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'Key & Peele' review: Still clever, so will season 5 be a breakout?

Jordan Peele, left, and Keegan-Michael Key in season

Jordan Peele, left, and Keegan-Michael Key in season 4 of Comedy Central's "Key & Peele." Credit: Comedy Central / Mike Yarish

THE SHOW "Key & Peele"

WHEN | WHERE New season starts Wednesday night at 10 on Comedy Central

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are back for a fifth season of their Comedy Central sketch series with some old favorites ("Luther") and lots of new characters. They include: The anger translator, Savannah (Stephnie Weir, "MADTV") for Hillary Clinton (Kate Burton); a couple of insane dudes who explain what to do if someone comes across a terrorist on an airline flight; a band of respectful pirates who explain how to speak appropriately to women and cultured radio DJs. Guest stars this season, besides Burton and Weir, are Tatyana Ali, Bo Burnham, Jessica St. Clair, Rob Corddry, Regina Hall, Tricia Helfer, Melanie Lynskey, Adam Pally, Mekhi Phifer, Rob Riggle, Rebecca Romijn, Will Sasso and Nick Searcy.

MY SAY After four seasons on Comedy Central and a billion streams on the Internet, Key and Peele should need no introduction. But just in case -- Key's the tall one, Peele's the other guy. Both are brilliant mimics and outrageously creative improv stars who now comprise the most successful comedy duo on television. Key's "Luther" -- Obama's (Peele) anger translator -- is a comic icon. So is his "Mr. Garvey," probably the best known substitute teacher in the world (79 million views on YouTube alone). As a team, they are revered in Hollywood, and in high schools, but . . . pretty much unknown everywhere else. Maybe an introduction's warranted after all.

Why still no household name status? Possibly because they remain fairly clean comics working an increasingly raunchy, anything-goes (see: Amy Schumer) TV space. They're also unexpectedly thoughtful comics -- although what they tend to think about can be unsettling. As biracial comedians, their terrain is the "bi" part. Neither "black" nor "white" -- along with whatever cliches or conventions the culture attaches to either -- they instead look at the world comically from both sides. What they don't do is actually take sides.

Some of their most biting stuff this season can be about black assimilation, or how black people relate to each other. In the season opener, they get right down to business: The end sketch is a brutal riff on Michael Brown's shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, which somehow works comically (but you'll grimace rather than laugh). Hillary Clinton's anger translator is a wild harridan who can yell down even Luther. It's also funny -- and a riff that both Hillary supporters and detractors should find amusing.

In the three episodes Comedy Central offered for review, most of the sketches work, some don't. But the best of the lot is next week: A passenger on a flight (Key) is stopped from using the restroom by an officious steward (Peele) because the fasten-seatbelt sign is on. There's no commentary here -- nothing about race, or injustice, or the futility of assimilation. It's just about someone who's desperate to go, and pays the consequences. Sketches like this one show possibly why the fifth season -- at long last -- just might be that breakout season.


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