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Review: ‘Key & Peele’ Season 4 Leans Way Too Hard on ‘True Detective’

Review: 'Key & Peele' Season 4 Leans Way Too Hard on 'True Detective'

In case you were wondering if Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele have seen the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” the answer is “yes.” The answer, actually, is more than “yes.” The answer is, “Dude, Key and Peele saw ‘True Detective’ so hard that everything is now ‘True Detective’ for them.” The answer is, “Key and Peele saw ‘True Detective’ so hard that they fundamentally changed the entire structure and production process of their show. Why? So it could be more like ‘True Detective.'”

In short, “Key & Peele” has become “True Detective” — well, not really. It’s still one of television’s funniest and most diverse sketch comedy shows, not a gloomy HBO drama. But for its fourth season, the series has traded in its traditional opening credits for a moody “Detective”-esque sequence (right down to a Handsome Family-inspired remix of the theme song).

More notably, the show has abandoned the format established over the last three seasons — while the show’s multitude of filmed sketches used to be connected by Key and Peele doing live improv in front of a studio audience, for the fourth season the “True Detective” homage continues with a runner that’s filmed with the same care as the sketches it brings together.

READ MORE: One More Reason Why ‘Key & Peele’ Is So Funny: The Cinematic Vision of Director Peter Atencio

Said runner features Key and Peele riffing with each other, McConaughey and Harrelson-style, as they drive through the desert. While they appear to be technically unscripted, the segments lack the energy that comes with a live audience. And the absence of those live improv bits may feel jarring to established fans of the show — especially if they don’t happen to be even vaguely familiar with “True Detective.”

“Key & Peele’s” mix of live and filmed comedy was a compelling element of the first three seasons, and it’s sad to see it replaced by what feels like unnecessary parody — a parody that will undoubtedly make this season feel super-dated well before Colin Farrell begins investigating murder crime.

If I seem fixated on the “True Detective” thing, it’s because it’s the only substantial change made to “Key & Peele” as a show. Otherwise, based on the first two episodes available for viewing, the series continues to feature some of the best-produced sketch comedy on television, thanks to the keen visual eye of Peter Atensio.

Two of the best sketches from the season premiere were released online, but that’s all right: “Alien Imposters” is still as sharp a critique of American racism as it was before, and the cast of “Gay Wedding Advice,” including Lance Reddick and Romany Malco, remains stellar. 

Plus, there are a few surprises still left for viewers — including one bit that seems like just another instance of Key and Peele’s established fondness for drag, and then, with one great twist, mines that expectation for some post-modern gold.

In the long run, that means “Key & Peele” is in good shape because a sketch comedy show’s legacy is in the individual bits, not the framework connecting them. And perhaps this riff on “True Detective” might add up to something larger by the end of the season. Even if it doesn’t, it’s exciting to see the show experiment with its format, because no growth comes without risk. And if any show has the potential to grow into a true comedy tentpole for the 2010s, it’s “Key & Peele.” 

Grade: B+

Key and Peele airs Wednesdays at 10:30pm on Comedy Central. 

READ MORE: With Obama Sketches and ‘Les Miserables’ Parodies, Key and Peele Do Comedy Like No One Else

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