‘Key & Peele: Season 1' (Blu-ray)
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele were featured performers on Fox's “MADtv” in its final years, part of the final cast when the “Saturday Night Live” knockoff had passed into that purgatorial undead phase in the life of a marginal series when most viewers are not sure if it's on television anymore. But both Key and Peele are gifted comedians who deserved much better things, and their series for Comedy Central, “Key & Peele,” is the payoff: an intelligent and consistently funny sketch series that finds its best humor by rubbing salt into American culture's raw spots.
Most of the eight episodes on “Key & Peele: Season 1” are tightly constructed, start strong and end stronger. The series opener set the mark high, including a parody of Ancestry.com commercials in which all the black subscribers were descended from Thomas Jefferson, and a fireside chat with President Barack Obama (Peele) and his “anger translator” (Key). Peele's Obama impersonation is remarkably accurate: while he does not really resemble the president, Peele seemingly has Obama's speech patterns down to a fine art. “Key & Peele” truly hits its stride in the third episode with two sharply satirical sequences: two slaves on the auction block experience insecurity and body consciousness when no plantation owners bid on them; and two black men wearing terribly applied whiteface undergo a series of scientific questions to prove their Caucasian bona fides from a Nazi interrogator (played by Ty Burrell of “Modern Family”).
As those descriptions illustrate, Peele and Key do their best work on the uncomfortable edge of social satire. The quality falls off sharply on rare occasions, like a misguided rap video parody in episode four that looks and feels like a “MADtv” sketch that did not pass muster with Fox's Standards and Practices department. But “Key & Peele: Season 1” is mostly treading in daring territory, and because they have time to develop this material (they are not working on an “SNL”-like weekly treadmill), the quality control is strong.
— George Lang