This week, comedian Tim Robinson’s new sketch show I Think You Should Leave premiered on Netflix with six 15-minute long episodes. The show is, in a word, perfect. In a few more words, it’s silly, grotesque, loud, and absurd. What more could you want, really?
Robinson may be a new face to some viewers, but he ought to be a household name. A Michigan native who came up in the Chicago comedy scene, appearing most notably on the Second City main stage as well as with his group Cook County Social Club, Robinson was cast on Saturday Night Live in the fall of 2012. His tenure as a cast member was short though not unremarkable — this sketch where he and Bobby Moynihan play middle-schoolers on a double date with adult women is weird and oddly sweet. He was featured in an episode of The Characters on Netflix in 2016. He went on to co-create and co-star in the much beloved, though gone-too-soon Comedy Central show Detroiters with fellow Michigan native and former Second City performer Sam Richardson.
I Think You Should Leave draws heavily on Robinson’s background in sketch, and part of what makes it such a thrill to watch is Robinson’s and fellow writers Zach Kanin and John Solomon’s abilities to take familiar premises — the focus group, the charades game, the commercial parody — and escalate them to places unknown. Is there a grand comedic thesis the show is building toward? Not really. No doubt, as Robinson himself has discussed, there’s a tendency for the characters in the show to aggressively double down on mistakes in attempts to save face. A door meant to be pushed is pulled off its hinges. A choking man at a restaurant refuses to admit he’s choking. A lie over why a couple is late to a party spins out of control.
But writing as someone who has watched Robinson since his Chicago days, what has always been thrilling about his comedic sensibilities is the untraceable sense of heightening. So many times throughout watching I Think You Should Leave, the realization of, “Oh, that’s what this sketch is?” dawns. Nothing is as simple as it seems. And though the word “spoiler” is thrown around in reference to Game of Thrones and Avengers, to reveal too much about I Think You Should Leave is to give away to stupid, wonderful joy in seeing exactly where the madness takes you.
Of course, there’s a temptation to intellectualize, to sternly explain why something is funny. In the case of I Think You Should Leave, however, an in-depth attempt at explanation would be like when Kyle Chandler’s character in First Man writes “MOON” on a chalkboard. So instead: It’s funny to watch Tim Robinson scream. It’s funny to watch Tim Robinson glare. It’s funny to watch Tim Robinson smile and spit and drool and cry. The man’s comedic instincts are wild and strange and unpredictable and goofy.
And Robinson is no doubt beloved by his peers as well. It’s not simply the Tim Robinson show: I Think You Should Leave is populated with Saturday Night Live cast members past and present, with alt-comedy staples like Tim Heidecker and Kate Berlant, with longtime friend of Robinson’s and 2019’s should-have-been-nominated-for-an-Oscar-for-Burning-but-really-this-guy-can-do-anything Steven Yeun. Conner O’Malley’s episode-four meltdown over a “Honk If You’re Horny” bumper sticker (“I thought that you worked for a service or a company that helped out guys that are so horny that their stomachs hurt!”) is a tour de force, and Patti Harrison’s dejected delivery of “Are we even gonna get anything now?” after taking the phrase “Christmas came early” a little too literally in the fifth episode is as heartbreaking as it is hysterical.
And more than episodes as units or individual performances (Can Cecily Strong can get an Emmy nomination for her part in the third episode?), specific lines reverberate. The language works so perfectly in the moment, of course, but odder lines stick out and get funnier as time goes on. In a confrontation in the sixth and final episode between Robinson as a game-show host and his mascot Chunky (the conceit of whom is unknown and unclear), Robinson screams, “Figure out what you do! You had all summer to think of it!” You had all summer to think of it! What timeline is this on? Why summer? Who are these people? It doesn’t matter. It’s so perfectly dumb and brilliantly panicked — there was a deadline to figure out Chunky’s deal, and now it’s been missed. That’s the glee in I Think You Should Leave. It’s so refreshingly devoid of context, of reason. It exists solely to make you laugh, and it really, really does.