By Adam Shater
“Key & Peele,” Comedy Central’s sketch show, starring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, is nearing the end of a fantastic third season. The show has been a minor hit by Comedy Central’s standards since it first aired, when its first season premiere drew over 2.0 million viewers, which was the highest Comedy Central premiere in five years.
Several skits of the show have also gone viral, in particular the character Mr. Garvey, who is a substitute teacher from the city that mispronounces students names and has no concept of how schools actually work, and their football skit, where players with increasingly outrageous names are introducing themselves during the beginning of the game.
But with this third season, “Key & Peele” set itself apart from other sketch shows that are often made in the same vein.
First off, both Key and Peele are really great at acting out all of their different characters in an episode, which is usually six or seven per week. They’re extremely versatile actors who never really get pigeonholed into one “type” of character, and they have great chemistry and comedic timing onscreen.
And while the show has its recurring scenes with fan-favorite characters, their new characters are just as great, and usually have a fresh, original feel to it. The consistent quality of the show has also been a nice surprise, which replaces the very on-again off-again nature of most sketch shows
In the season premiere, the highlight of the episode was a parody of “Les Miserables,” which was a scene where Key sings about how nobody has a chance to talk with everyone constantly singing.
On that level it was definitely funny in a straightforward way, but there was also a ridiculous, absurd aspect about how good the musical number was. It would have undoubtedly been funny with just the lyricism and Key and Peele’s comedic abilities, but instead they went the extra mile to make what most would consider a good song for a musical soundtrack by any standard. It does sound hard to believe at first, but it’s true.
Also, much like “Chappelle’s Show,” which is one of Comedy Central’s most popular shows ever, “Key & Peele” tries to also work some racial commentary into their shows.
At this point in the show’s run, they haven’t done anything outrageous that would generate backlash or controversy, and the show pulls off these skits with such a playful confidence that it seems all in good fun and doesn’t induce any shock—–although some definitely do bring about some nervous laughter.
If the show did happen to go over the line with a scene, though, it could spell badly for the sketch show, whose genre is most definitely a dying breed.
Right now, “Key & Peele” is bucking the trend of this newer run of shows that is starting to take over television. It seems like hundreds of clip shows that key into pop culture and try to replicate the success of shows like “Tosh.0” and the show that started the trend, “The Soup,” are now being picked up and aired.
Shows like the “Jeselnik Offensive”—cancelled after just one season—which is hosted by incendiary comic Anthony Jeselnik and “@midnight,” which is hosted by the infinitely likeable Chris Hardwick, all basically take the same cookie cutter approach to making these new shows.
They take silly video clips and tweets from celebrities and fans of the show and make recycled, generic jokes about them. Each of these shows has their little niche —–“Jeselnik Offensive” has Jeselnik’s trademark offensive humor and “@midnight” is in the form of a game show—–but at their core they have the same structure.
Now, it’s not that these shows are unenjoyable, because their hosts are very funny and charismatic, rather, it’s just that they are unoriginal and it becomes tiring to see the same idea rehashed in forty different ways.
Along with “Key & Peele,” “Kroll Show” is the only sketch show that Comedy Central puts out, and that only averages about 850,000 viewers per week. “Key & Peele” has averaged about 1.4 million viewers, and hopefully that number stays up, because this show is way too good to be canned for what will most likely be a YouTube and Twitter variety show hosted by Dane Cook at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday.