Key & Peele: “Terrible Henchman”

(Episode 4.08)

Comedy Reviews
Key & Peele: “Terrible Henchman”

Key & Peele’s latest episode rolls out a bouquet of scenarios that demonstrate the show’s unparalleled knack for finding humor just about everywhere. It’s true, all’s fair in the Key & Peele universe, and this episode offers a disparate selection of characters that range from Hollywood villains to reformed gang members. Nothing is off-limits. Case in point: The show begins in a public restroom-up against a men’s room wall, no less-with Key’s character making odd sounds of pain and pleasure while using a urinal. “Okay, let’s start peeing,” he eventually says. It’s not my favorite sketch of the week by any stretch, but the best vignettes are still to come.

The first long-form sketch takes place in a Reservoir Dogs-esque warehouse. Key is a villainous torturer who aims to get government-related information from a captive man named Jack, and Peele plays his dim sidekick who can’t help but share his own opinion on all related matters. Therein lies the humor-the conflict between Key and Peele’s characters-that turns the focus away from the traditional good guy/bad guy Hollywood trope, and instead explores a more realistic mash-up of egos and incompetence between teammates. The setting, music, and situation are borrowed from productions like 24, but the tired standard dichotomy is abandoned for something a bit more human. Despite a running time that feels a little long, the vignette is very, very funny.

The next sketch is even better, and shows a high school principal (Key) introducing speaker Donny Herrera (Peele) before a student assembly. Donny is a former gang member whose speaking theme is “consequences,” a word that he loves to share, but seems to have no grasp on. Instead, when he shares his stories, they come across as blatant non sequiturs. His left field cause-effect histories eventually lose him his audience, but his validity is restored (to viewers, at least) when a huge wrecking ball hurls towards him in the now empty room. The sketch is incredibly enjoyable to watch, thanks to Peele’s cartoonish over-the-top physicality as Donny Herrera.

Another vignette shows Key and Peele as road trip buddies destined for Vegas. All is fine until a radio DJ announces his next song, “Roll With Me.” A statement along the lines of “everyone knows this song” is affirmed by both parties, but Peele’s desperate grab at random words beyond the chorus proves that a bit of an overstatement. Meanwhile, Key’s character confidently sings every word to the song, giving way to an incredible tension that leaves Peele’s character no choice but to jump out of the moving car. It reminded me of an earlier sketch from this season, where Peele’s character takes his girlfriend to a French restaurant in an attempt to impress her. In both sketches, he’s pegged as a fraud whose white lie somehow turns into a major dilemma. I liked the joke then, and I’ll still enjoy it now.

Speaking of restaurants, one of the episode’s most clever sketches takes place over a fancy dinner. Peele’s plays an emotionally disconnected, “tough guy” character, who is clearly sensitive to the way people perceive him. This is juxtaposed with Key’s outwardly mature character, whose high falsetto clashes with Peele’s deep vocals. But as Key’s character interacts with Peele’s, it’s hard to tell if he’s being attentive or patronizing. The ambiguous set-up builds and builds, confusing the relationship between the two characters until the ending ties up the loose ends. “My son got that Benjamin Buttons disease,” Key’s character
announces to the restaurant. Like a comedic version of the Twilight Zone, the twist answers everything—and it’s wonderful. If any Key & Peele sketch begs to be watched twice, it’s this one.

But my favorite sketch was the episode’s very last. A short, quick burner, this vignette shows Peele, dressed in business attire, taking a coffee break in a cafeteria. With a picture window overlooking a cityscape behind him, Peele’s character shakes a sugar packet. In the exact moment he rips it open, an explosion sets off a short distance away. He takes a look at the window, sees the wreckage, then switches to table sugar. It’s comedy comes from cultural recognition of superstition, and waves a hand at the silly notion that our menial behavior could, somehow, result in coincidental damage. I loved it, and found it a suitable ending for an episode that plays up the subtle absurdities of human behavior.

Well into its fourth season—past the glory of the Halloween special but leagues away from its final stretch—Key & Peele has yet to dish out a lackluster episode. That said, this installment seems to lack a sketch with the type of viral appeal found in other season four episodes. What it does offer, however, is a lively assortment of scenarios, which range from ironic to flat-out hilarious, in another fun chapter of the series.

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