If you have yet to watch Netflix’s latest and greatest sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live alum Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave, might we ask what you are doing? The Lonely Island-produced six-episode series, which debuted on April 23, is already bordering on cult-hit status, and if your friends and family failed you by neglecting to tell you of its goodness, then allow us to … succeed you. (Words are hard.)
Part of I Think You Should Leave’s charm is the unpredictability with which its sketches, initially appearing to be one thing, actually turn out to be another altogether. So if you have yet to see the show, you might want to go do that—it’s streaming on Netflix right this moment, with an average episode length of about 16 minutes, so you can finish it in under two hours, and our words will still be here when you get back—lest we spoil some of the fun for you.
If you have seen the show, then you know Robinson’s subject of choice: “People not wanting to be publicly embarrassed but also not wanting to admit that they’ve made a small mistake, and then taking it so far that it becomes a much bigger problem for them,” as he put it to us. The lengths these people go to range from screaming like a baby on a plane to eating a gift receipt, and we love them, these lengths.
Here are the words about I Think You Should Leave and the best of its sketches, which are all pretty best, really.
Robinson recruited his fellow SNL alum Will Forte for this standout sketch from episode two, in which Forte plays a grizzled old man who goes to insane lengths (love ‘em!) to ruin a newlywed couple’s (Robinson, Kate Comer) flight. Forte’s character may not have gotten to make those soldiers at Buckingham Palace laugh, but he sure does kill in this, from his dramatic monologue (“Small whimpers at first … then came the shrieking”) to defending his rat bite (“It’s not that gross!”) and refusing to admit defeat when his evil plan rapidly unravels. Forte excels at characters who whipsaw between raving megalomania and pathetic sniveling, a spectrum he hits both ends of here.
Another perfect pairing of premise and guest star, this cringeworthy episode three sketch stars Tim Heidecker as Howie, a crabby, ponytailed old hipster whose esoteric music knowledge and snack preferences make him a terrible charades player and guest at his younger girlfriend’s (Sujata Day) get-together. The fictional jazz legends Howie name-checks—Marcus “The Worm” Hicks, “household names like Roy Donk,” Tiny Boop Squig Shorterly—would be enough to make this bit work on their own, but Heidecker really makes it sing. We’ve all met a Howie, as he reminds us with every insufferable grunt, gesture and record collection critique, but we’ve all got a little Howie in us, too.
The breakout star of I Think You Should Leave may very well be Ruben Rabasa, the Cuban actor/comedian whose appearance in this episode two sketch the meme-iverse won’t soon forget. The scene Rabasa steals features Robinson, not too far from Detroiters territory here, as the head of a car focus group that takes an absurd turn when Rabasa’s character starts repeatedly insisting that all he wants is “a good steering wheel that doesn’t fly off while you’re driving” (which, to be fair, is definitely desirable). Rather than keeping such weird ideas to himself, Rabasa’s character doubles down on them, winning over the group and rallying them against Paul (I Think You Should Leave co-creator Zach Kanin), the clear loser of the “good car ideas” contest. Its silliness makes a tough truth—that we all just desperately want to be liked, badly, even by complete strangers—so much fun.
We’d give this fever dream from I Think You Should Leave’s first episode an Emmy on the strength of Sam Richardson’s (Robinson’s Detroiters collaborator) opening number alone, if we were in charge of that sort of thing. The “grueling,” three-month-long Baby of the Year contest’s climactic showdown between three slack-jawed, hilariously named infants (the phrase “Baby Fubbins” alone is so funny it’s not even fair) features vociferous heckling, accusations of unnecessary oral, an “In Memoriam” reel that includes causes of death, and the attempted assassination of bad-boy baby Bart Harley Jarvis. And did we mention Sam Richardson? We’re all winners this year.
If there’s a better sight gag than this in all of I Think You Should Leave, we sure would like to know about it. As it stands, the mysterious case of a Wienermobile-esque vehicle crashing into an upscale clothing store and its missing driver—who really could be anybody, as a hot dog costume-clad Robinson sagely points out—gets to wear the sight gag crown. The sketch’s initial cut to Robinson, mock-angrily offering preemptive amnesty to the culprit who clearly isn’t him, is killer, but his subsequent (surprisingly successful) efforts to weasel his way out of the situation are what really make this one special. Robinson turns what easily could have been a one-joke gag into a highlight of the show.
The concept of this sketch is nothing too novel—taking social media self-deprecation to its logical endpoint by ramping playful terms of endearment up into outright insults—but its the execution that elevates “Instagram” to greatness. Another of Robinson’s fellow SNL alums, the very funny Vanessa Bayer, stars as Brenda, a young woman who can’t seem to wrap her head around this particular social norm, writing in her brunch photo post, “Load my frickin’ lard carcass into the mud. No coffin, please! Just wet, wet mud. Bae.” Bayer’s chipper delivery makes phrases like “slurping down fish piss” and “getting our butts sucked by flies” sound all the more deranged—the sketch clocks in at under two minutes, but I’d watch a two-hour version without hesitation.
If you’ve heard anyone inexplicably use the phrase “That’s a Chunky” lately, maybe keep a close eye on your backpack, because this game-show sketch from I Think You Should Leave’s last episode is the reason. Robinson plays Dan Vega, host of Mega Money Quiz, the rules of which are not made particularly clear in the beginning (or middle, or end) of this bit. All we learn is that the game revolves around Chunky, a wacky red character who “eats your points” and “gets very mad”—it turns out everyone involved, including Vega and beleaguered contestant Paul (executive producer Andy Samberg), is in the dark as to what Chunky’s schtick actually is. Fortunately, Robinson’s utter exasperation (“Figure out what you do! You had all summer to think of it!”) is better TV than anything Chunky could have come up with.
The SNL connection continues in this rollercoaster of an episode three opener, in which Cecily Strong’s character and her unwitting husband (Robinson) catch a comedy magician’s act that irrevocably impacts their marriage. To describe exactly how this plays out would be to rob of you the best thing about it, but suffice to say we’ll be holding another Paste Emmy in reserve for Strong, who hard-sells this sketch’s contextually absurd emotional depth charge, sending Robinson’s character, then dead-eyed and brokenhearted, on a quest for insanely petty revenge. Perfectly structured and unexpectedly harrowing (particularly for the married), this is one of I Think You Should Leave’s best bits.
Episode one’s closer takes up nearly half its runtime, with not a moment wasted. Steven Yeun guest stars as Jacob, opening presents at his birthday party—when he claims half-heartedly to like his friend Lev’s (Robinson) gift, Lev will stop at nothing to hold him to his word, first demanding his gift receipt back, then suggesting that he eat it. But this sketch’s brilliant subversion of expectations sees the other partygoers—rather than judging Lev for his increasingly bizarre behavior—instead turn on Jacob, accepting Lev’s premise and interrogating the birthday boy’s gift appreciation claims. This sketch’s slow and steady transformation from a familiar kind of situational cringe comedy into something entirely different is a joy to behold.
A Walk the Line parody is just about the last thing we were expecting from any comedy show in 2019, which is just one part of what makes this sketch so wonderful. Rhys Coiro stars as a musician trying to impress a couple of old-timey record company execs, but the gospel music he plays them just ain’t sellin’. So Coiro pulls a Johnny Cash and plays an original country song, to which his bassist (Robinson) contributes just complete and total nonsense about sentient skeletons (“The worms are their money / the bones are their dollars”). It’s the very best nonsense from a show overflowing with it.
Scott Russell is Paste’s news editor and he might just have to rank this whole show. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.