Despite being a popular medium in general, most sketch comedy TV shows don’t make much of an impact on pop culture. It’s hard to shine when Saturday Night Live continues to suck up all the oxygen. But thanks to social media and easily memed sketches, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson hit like a meteor, and with only six episodes. The second season premieres on Netflix on July 6, and it carries with it the kind of heated anticipation that leaves little room for viewers to wait around before its contents take over the internet, transforming spoilers into another wave of memes. But what is it about this long-winded title starring a not particularly famous comedy writer that made it so popular? How did an small, seemingly random production embed itself into the zeitgeist so firmly and effortlessly?
Like many instantly iconic shows, it’s easy to say there is nothing quite like Robinson’s creation. The humor and tone is so trademark Tim Robinson, so acutely unique that it was destined to a boom or bust fate. But boom it did, and in spades, with a quality-over-quantity structure that produced 29 sketches across six episodes with a runtime just below 20 minutes each.
Speaking to its curious title, the series embodies the spirit of committing to a bit. Its signature sketches feature somewhat average characters, usually played by Robinson himself, stuck in incredibly awkward and public dilemmas. The move is to always stand relentlessly behind their respective faux pas as if their life depended on it, such as forcing a door open the wrong way, denying that they are choking (and slowly dying) on food, or lying about asking a waiter to help them enforce proper nacho eating etiquette. The show’s main characters operate in a constant state of inner panic and defensiveness. But where the show truly stands out is in its unpredictable resolutions, often opting out of even having one. Segments like Vanessa Bayer’s Instagram sketch in episode one just builds and builds, never coming down, and instead electing for an abrupt end right when it reaches its absurdist crescendo. A lot of sketch comedy falters here, not knowing how to wrap up it’s premise, but Robinson wins the gamble of prioritising the joke over story structure.
Goofy and absurd is par for the course with sketch comedy, but it’s these final moments where I Think You Should Leave moves into unparalleled territory. When not opting out of a resolution, many of the series’ best bits flip their concepts right on their heads, turning our manic rascals into unlikely heroes. Goofus turns into gallant (a focus group turns on a very normal participant, a birthday party turns on its host) for an ending that’s the very definition of coming out of left field.
Unpredictability is the brand. Robinson’s style meets somewhere between SNL digital shorts (Robinson and co-creator Zach Kanin both wrote for SNL, while the Lonely Island guys act as executive producers for the series) and Adult Swim, but really Robinson is in a league of his own. I Think You Should Leave’s only real comparable rival is Robinson’s own work: his few spotlight sketches during his one season as a SNL cast member, his episode of the Netflix anthology series The Comedians, and, most crucially, his former Comedy Central series Detroiters. The spirit of that overlooked sitcom lives on most clearly in faux commercials that feel like they were taken right out of the Cramblin and Duvet playbook, including a gradually balding toupee subscription service and a ranch that breeds horses with uncharacteristically small penises. Even the non-fauxmercials embody the character of a regional advertisement with their awkward, on-the-nose dialogue and purposely pedestrian acting.
But let’s get back to the tiny horse penises here for a second, because I do believe nothing sums up Robinson’s sense of humor quite like poor-endowed equines. See, I Think You Should Leave is a study in execution. It’s not the premises that stand apart from the show’s contemporaries but how they are treated. On paper, many of these childish premises, jokes, and catchphrases could very easily devolve into frat boy humor. Massive vomit-inducing farts, novelty toilets, head humping dogs, routine screaming, and, yes, horse penises, in most people’s hands would produce something tonally akin to (now-defunct) Spike TV programming. Instead, in the lovable, pitiful, and intense control of Robinson and his colleagues, it produces silly, innocent insanity and comedy gold.
We’ve waited two years for a new (and hopefully not final) season, and honestly, as with anything Robinson makes, I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next. That unpredictability is what we love about it, and that’s what made I Think You Should Leave’s first season such a success.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.