Review: ‘Key & Peele’ says goodbye with ‘Negrotown’

A few thoughts on the end of “Key & Peele” – both the finale that just finished airing and the series as a whole – coming up just as soon as I dial 911…

Early in the series finale, Key and Peele get to reminiscing about the very first sketch they did. This is mainly an excuse to set up the long-delayed punchline about where the two guys have been driving for the last two seasons – in search of a place isolated enough where they can again get away with saying “Bitch!” – but it also sets up an amusing bit where Peele tries to suggest that their series is “the greatest comedy, or otherwise show, ever made.” When Key acts incredulous, Peele insists that “It's us, then, like, 'Dallas,' and 'The Twilight Zone.' There's a list out there… Just talking influential. Huge. I'm a visionary. I think it's very possible that we'll go down like the Wright Brothers.”

Eventually, he admits he might be overblowing it, but the question will eventually need to be asked where “Key & Peele” fits in the annals of TV comedy. Did it at some point pass “Chappelle's Show,” for instance, as Comedy Central's best sketch series? I would say it did (though “Inside Amy Schumer” still has some time to catch up), not just through greater longevity, but for a wider swath of material covered in matters cultural and political, and for an overall remarkable degree of technical excellence. Key, Peele, director Peter Atencio, and the rest of the show's creative team could do devastating material about race(*) – the bit with the special suburban hoodie, or the trigger-happy cop sketch from earlier this season – but also do gloriously silly pop culture stuff like tonight's Ray Parker Jr. sketch (I lost it when he got to the “Apt Pupil” theme: “Just a kid and a Nazi down there!”) or the recent riff on the pitch meeting for “Gremlins 2.”  And it could even go incredibly grim with its pop parodies, like last season's wonderful, horrible bit about life backstage at “Family Matters.”

(*) For much more on the show's legacy in that area, I highly recommend reading Wesley Morris's Grantland piece from earlier today. Of course, you're already reading everything Morris writes, aren't you?

Before the finale gave us a blooper reel showing how often the two stars understandably cracked each other up, we got our final proper sketch with “Negrotown.”

That one's been available online – the arena in which “Key & Peele” sketches wound up being consumed far more than on Comedy Central itself – since the spring, but it's understandable that they held it as the last official part of the TV show proper. It's a funny, raucous, achingly smart (complete with a great guest turn by Nick Searcy from “Justified” as the racist cop) summation of nearly everything the show has been about and tried to do, and the catchy song's lyrics about how the locals don't have to worry about “stupid-ass white folks touching your hair, or stealing your culture, claiming it's theirs” have been rattling around in my head for months. 

The stars understandably wanted to move on after five seasons, and this summer's episodes occasionally felt like everyone was just dusting off unused ideas while they still had the venue for it. (Peele admitted as much about the “Gremlins 2” sketch, though I was glad he finally decided to do that one.) But I'll miss it. The long lead time for production meant the show was never exactly timely, and yet the state of race relations in America of late has been so very publicly lousy that many of the sketches couldn't help seeming like they'd been written the day before they aired. It was the perfect show at the perfect time, and I hope Key, Peele, and Atencio are up to the occasional special, if for no other reason than to see what the hair and makeup people can do to top Triple Parakeet Shoes from the last East/West sketch.

What did everybody else think of the finale? Where do you think the show stands in the sketch pantheon, not just for Comedy Central, but for all of TV? Favorite sketch and/or recurring characters? Have at it.