If you’re of a certain age and you've watched a lot of British sketch comedy, you may remember The Fast Show’s recurring skit in which a man completely misreads or embarrasses himself in a social situation before uttering the catchphrase “I’ll get me coat.”
Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson – whose second season has just hit the streaming service – thrives on placing its characters in similarly awkward scenarios. But instead of recognizing and apologizing for their faux pas, they stubbornly double down on their nonsense in increasingly manic ways.
Should that all sound a little one-note, fear not. Combining Adult Swim-style absurdism with the enraged manchild persona of early Adam Sandler and the offbeat pacing of Portlandia, season 1 pushed its central concept into all kinds of entertaining situations.
Its strength was skilfully wrongfooting viewers at every turn – mining glorious cringe comedy out of everything from inappropriate funeral music and Instagram self-deprecation, to Walk the Line parodies and Wienermobile crashes. And with each episode clocking in around the 15-minute mark, it never outstayed its welcome.
But can Robinson, a former Saturday Night Live cast member-turned-writer, and co-creator Zach Kanin, primarily a cartoonist for The New Yorker, strike gold for a second time?
Lightning strikes twice
Well, just the trailer for season 2, which repurposed previous highlights to make the show resemble an intense thriller, proved the pair have lost none of their ability to subvert.
Still, even those who repeatedly binged their way through its previous 29 sketches may still take a while to readjust to its left-field nature. I Think You Should Leave has an aversion to clear-cut punchlines, always ending a skit much earlier, or indeed much later, than you’d conventionally expect.
“If people are staying to what's taught to you it gets boring, and no one wants to watch that,” Robinson told GQ about the show’s lack of established comedy rules. You’re often left wondering what exactly it is you’ve just witnessed, every time the colorful 1970s-styled interlude pops up.
Yet while the jokes – or anti-jokes, you could say – don’t always land (mainly the scatological gags), the hit-to-miss ratio is of a much higher percentage than the format’s average. That’s even more impressive considering how wildly it swings, and for the fact that it doesn’t rely on tried and tested comedy techniques.
There are a few throwbacks which fans will appreciate. Robinson’s partner-in-crime on underrated advertising sitcom Detroiters, Sam Richardson, shows up again as the host of another wildly inappropriate competition. Here he’s gate-crashing a business function, forcing a mortified CEO to judge a contest dubbed 'Little Buff Boys'. The poor man’s horror at having to choose between a group of flexing, foam-padded tweens is both hilarious and highly uncomfortable to witness – the show’s mentality in a nutshell.
There are also several parody commercials which recall the work of Detroiters’ bumbling execs Cramblin and Duvet. They’d surely be proud of the treatments given to Dan Flashes (the premier and surprisingly aggressive destination for highly complicated patterned shirts) or the vacuum cleaner designed specifically to hoover up hazardous hot dogs (a callback to the show's opening skit).
However, this delayed six-part season is largely more interested when it comes to developing brand-new baffling situations to squirm over. And they don’t get much more baffling than the Calicocutpants.com skit, which almost takes up the entire fourth episode of season 2.
What initially starts out as a favor to prevent mild embarrassment escalates into a workplace nightmare, involving battery-eating wives, inescapable pop-ups and, erm, a crowdfunded smokescreen for pee-stained trousers (if that sounds confusing written down, rest assured that it makes no more sense on-screen). It’s a prime example of how Robinson takes a seemingly mundane scenario, twists it beyond all recognition and then just when you think it’s over, twists things some more.
I Think You Should Leave still boasts several instant laugh-out-loud moments to go along with all the lengthier absurdities, though. See the straight-to-camera plea to "save Corncob TV", a channel showing nothing more than dead bodies falling comically out of coffins. Or the big reveal after a prank show host – soon to undergo a very public existential crisis – is fitted with the most unconvincing of aging prosthetics. You could never accuse Robinson of not committing to his arsenal of oddballs.
Committing to the bit
Admittedly, that commitment can occasionally be a little jarring, particularly when the comedian starts mistaking volume for substance. You pretty much always know that it’s one of the weaker sketches when Robinson resorts to simply yelling. See when he plays the angry lookalike agency owner, for example, or the angry novice driver, or the angry partygoer determined to convince everyone that he’s no longer a “piece of s***.”
To be fair, Robinson appears to acknowledge that audiences do need a respite from all the shouting. In the brilliant third episode opener, he happily plays the straight man to a beloved college professor with a serious case of food envy. Likewise, when he appears opposite Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) as a single father who instantly regrets lying about the lack of ice cream, you get a slightly different energy from the show's leading man.
Along those lines, there are several sketches in which he goes completely AWOL. Take the Detective Crashmore trailer and accompanying press junket, where Santa Claus reinvents himself as a foul-mouthed gun-toting B-movie star. There’s also an inspired, and for some, possibly relatable, restaurant set-up which sees Search Party’s John Early throw a tantrum over a game of credit card roulette.
Season 2 of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, just like the first, won’t be for everyone. But then again, it shouldn’t be. Netflix have plenty of mass appeal comedies in their originals stable. This is the kind of idiosyncratic, disorientating and truly unhinged fare that’s only ever likely to develop a loyal cult following – and it's exactly why we love it.
I Think You Should Leave season 2 is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.
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