ian Roberts, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Matt Besser, Wayne Brady, Ken Marino, Ernie Hudson, Rob Huebel, Mekhi Phifer, Seth Morris, Will Sasso, Stephanie Weir and Rob Riggle. That's one heck of a guest cast.
Though there's a ton of variety on display in the five seasons of this series, the show did succumb to the lure of the recurring character on many occasions. Some were unique enough to differentiate between sketches, like the various takes on President Obama's anger translator, including his memorable meetings with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama's translator, but some just seemed like they were repetitive, like Peele's Wendell, an unrepentant liar. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the show's signature football bit (as football was often a part of the series.) Each time, the joke was the same thing: the ridiculous made-up names of players introducing themselves at the start of a football game, a joke on the unique names seen in football. Though they found some ways to change it up a bit (the high point being a parody of NFL music videos like "The Super Bowl Shuffle"), if you pay attention, you'll notice that the names often repeat, which increases the sense of been-there-done-that. It's funny stuff, but not THAT funny.
During the first three seasons the show spaced out the sketches with studio segments, where the pair segue between bits, like Chappelle's Show. There's never been a series that's really 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 if there was enough space for another sketch, because these bits don't add much to the show. Perhaps this was realized, as the studio segments were replaced in the final two seasons with scenes featuring Key and Peele chatting while on a never ending road trip (another change was the introduction of new opening titles and a new opening theme song that inexplicably parody True Detective.) These aren't much better than the studio bits, but they do allow us to see the guys' Pacino and De Niro imitations, which more than justifies them.
Disappointingly, though this is the "Complete Series", it's not the entire run of the show, depending on how you define that concept. The pair did a Super Bowl special under the Key & Peele banner in 2015, and it is not available as part of this set (perhaps due to licensing, since it uses NFL team names and logos, as well as NFL game footage.) It's too bad it's not included here, since it has the logical pinnacle of the pair's football names bit, incorporating real NFL players like Ha Ha Clinton Dix and D'brickashaw Ferguson, and delivers some good laughs.
The discs are held in a thick keepcase with four dual-hubbed trays, which comes in a slipcover that repeats the cover art. The first three discs (the same as those already released for the first three seasons) have animated menus, with options to watch the season, select episodes, adjust the setup and check out the extras, while the final two have static white screens with options to watch the season, select episodes and adjust the setup. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in this set are well-matched for this show, which doesn't get too aggressive in its mixing, only stretching its legs when the series parodies a genre that features interesting sound (like the several action-movie sketches.) Everything about the audio presents without concern, whether you're talking about dialogue, music or sound effects..The surrounds occasionally handle some music, sound effects and some atmospheric elements, but overall the priority is keeping the dialogue nice and clear (which is appreciated when you've got many characters who speak with some form of speech impairment.)
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 well-known sketch, there are seven unaired Obama/Luther sketches (running between :41 and 2:38 each), though one seems to be lifted 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 chronicles 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 best extra on this set, as they facetiously cover topics like the theme song, their favorite sketches and their partnership.
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.
"The Super Episode: The Best of Seasons 1 & 2" (21:31) is somewhat pointless here, since you can watch all the content in those seasons, but there are some new setups featuring the guys, so there's at least something unique about it.
Wrapping things up is another outtakes reel (5:32), and it's pretty funny. As seen in the season finale, when Key and Peele go for it, they can't really handle each other.
The Bottom Line