Though Comedy Central is referring to the new batch of “Key & Peele” episodes as a new season, these were produced immediately after the ones that finished airing back in December. As a result, the new ones (I've seen three) are very much in keeping with the spirit of what I wrote about late last year, and how the sketch series did some of its best, if darkest, work relatively late in its life.
So beyond telling you that “Key & Peele” remains funnier than may possibly be legal, here are five things to know about the new episodes:
1. The “True Detective” structure is still there. Same new opening credits, same linking device of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele talking while on an endless road trip. Given how much that stuff was modeled on the first season of “True Detective,” rather than the stuff with Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell and Bird Mask, it feels a bit dated. Yet the interaction between the two stars, as themselves rather than as one of their many characters, remains charming and helps to ground all the weirdness that happens in the sketches themselves.
2. The show's love of strange hairstyles has escaped the shackles of the East/West Bowl sketches. By the time we got East/West 3 for the Super Bowl special, it was clear that the bizarre hair and facial hair had overtaken the ridiculous names as the primary source of humor in those sketches. (Though the combo of name/hair on Triple Parakeet Shoes is stunning.) Now the show's ace hairstylists are expanding their craft into other areas, like the hilarious sketch from tonight's premiere, pictured above, where Key and Peele play airplane passengers quizzing their seatmate (Malcolm Barrett from “Better Off Ted”) about how to respond to terrorists. The sketch works on multiple levels, yet what oddly holds it together are the unsettling gaps in Peele's eyebrows and the way Key's character has dealt with a receding hairline.
3. The commitment to a joke remains absolute. There's nothing in these early episodes quite as disturbing as the “Family Matters” sketch from the fall, but the show continues to stick to making sure every sketch (usually directed by Peter Atencio) looks exactly like the thing it's parodying, and to making sure no comic idea goes thoroughly unexplored, even if it takes the show to much creepier places than your average sketch show. Case in point: the way the season-opening sketch about football players (both East/West graduates, of course) pumping each other up before a game escalates until it inevitably turns into an action movie:
4. It remains wickedly smart in the way it takes on both the racial divide and the gender one. The bi-racial stars' take on race in America was the show's initial calling card, and remains one of its most powerful comic weapons, as we see in a sketch in the premiere that's both ruthless and remarkably silly in its take on recent tensions between white cops and black civilians. But the show has always been sneakily good at finding humor in the way men and women relate, at times rivaling “Inside Amy Schumer” in that area. The premiere includes an encounter between President Obama and his anger translator and Hillary Clinton and hers, plus a lengthy musical number involving pirates who are trying to empathize more with women, and the second episode features the return of Sir Bruce Michaels and T. Ray Tombstone, two apparent pimps who are actually women in disguise trying to educate men about cunnilingus, menstruation, and other feminine issues in a language the audience will appreciate.
5. Enjoy it while you can, just in case this is it. At the moment, Comedy Central hasn't ordered additional seasons, and all the creative principals have been working on other projects (including “Keanu,” a film to be directed by Atencio and written by and starring Key and Peele). It may be that everyone wants to move on to other things, or that Comedy Central feels its lineup has grown so robust in the last few years that it's time to let this one go. Which would be a shame, given how strong and hysterical the series continues to be.
Nothing's certain, but TV is going to sorely miss “Key & Peele” whenever it's done, for whatever reason.
“Key & Peele” returns tonight at 10 on Comedy Central.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org