Featuring a couple of sketch players who are biracial but far from post-racial, “Key & Peele” says more about modern marketing than about comedy. The premiere features one really memorable bit — President Obama and his “anger translator,” Luther — which has already gone viral, helping to promote the series, but also over-exposing its one genuinely inspired moment. The rest is a so-so collection of sketches and studio banter, loosely built around the potentially amusing notion of examining levels of black-ness. All told, it’s a respectable niche addition but won’t make anyone old enough to remember “In Living Color” apt to forget that earlier show.
Stars/creators/producers/co-writers (along with seven others) Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele — who are both half-white, half-black — hail from Second City and “MadTV,” respectively, and the zany improv influence is apparent.
So the opener features an assortment of rapid-fire segments that generally run no more than a couple of minutes, from two “white-talking” African-Americans whose patter becomes more ethnic around each other, to another duo who like to brag about telling off their wives — but only if the women are safely out of earshot.
Because the nonstop lightness of blackness would grow pretty unbearable, there are also a few non-ethnic moments, including a reality-TV spoof — dubbed “Gideon’s Kitchen” — which already feels dated. Plus, there’s a recurring gag about rapper Lil’ Wayne not being so tough in jail.
If much of it is smile-worthy, little elicits actual laughs other than the closing Obama clip, due mostly to Peele’s dead-on impersonation of the President. Even that is pretty thin in terms of satire, and one suspects in order to bring people back week after week, the producers are going to need to enlist the bogus President as what amounts to a series regular.
The good news about such a program, especially in a half-hour format, is you only need a couple of laughs to give the audience its money’s worth, provided they’re not all this widely telegraphed in advance. Like most sketch shows, though, the misses have a way of outnumbering the hits.
“Key & Peele” joins a fairly long list of Comedy Central entries in the prized half-hour before “The Daily Show,” but true keepers in that slot have proved elusive. And while this show contains rays of hope, the net effect is less a change from the channel’s history than, in comedic terms, simply a blacker shade of pale.