TV Review: ‘Key & Peele’ Successfully Brings Back Sketch Comedy

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CHICAGO – Two of the more talented expatriates of the sadly-canceled “MadTV” have returned to the small screen with another sketch comedy series in the surprisingly funny and consistent “Key & Peele,” a show that could easily be the biggest breakthrough sketch comedy series since “Chappelle’s Show” debuted nine years ago. Starting tonight on Comedy Central, I have a feeling that this series will become the next comedy phenomenon. Jump on the bandwagon early. Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

That’s if anything can break through. Part of me thinks that the reason that “Portlandia” is the closest thing to a new sketch comedy hit since Chappelle lost his mind is that the new ways in which people get their humor have made the form harder to succeed on TV. We all essentially get our sketch comedy online now, whether it be through a viral video posted on Facebook or the latest YouTube hit or something at (To that end, it’s worth noting that episodes of “Key & Peele” are going to be available everywhere online, including the Comedy Central website, iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu, and the stars have launched a heavy online presence to promote the show.) So, “Key & Peele” faces a market that doesn’t really embrace televised sketch comedy any more, making its success that much more notable.

Key and Peele
Key and Peele
Photo credit: Comedy Central

The title refers to Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, two very likable (which matters in a show like this that centers so completely on a limited cast) comedians with a gift for impersonation and cultural commentary. Like “Chappelle’s Show,” “Key & Peele” features stand-up bits with the two stars in front of an audience intercut with 4-5 sketches an episode. Key and Peele wisely don’t weigh too heavily on impression. Too many modern sketch comedy shows mistake impersonation for comedy writing but Key & Peele only do a few, and they do them well. Peele’s President Obama is the best I’ve yet seen. The voice is PERFECT. And the writing in the sketches I’ve seen him in the first two episodes is also very clever, including a bit in which Obama uses an anger translator to convey the emotion many of his detractors say he’s missing. Peele also does a spectacular Lil Wayne in a recurring series of bits about how the rapper may not be what he boasts behind bars.

The writing on “Key & Peele” is surprisingly strong, such as in a clever opening bit in which the two “talk tough” into their cell phones as they get closer on the street so as not to come off weak and a really funny bit in which the two guys talk about their wives with a constant eye over the shoulder and get so paranoid about smack talking the women who clearly control them that they get further and further away from where they might hear them. Both men are talented but a show like this lives and dies on the writing and I’m happy to say that it’s very strong here in the sketches. The “banter” in front of an audience could have used some work or been cut entirely (both men seem uncomfortable in those moments, as if they know it’s not their strength) but none of that lasts long enough to be truly annoying.

I must admit to kind of dreading screening “Key & Peele.” Comedy Central hasn’t had a breakthrough in some time and sketch comedy seemed dead. So I was surprised at how much I smiled at the first two episodes and even laughed out loud. These guys could be around for some time. At least as long as Dave Chappelle.

“Key & Peele” stars Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele. It premieres on Comedy Central on January 31st, 2012 at 9:30pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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