Two years ago, when Tim Robinson and co-creator Zach Kanin first debuted their Netflix sketch show, one of the delights of discovering “I Think You Should Leave” was in its capacity to surprise. Pleasantly free of topical humor, let alone the re-stagings of recent events that dominate “SNL,” this unique world was made so by the loud, misguided assholes filling it. After all, the settings were usually familiar — office meeting rooms, birthday parties, TV commercials — and most of the characters were readily identifiable everymen. It was only when a guy in a hot dog suit crashed his wienermobile into a Brooks Brothers or a grainy version of “A Christmas Carol” got overtaken by Skeletrex and his Bone Brigade that the ordinary became outlandish. Even after a few episodes, when you came to expect some sort of oddball interloper to upend the scene’s status quo, you could never guess who, or how, or what weird song about skeletons coming to life would spill out of their mouths.
Season 2 keeps those grand curveballs coming. Maintaining the 15-to-17-minute episodes and bringing back many favorite guest stars (Sam Richardson, Patti Harrison, and Tim Heidecker among them), “I Think You Should Leave” still bucks expectations with every new sketch, while stretching its structure in refreshing new ways. One episode features a nine-minute sketch — nine minutes! — and it comes soon after an opening short (featuring Paul Walter Hauser) that’s so sweet and innocent, I’m not sure it’s meant to be funny. Similar questions of tone and intent pop up in the first episode, when Tim plays a prank comic whose inhuman latex disguise sends him spiraling into depression (though there’s still an unmistakably hilarious closer).
Here, it’s worth noting (as TV Awards Editor Libby Hill pointed out) nearly every episode features one of Robinson’s characters crying. Some are confused, like a ghost tour patron who can’t grasp what he’s doing wrong. Others have their feelings hurt, like an office worker who’s particularly proud of his fedora. Still more are welling up inexplicably, like a friend at an awkward party desperate to keep the mood elevated. But perhaps the most telling, teary character is just a guy who can’t drive. After trying to park too slowly for the infuriated man behind him, Robinson’s driver looks back and simply says, “I don’t know what any of this shit is, and I’m scared.” From there, the shouting continues, but it’s a tender moment amid the chaos, and it’s not the only one.
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Robinson and Kanin balance each episode almost by volume. It’s easy to see and appreciate Robinson’s commitment to each sketch as his seismic bellows somehow escalate from their earth-shattering initial pitch, but it’s his commitment to each character that resonates even longer. Usually, Robinson inhabits the person who everyone else wants to leave, but the co-creators shift his onscreen roles from sketch to sketch, allowing him to play the asshole, then let a guest star take over, or play the asshole, and then step in as an Average Joe bystander. But there’s also variance in the title role — no one asshole is alike: Some are true jerks, hellbent on getting their way in the most obnoxious fashion, while others are just inescapable, caught in the wrong place with the wrong attitude. No matter what, Robinson pushes all these roles beyond their one, very loud note and into a broader dimension. Sometimes you sense that they’re more than assholes. Sometimes you sense that they just want to be more than assholes, but they can’t quite get past whatever’s bothering them.
Discovery is a key element of “I Think You Should Leave’s” particular appeal, and just one more challenge in writing about it. Spoilers aren’t looked at the same way in sketch comedy as they are in prestige dramas, but laying out the premise, twist, or random oddity in any part of Season 2 could still tarnish viewers’ appreciation of what’s to come. That being said, my caution level shifted over the course of revisiting these new sketches; your opening impression matters, sure, but it’s bound to grow over time. Just look at what happened to the hot dog guy in Season 1; he took on enough meaning to become his own meme.
While still wielding them as valuable tools, “I Think You Should Leave” doesn’t depend on shock value, nor is it trying to bowl you over with its sheer creativity. The sketches send you on a journey, alongside these assholes, until their absurd behavior carries its own logic. You might even understand them a little better than you care to, because Robinson wills them into reality. Like so much great comedy, there’s truth tucked into every sketch, and finding it isn’t something you can always do in one sitting.