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Tim Robinson's I Think You Should Leave Returns with More Clever Absurdity

Tim Robinson’s sketch series "I Think You Should Leave" was a special kind of lightning in a bottle for Netflix—not uncommon for a “Bird Box”-like genre movie, but certainly unusual for a sketch comedy series. You could see the following by the abundant memes made from it, and the entertainment websites that devoted more coverage than usual for a comedy series. Your friends were probably quoting it too (“Oh my god, he admit it!”). The show became popular, as if it were an inside joke machine everyone could enjoy. That's about the biggest achievement a sketch comedy series can have, and it put Tim Robinson (also of "Detroiters") even more on the map. 

Today, “I Think You Should Leave” returns with six more episodes (approximately 17 minutes each), and the key word feels to be "more." It's as if these sketches were made at around the same time, servings that were saved for round two. They don’t have any air of self-awareness that comes with sequels or the next versions of projects. And it’s not about beating any expectations with form, or challenging what a sketch from the show looks like. The series' title still feels the perfect line that nearly every sketch should end with. 

But the second season does not hit as hard, or doesn’t seem to on first viewing and without the way I experienced season one (in "party mode," and with people who already adored the series). I hope to safely temper expectations, even if writing about wide-ranging sketch comedy is based on one's gut feeling of whether something is clever or absurd enough. (There seemed to be plenty of moments during my season one experience where my friends were laughing, and I was trying to figure out why it was funny. The "Bozo Dubbed Over" sketch, however—I had no problem getting its brilliance.) 

Robinson and creator Zach Kanin continue to play with that very line of clever and absurd here, and it’s largely about bizarre premises that seem to mash different elements together. Case in point: one that involves Tim Heidecker (who had a great sketch in the first season), that unfolds from being about a date a space-themed restaurant to confronting a comedian who roasts different customers. The settings for the jokes then shift to wildly different focuses, like a driver’s ed sketch, one of the season’s best, that focuses on Patti Harrison playing a character with a very confusing job. The set-ups sometimes outshine how the sketches themselves blossom, like a season two sketch described by Netflix as: “An office dispute over shirt patterns.” In time, the sketch becomes much more absurd than that, but it does not develop the joke so much as make it bigger and bigger.  

It’s interesting to see what recurring ideas there are in the sketches—more abrasive jokes about funerals, tacky men's clothing, hot dogs. And there's an endless amount of set-ups in a board room, as if we wouldn't notice, but it's getting a little old. Overall, there’s still many, many jokes about people who violate unwritten social contracts (from season one: you don’t create a fake rule about someone eating all of the nacho meat; you don’t non-stop honk at a bumper sticker that says “Honk If You’re Horny”; you don’t throw heavily obscure names in the hat during charades, etc.) Season two seem as if the series was all about similar dysfunctional human interaction, normally with Robinson’s screeching, Adam Sandler-esque presence showing people unable to wrap their heads around what is assumed to be normal. 

Robinson is of course a huge source of the energy in this series—he’s fun to watch even if he’s not making you laugh as much as you’d like, in part because there's always a chance he's could spontaneously combust on camera. The series has strong guest stars too, like Patti Harrison who is funny every time she’s on-screen; Conner O’Malley returns with a little less intensity as in season one; and Bob Odenkirk is thrown into the mix for what seems like a prototypical joke in the “I Think You Should Leave” style. Odenkirk's sketch touches upon a casual type of human act and drills to the core of it, although the joke wears off even as it adds more. Sam Richardson, currently having an all-star summer with "Werewolves Within" and "The Tomorrow War," appears in a couple sketches too as in season one, with his genial intensity. 

So, consider this a tempered but supportive recommendation for something you probably know if you were going to watch anyway. If you haven’t seen it at all, I highly recommend the first season to start with, to see if it’s your type of comedy. For those who do like those first six episode, these next six are reliably absurd, but their ability to sink their claws into you is a bit more uncertain. It could be another viral hit, and this series could be potent with its next batch of inside jokes. But whatever happens, Robinson remains a victor in the competitive landscape of all streaming entertainment, and I have no doubt that we'll want to see whatever he does next. 

All of season two screened for review.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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