Key & Peele Review: "Severed Head Showcase"

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<i>Key & Peele</i> Review: "Severed Head Showcase"

It is with a heavy heart that I write this review, as it is fresh on the heels of Keegan-Michael Key’s announcement that the current season of Key & Peele will be its last. Ugh! While this positions us safely in the last leg of this show’s commendable run, allow me to pep up and proceed with a recap that feels much more bittersweet than usual.


This sketch follows a church chorus that falls to pieces in the absence of their choirmaster, Charles. I don’t know what about this sketch is funnier: the reason for Charles’ absence (he boarded the wrong bus and ended up across town), or the outrageous presentation of musicians needing a conductor to reach full potential. The conflict is set off when Key’s character notices that his neighbor (Peele) is singing the same note as him. Perhaps due to ego, both men can’t admit if they are at fault. This spirals into a disastrous practice that ends with the choir yelling at one another. It works well as an opener, although it’s a mostly tame offering that acts more as a mood establisher than a stand-alone, knock out sketch.


I gotta say, this sketch just doesn’t do it for me. I can appreciate the Dothraki-like costuming and cinematic visuals, but, regardless, it’s the least luminous of the batch. The joke here is that there is a decency threshold regarding gloating over a kill. Peele’s warrior flaunts an enemy’s severed heard, spinning it, waving it, and holding it high. It isn’t until he becomes crude with it (i.e.: pantomiming humping it, birthing it, etc.) that his fellow fighters groan in disgust. I do appreciate how Peele’s character attempts to test the limits, finding an obvious double-standard regarding severed appendage etiquette when he sets the thing on either one of his shoulders. And I did get a genuine laugh at the final image, when the head is placed upon a pair of sandals and manipulated so that it appears to be walking. Low-brow? Totally. But damn if it doesn’t get a laugh out of you.


This is where the show starts to pick up. This is a quirky bit that pits an incarcerated criminal (Peele) against an extraordinarily incompetent, totally nerdy guard (Key). Essentially, by way of intense gullibility and a low IQ, the guard releases his prisoner again and again upon request. Unfortunately, the prisoner never makes it far from his cell before being recaptured by more functional guards. This constant failure finally prompts the prisoner to share a hilariously pensive—and totally bullshit -quip (set to sappy strings music) about losing the desire to take advantage of his dull counterpart. Although it’s fairly repetitious and runs the risk of wearing itself thin, this sketch is overall exciting to watch, thanks to two polar opposite characters and an initial sense of unpredictability.

Special Mention: Key’s magnifying glasses that enlarge his eyes tenfold, because bug eyes will never not be funny.


Now we’re talking. This sketch is hilarious, poignant, and clever, and the undeniable highlight of the episode that folks will be sharing on their Facebook pages for weeks to come. A work of complete fantasy, this sketch answers the hypothetical question of—what if we put educators on the same pedestal we place professional athletes? The presentation pays off in a huge way, with two sports anchors (Key and Peele) helming a cut-and-paste ESPN alternative that focuses solely on education. Its likeness to its inspiration is uncanny, but instead of, say, the lower-thirds graphic featuring homeruns and touchdowns, we see final grades and SAT scores. It sells its concept so well that the thought of overlooking this subject for entertainment value, in real life, feels downright absurd. This stuff is good! So good, in fact, that we can forgive the sketch’s very occasional on-the-nose lines like, “Mike Yoast is an unbelievable story, his father living from paycheck to paycheck as a humble pro-football player.” This is Key & Peele at its finest.

Nice Touch: Ruby Ruhf as the Lebron James/Tom Brady/Derek Jeter of the Teaching Center world. She even has a BMW endorsement!


This is a solid sketch to round out the show, and it finds inspiration in inconspicuously cutting remarks (ookay, anywaaays and awkwaaard among them) that can immediately render a conversation, well, awkward. Key’s character is the target of the aforementioned digs (that are shared by Peele’s), and he becomes understandably annoyed. It all suggests that these drawn-out remarks are passed to mask a person’s own indecisiveness, which is highlighted when Peele’s character crumbles after being pushed to share his own opinions (spoiler alert: he can’t). The music that accompanies this breakdown is hilarious, and a wonderful showcasing of K&P’s tendency to take us from Point A to something totally disparate in a flash, with the twist being Key’s ownership of a particularly obnoxious “okaaaay” in nonchalant, ultra-hypocritical rejection of his friend’s episode.


This week, we have our eponymous duo improvising African-tinged vocals (“Gotta release the Africa!”), Key pondering his gullibility (which leads to a pretty killer Danny Glover impression by Peele), and Peele putting a dollar amount on his integrity (ie: willingness to do endorsements). It’s fairly run of the mill, but enjoyable nonetheless. If anything, these interstitial sequences continue to drive (heh-heh) home the quick-witted nature of these guys. They have an improv background…you don’t say!