2015 has not been a great year for Comedy Central, which has faced a major talent exodus throughout the year. While we did know about the ending of “Kroll Show,” the sudden departure of Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show” in Augustand the short-notice announcement in July about the ending of their long-running sketch comedy “Key & Peele” came as a surprise to the industry. While it never had the highest ratings, “Key & Peele” was a hugely important show for Comedy Central, especially because it was the first in a series of sketch series that started a creative renaissance-of-sorts at the network (others that have followed in its
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footsteps include the highly-regarded “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Broad City”). In losing the show, created and written by Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele (“MADtv”), it loses the two voices who helped the network build its identity and helped make television a more diverse place.
What made “Key & Peele” astounding was the range of sketches that the show created during its four-season run. They varied from fun to dark and utterly ridiculous to making serious points about real life and politics. Probably their most well-known recurring political sketch involved Peele’s spot-on impersonation of Barack Obama and Key playing his “anger translator” Luther. Throughout the show’s run, the characters were used to skewer everyone from Mitt Romney to the Republican Congress. (Just to show how far the character became integrated into pop culture, Key even appeared in-character at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner and did a bit with President Obama.)
However, some of “Key & Peele” ’s best sketches were some of its weirdest, aided by the show’s darker turn in the first half of its fourth season. A great example of this is the sketch “Aerobics Meltdown,” where Key and Peele play two dancers competing in an 80’s style dance-off when Key’s character gets some news that his wife and child are in the hospital after an accident via cue card from the stage manager. Like the brilliant Urkle Sketch from the same season, it kept pushing in a more twisted direction as it goes on, subverting expectations in a strangely hilarious way.
However, what really made “Key & Peele” special was that it wasn’t afraid to touch on the subjects of race and deal with the intolerance which African Americans face in this country today. The show tackled these issues. Take the sketch from the series finale, “Negrotown,” for example. In it, Key is arrested by a white cop and hits his head on the way into the car. After the hit, he’s introduced through song-and-dance by Peele’s homeless man character to a kind-of paradise where racism doesn’t exist. At the core of the sketch is important social commentary about the state of racism, and via the unexpected vehicle of a catchy tune, the show finds a way to present it in a new and engaging manner.
This last type of sketch will probably what will define “Key & Peele” ’s legacy, which is why it’s fitting that “Negrotown” was the show’s last regular sketch in a finale that, with the exception of the last few minutes, felt like a normal episode of the comedy, with a series of funny sketches involving Peele as Ray Parker Jr. (the singer of “Ghostbusters”) singing on-the-nose themes from other movies and Key falling in love with a woman on the who’s passed out sidewalk while Peele’s 911 operator directs him though saving her life. These sketches are representative of what the show did so well: seemingly random, but always hilarious comedy bits. The last moments took a turn in a more retrospective direction. There was a fun gag reel which revisited some of the show’s best sketches, and the answer to where the two were driving during their talking head segments (finding the right place to scream “I said bitch!” in a callback to their first sketch).
As a whole, television is a less fun place without “Key & Peele,” and, more crucially, television is a less diverse place without “Key & Peele” and its social commentary. Even though this isn’t the end of Key and Peele’s professional relationship (they have a movie “Keanu” which releases in April), the world of Comedy Central, and TV as a whole, will feel emptier without new episodes of their show.