Key & Peele’s ninth episode falls safely in the middle of their sixth season, in what could easily be a humdrum stretch for many programs. That’s not Key & Peele, though. With support from its flexible sketch structure, this week’s episode offers another compilation of hilarious vignettes. To stray, slightly, from my typical review structure, here’s a breakdown of what we were given this week:
The “Aerobics Meltdown” sketch, which features our eponymous players as dancers Flash (Peele) and Lightning (Key), is incredible, bizarre, nostalgic, and, undeniably, the episode’s strongest vignette. A 1980s media aesthetic, complete with that rolling grain so closely associated with rabbit-eared TVs, overlays a competitive aerobic dance program. It’s instantly hysterical, but gets even sillier once we’re taken behind the scenes and into the television studio. Communicating via title cards, a producer tells a still-dancing Lightning that his wife has been involved in a serious hit-and-run car accident (“Lightning, just got some bad news. Keep dancing.”). It’s soon inferred that the crash is the malicious work of his competitor Flash, who, still on air, dances alongside him. There’s a lot at play in this scene, from the dizzying exercise music to the over-the-top facial expressions, and, when the storyline decides to take its left-turn twist, it’s just another satisfying aspect of an already top-notch bit.
Another sketch, in which a group of Marvel employees receive an impromptu pitch from Stan Lee, beautifully hits its mark, thanks to Peele’s hilariously nuanced portrayal of the comic book legend. As Lee rattles through his latest character ideas, which include a variety of geriatric-themed heroes like “Dr. Balance” and “Where Am I Man?”, the group of too-hip Marvel staffers grow visually tired with the pitiful displays. As a viewer, though, each ridiculous character pitch is wholly welcomed. For a little taste, one of Lee’s characters, Techno, “understands how to control any electronic device—things like the computer, or the little hand computer!” But when Lee’s dissonance with his crowd becomes painfully clear, he improvises the pitch of his life by suggesting “The Fired Bunch,” modeled after the young staffers in the conference room. This tactic wins him their support, and rounds out another great sketch that features some of the episode’s most inventive, zany writing.
“Lemon Zinger, like that tea?” is the phrase that precedes a historical case of brain freeze—and the basis of this undercover cop vignette. This sketch is undeniably funny, and it offers a few dialogue gems (“What you doin’, some kung fu?”), but it’s one-punch joke make it less sharp than other sketches. That said, I loved Peele’s performance in this. His physicality is a spectacle, and he uses the unabashedly out-there slant of the scene to craft hysterical reactions to something as basic (but oh-so-painful) as brain freeze.
Then there’s the episode opener, which shows Key’s character falling down a memory-game rabbit hole. After parking in a garage, two friends come up with a trick for remembering
where they’ve left their car. Peele’s character instantly comes up with a simple pairing of words: “high five,” to signify area H5. Key’s character, on the other hand, takes it about twenty steps further, devising an intricate sequence that culminates with a Diane Keaton reference. Much to the former character’s dismay, the complexity of his friend’s method leaves him screaming and frustrated by the end. Although a simple premise, I thought it was a nice enough opener—and I admire Key for being able to sell that string of this-and-thats with such confidence.
The Take It Or Leave It
I wasn’t too crazy about the sketch in which Key plays a sinister problem child, hellbent on gaining control of his soon-to-be stepfather Charles (Peele). Visually, it’s great, and the writing is on par with other, more memorable Key & Peele sketches. That said, there’s something exhausting about watching a stoic and shrunken child slap Charles’ face over and over. By the time Charles retaliates—in a shift that was expected all along—the sketch’s ending can’t release the frustration caused by its set-up.
Undeniably, this episode is a step up from last week’s more tempered offering. Here, we’re given a fun assortment of sketches, with two particular standouts. Not to mention the interspersed car sequences, which continue to hold their own. Peele’s barista story is surely familiar for anyone who has dealt with corporate middle management (“These are the motherfuckers that are always smoking cigarettes outside of the back door!”), and the seamlessness of their banter creates the feeling of listening in on friendly conversation. It’s just another facet of Key & Peele that paints the starring duo as intensely likable folks, giving viewers all the more reason to return for next week’s episode.