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Key & Peele: The Complete Series

Paramount // Unrated // August 2, 2016
List Price: $55.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 24, 2016 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Five seasons of frequent sketch-comedy greatness

Reviewer's Bias*
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 gave the duo their own series, which quickly became one of the most acclaimed sketch shows in recent memory. Running for five seasons, the show received Blu-ray and DVD releases for its first three seasons. DVDTalk has reviews of the Blu-ray sets.

The Show
Like the greatest sketch-comedy series, Key & Peele tends to avoid getting too specific or too topical in its parodies (except, of course, their widely-hailed President Obama concept, which gives the world leader an anger translator who expresses all the things he cannot.) This gives the show more of a life-span and increased universality, and as a result, several years after the show aired, the sketches mostly remain relevant. (When they do try their hand at it, like when they reference Lil' Wayne, Chris Brown and Rihanna or Mitt Romney, it often falls short of greatness.) The range of topics and the ways they are approached over the course of the show's five seasons is impressive, as they can build a sketch out of a small interaction or a major topic with equal ease. That helps pace out episodes, as you'll have a sketch about gun control butted up against a sketch about flopping soccer players, followed by a segment about the discomfort of walking in on an orgy. Balancing meaningful comedy with simple silliness keeps the energy in a constant flow.

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:

  • A great parody of Les Miserables' multi-part songs
  • A meeting of black republicans...who seem very similar
  • A guy's challenging attempt to board a plane (one of several great plane sketches, breathing new life into an old trope)
  • A boxing press conference that gets far more involved than normal
  • An excellent PSA starring Mr. T (Peele) (representing the many spoofs of old videos, right down to the aesthetics)
  • A brutal bout of stand-up comedy crowd work gone wrong
  • A ridiculous commercial for a Jiu Jitsu studio
  • Ty Burrell's wonderful work as a Nazi
  • A quick, but hilarious take on "Save the Children"
  • An uncomfortable newscast focused on "black ice"
  • Two church ladies fighting Satan
  • A quick hit about a pervy dentist
  • Two scat singers sing-fighting over Retta
  • Terrorists getting tripped-up by the TSA
  • The pitch meeting for Gremlins 2, which is incredibly brilliant
  • Insane news reports by Metta World Peace
  • 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
    Key & Peele hasn't had the best run on home video. Season two was only available in a set with season one (released after fans had already picked up season one), and the fourth and fifth seasons of Key & Peele never made it to home video, so they are making their debut here in this 10-disc set. To keep things awful, this set is only available on DVD, so you can't get the last two seasons in high definition to complete your collection.

    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 Quality
    Though obviously not up to level of the previous Blu-ray releases, nor the original HD broadcasts, the anamorphic widescreen transfers here are impressive across the board, with a decent level of fine detail and good, appropriate color throughout. Digital distractions are not an issue at any point, leaving us with a clean, crisp and detailed image. Unlike the Blu-ray releases, these discs tend not to make the show's lower-budget special effects stand out as much.

    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.)

    The Extras
    There are no new extras for anyone who picked up any of the previous releases, and seasons four and five are extra-less, but, at the very least, the box art is wrong in what it lists as extras, showing only the season three bonus content. All of the extras from the first two seasons are still in place to enjoy here.

    Season One:
    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 attractive 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 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.

    Season Two:
    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 2012 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.

    Season Three:
    The extras take a dip once again, with a select few items to peruse. The guys from "Critiquer's Corner" return for another seven entries (23:15), this time called "The Van and Mike Show." It's essentially more of the same, as they complain about and critique Key & Peele.

    "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
    Key & Peele's five-season run is full of hilarious bits covering everything from big concepts like race relations to daily minutia like pushing the crosswalk button. Even though it could get stuck returning to recurring characters at times, they had the range to do just about anything and do it well, which prevents the show from getting stale over the span of 53 episodes. As good as the show is though, in both the quality and presentation, the package is an insult to fans in so many ways, from the lack of effort on the final two seasons to the lack of a high-definition version, to the requirement that you possibly re-purchase three seasons just to get seasons four and five. If you are utterly new to the show and never purchased a season before it would be worth it to get this set, but for anyone else it's a frustrating release.

    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.

    Follow him on Twitter

    *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.

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