Comedian Tim Robinson has attempted some difficult second acts before. After his first season as a featured player on Saturday Night Live in 2012, he started off the next one relegated to a writing position. Detroiters, the show he created for Comedy Central in 2017 with real-life best friend Sam Richardson, was successful enough to eke out a second season order, but the series needed to grow beyond its cult-hit status to establish a sufficient audience. It didn’t.
Nothing in Robinson’s career thus far could have prepared him for the kind of pressure that comes with following up a massive, rabidly beloved hit. Nobody would know it, however, from watching the second installment of the Netflix smash, I Think You Should Leave, a true sequel season that avoids the pitfalls of a retread.
Robinson’s singular sketch series arrived under the radar in spring 2019 but quickly grew into a comedy phenomenon. I Think You Should Leave, co-created with writing partner Zach Kanin, elevated everyday awkwardness into high art. The all-killer-no-filler set of six episodes, clocking in at around 16 minutes each, spawned several all-purpose memes that seemed uniquely suited to the chaos of 2020, and led to a critical reappraisal of the canceled Detroiters. Netflix understood the cultural reach of its underdog hit, and renewed the series right away in the summer of 2019.
Unlike the first time around, the new season, which premieres on July 6, now carries the burden of high expectations. Not only does Robinson and his team shoulder the extra attention well, though, they do so in a way that proves the show’s initial success was far from a fluke.
The first thing viewers see in the new batch of episodes is a guy about to eat a hot dog. (This review will spoil nothing that isn’t already in the trailer.) Now, this food item absolutely didn’t need to be a hot dog. Many other lunch staples would’ve gotten the job done. But a hot dog just happens to be a big part of the most-memed sketch of the show’s first season.
This cannot possibly be a coincidence.
Instead, with this hot dog, the creators telegraph their awareness of that sketch’s popularity—and of the whole show’s, by extension. They are flicking at the idea of cramming more of what worked before down viewers’ throats, in this case literally. But that is not what they end up doing.
In its second season, I Think You Should Leave homes in on the elements people loved about the series, rather than any specific characters or setups. There are no further ads for TC Tuggers, for instance, but there are clothing brands that mock masculine consumerism. There are no more motorcycle aliens, but there are people unacquainted with how anything on Earth works. There is no Baby of the Decade, but there is, shall we say, something in that vicinity.
Rest assured, the creators also still delight in taking life’s quietly uncomfortable moments, such as a friend’s baby crying only when you hold it, and pushing them far beyond the point of strain, like a door bending backwards.
It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. Although the Hot Dog Costume sketch certainly proved accessible, this show’s ongoing success comes from staying dialed into a very particular frequency. The humor is heavily indebted to predecessors like Mr. Show and Tim and Eric, stars from both of which appear in sketches here, but it’s also very much its own thing: Post-irony, post-antihumor, imminently pre-apocalypse. It’s sketch comedy for people who hate present-day sketch comedy, the kind of jokes one might get demoted for pitching at SNL.
“What if you get to where you’re going and it’s a job interview and I’m the boss?” one character asks in yet another awkward encounter between strangers this season. It’s a subtle signal that Robinson and Kanin are well aware of the typical trajectory sketches tend to follow, as reliably as they defy it.
Indeed, the show’s essential unpredictability is what makes it so dang rewatchable. What many I Think You Should Leave stans have in common is watching the totality of the first season at least five or six times. It’s partly due to the lean length of the six episodes, but mostly because every aspect of each sketch appears utterly unbound from formula. The language is full of nonsense vocabulary, dripping with specificity and rhythm, resulting in perfect comedic zen koans like “Tiny Dinky Daffy: Pancaked by a drunk dump truck driver.” Just as in the the first season, small, unexpected details ping pong around every moment, waiting for viewers to catch them on a second or third go-round, each competing to be your new favorite.
If the show can be said to have anything like a formula, it’s this: Something in the world of the show is always going tremendously, catastrophically awry, but everybody treats it like just another one of life’s little quirks. Maybe they even come to embrace it. Contrary to the title, people in each situation tend to take great pains not to kick out whomever is making things weird, but instead offer every chance for them to hang around. Nobody is beyond redemption in this world, because nothing really matters. It’s an ideal antidote to the actual world, where everything is always breaking down but the stakes couldn’t be higher.
What an odd, lovely place to visit again. (And again.) I think you should enter.