Key & Peele returns tonight at 10:30 p.m. eastern on Comedy Central.
With Comedy Bang! Bang! at the beginning of their month-long hiatus, it’s much safer to write that when Key & Peele returns tonight for the premiere of their third season, they will be doing so as the funniest sketch comedy show currently on television. With former MadTV stars Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele co-writing on the series and providing career-transforming comedic performances in front of the camera, and UCB founding member Ian Roberts and Jay Martel sharing the showrunner position, K & P has consistently produced really funny, instantly popular, well-written, and pretty-to-look-at episodes. The show is virtually flawless, because for any sketch with a premise whose joke doesn’t land right away, there’s always a turn that can change your perception immediately. Other sketch shows do this, but Key & Peele’s twists are particularly effective. And of course if that fails, the sketch will soon be over, no harm done.
That aspect of the show came to mind while watching the premiere. It’s a sketch that probably was conceived at three in the morning in the writers room and is ninety five percent reliant on Peele’s physical comedy to work. It is one joke that initially seemed weak, until the sketch inconceivably continued and developed into a gorgeous comedy flower. If the literary reference at the conclusion didn’t grab you, there is always the next one. I can’t remember a single sketch of theirs that I can say dragged - their sense of timing is perfect.
Season three is thankfully more of the same, only with even more justified confidence in the work, fortified by a thirteen episode order from Comedy Central and a nine month hiatus of positive press. Welcoming returning characters and premises back is always risky and can be indicative of lazy writing, but that isn’t the case in the first two episodes. As teased in the “best of” special last week, substitute teacher Mr. Garvey returns as the teacher with the 19 years experience in the inner city mispronouncing the names Aaron and Erin and refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing. This time around, however, the writers have him acting incredulous towards the after-school programs the students are claiming they need to leave class early for to attend, with similarly amusing results.
You also might have wondered like I did why Key and Peele seemingly gave away a good minute of the sequel to the classic crazy football names sketch to air on Conan last week, and the entire sketch online to promote the show. It turns out that there is even more material to be mined from the initial area, and it’s probably the best sketch of the three. It’s safe to say that there is no issue of diminishing returns.
The sketches that do not involve previously established characters are equally as funny, including a faithful Les Miz parody that only loses points due to the slight misfortune of airing five days after Bang! Bang!’s Les Miz parody. The parts when the two stars speak to the studio audience to introduce the bits have always seemed smooth and naturally clever from the very beginning, but if you watch their introduction tonight, it’ll be impossible to not notice the extended round of applause.