Spring 2012 Review: Key & Peele

8 Feb

Evaluating a sketch show by nature comes with a different standard than evaluating any other type of show.  Instead of coming at you with a coherent episode, sketch shows give you a handful of mini-episodes, which tend to be premised on one, or just a few, jokes each.  These sketches are often really good or really bad.  More than that, it’s okay to have a bad sketch; once the next sketch starts, it’s almost as if the bad sketch never happened, rather than in an episode of a normal show, where a shaky first few minutes can have a bigger impact on the entire show.  That’s not to say it’s good to have a couple of stinkers; all gold would be best.  Still, if there’s one thing sketch shows generally need its an editor, and because a couple of great sketches more than outweigh a couple of lousy sketches, because you can just ignore the bad sketches, a sketch show that hits .500 isn’t that bad.  It’s certainly a lot better than a normal sitcom hitting .500.  In addition, a lot of sketch shows are bad.  That doesn’t mean all sketches are bad.  Saturday Night Live, which I think is the most overrated culture institution of the last 30 years, has churned out plenty of good sketches over the course if its history, but because its batting average is so low I’m content to wait and hope the really good sketches funnel through youtube or the blogosphere to get to me.

The first episode of Key and Peele hit just about .500, and I actually saw that as a good sign.  We’ll take it sketch by sketch, though let’s note that my text is no substitute for watching, for good or ill.  Also, we’re going to skip the talking part at the beginning, where Key and Peele chat in front of the audience, introducing the show, much like Chapelle did or Mr. Show did.  There’s enough to talk about already.

First sketch:  One couple meets another couple at their house.  The men and women separate.  The men, whenever they’re together, look around, several times, and make sure the women are nowhere nearby before calling their girlfriend a bitch.  They repeat, each time moving to a more obscure location, and ending up space.

Verdict:  This one took the classic Family Guy Peter falling and hurting his knee path – it was a little bit funny, the tiresome and repetitive, but went far enough that it came around again and was a little bit funny.

Second sketch:  Chefs are in line to be judged by a Gordon Ramsay-like chef on a cooking reality show.  The Ramsay-like character goes back and forth between saying the contestant’s food is good and terrible, in a confusing manner, so much so that the contestant has no clue what the chef thinks.

Verdict:  I chose to describe this is an unfunny manner, but it was pretty good sketch, a good idea with good execution.

Third sketch:  A reality crew follows the life of Lil Wayne in prison.  That’s just the wikipedia description.  I don’t have a ton to add, but the joke is that Lil Wayne talks a tough game, but is nobody in prison.

Verdict:  It’s a pretty good idea, but it mostly didn’t work, though the fact that the idea was a good one meant it at least came through in one or two jokes, this sketch actually was repeated in little bits throughout the episode.

Fourth sketch:  Imitating a commercial for ancestry.com, people speak about the joys of tracing their lineage back to a famous person.  The white people go back to people like George Washington or Alexander the Great, but the black people always find their way back to Thomas Jefferson.

Verdict:  Success – I honestly thought this was a commercial as it started, and didn’t pay attention initially, which shows how closely they imitated.  It was short, and to the point, and they got good leverage out of the joke without overdoing it.

Fifth sketch:  A man goes to the doctor, planning on giving fake symptoms to get a prescription for marijuana.  While the doctor is willing, the man keeps giving ridiculous diseases, such as leprosy, or AIDS, every time the doctor presses him for a new less serious disease.

Verdict:  Success – this is one of those sketches that fell about half on the idea, and half the execution.  The writing isn’t that important past the idea; the only important part is to think of sufficiently ridiculous conditions, which admittedly isn’t obvious, but isn’t impossible either.  The job by Peele as the patient particularly helps sell the skit and makes it funnier than it should be.

Sixth sketch:

Because President Obama must appear calm and reasoned, he enlists a translator to express what he really means, much more angrily, when he says things.  This was on all the commercials.

Verdict:  Not so great.  Again, it’s not a failure of idea, but this one just didn’t come together in practice.  I could see it working in theory, but it was a little bit off and I don’t have the exact best way to fix it but think that it could possibly be funny.

Will I watch it again?  I haven’t yet, but I will.  Since it’s a sketch show, it doesn’t give the same impetus to watch week-to-week but the show has definitely earned at least a second look.  Looking back, even the sketches that didn’t work, could have worked, which says more about execution than concept, which I think is easier to improve upon in the future.

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