I Think You Should Leave 2021 Tv Series Review
A few years ago, Tim Robinson had an odd run-in with a man in an Easter Bunny costume. This was in rural Pennsylvania, where Robinson had taken his wife and their two young children on a family vacation. “We stopped at an outlet mall, and there was an Easter Bunny walking around, and he got surrounded by kids,” Robinson says. “He was looking at my wife and I, and we were like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then we heard a muffled voice say, ‘I’m just trying to go to my car.’ The guy was done for the day, and he didn’t want to take his head off, and he was pleading with the parents for help.”
Robinson tells me this story over breakfast one October morning in Burbank, California, and as he imitates the escalating desperation in the Easter Bunny’s voice—I’m just trying to go to my car—it’s hard not to imagine it’s actually Robinson trapped within the suit, searching in vain for a dignified escape. On his endlessly loopable hit sketch series I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson, he often plays hapless schmoes who get stuck in unwinnable situations. But unlike that Easter Bunny, Robinson’s characters usually react by doubling down, or even tripling down, on their own bad instincts.
In the series’ very first sketch, a nice-enough fella tries to exit a job interview by pulling a door clearly meant to be pushed; instead of admitting his mistake, he just keeps on stubbornly pulling anyway, splintering the door and the frame, and making the veins in his forehead pop out. “Which is so true in life,” Robinson says. “People say in their brain, ‘If I keep talking, or keep doing this, maybe this goes away.’ And it never does. It just makes things worse.”
I Think You Should Leave premiered on Netflix this spring, in the form of six brisk episodes, around 15 minutes each; it was possible to watch the entire first season in roughly the same amount of time it takes to view a single episode of SNL. Yet no comedy this year has embedded itself as deeply within viewers’ imaginations, not to mention their social feeds, as I Think You Should Leave, a show beloved by everyone from Conan O’Brien to Lin-Manuel Miranda to vocal mega-fan Wale (“funniest shyt ever”).
The response is in no small part due to Robinson’s performance—the more he contorts his blank-slate face to match his characters’ plight, the deeper and weirder the sketches become. Even if you’ve never watched Robinson’s show, you’ve seen his apoplectic creations—their eyes bulging with rage, or squinting in disbelief—being GIF’d, screenshotted, and memed online, where they’ve become stand-ins for our own perpetual exasperation. There are entire Twitter feeds that insert I Think You Should Leave into the worlds of, say, modern emo, or wrestling, or the Toronto Maple Leafs. Halfway through our breakfast, Robinson excitedly shows me I Think You Should League Pass, an all-NBA account he’d just learned about that morning (and which has since grown to more than 20,000 followers).
It’s been a while since an upstart comedy show earned this much pop-cultural momentum—the kind that inspires fans to create avatars and action figures, and prompts critics to rank every individual sketch. Then again, it’s been years since we’ve had sketch characters as absurd and surprising as the ones found on I Think You Should Leave, like the guy who crashes his hot-dog-shaped car through a storefront window, and then angrily tries to deflect blame, all the while dressed in a hot dog costume. Then there’s Chunky, a large, lumbering game-show mascot who’s unsure of what to do with himself on stage, and reacts by breaking things and mauling a contestant (you can occasionally hear Chunky voicing his muffled frustrations from beneath a fuzzy red costume—a detail partly inspired, Robinson says, by his encounter with the Easter Bunny).
The “Chunky” sketch could have been yet another snoozy game-show parody. Instead, it’s the most delightfully stupid four minutes of TV you’ll see all year. Like many of the segments on I Think You Should Leave, it’s the sort of clip you show to everyone you know, partly as an excuse to watch it again. “Everybody thinks the format of [writing] a sketch is ‘A to B to C,’” says Veep’s Sam Richardson, a longtime friend and collaborator. “What I Think You Should Leave does is ‘A to B to F.’ It’s a little off, but it’s not weird for the sake of being weird. And there was an open space in the sketch world for something to really explode.”
But another reason for the breakthrough success of I Think You Should Leave, which has lately received year-end accolades and awards recognition, might just be Robinson’s #ItMe relatability. We’ve all responded to public humiliation with sheer, stupid self-defeating rage: What is Twitter, after all, but the hot-dog-shaped car we willingly climb into every day? “There’s a lot of doubling down going on in a widespread way,” notes codirector Alice Mathias. “It’s a show that’s grounded in the human experience. And even when Tim plays people that are really frustrating, and passionate about all the wrong things, you somehow can still get behind him.”
Many of Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave subjects are anonymous, testy white-collar squares; in reality, he’s a fairly chill 38-year-old suburban dad who blasts Misfits tunes for his kids around Halloween, and watches old episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Alfred Hitchcock Presents to unwind. When we meet at a diner in Burbank, not far from where he lives with his family, there’s a few days’ stubble on his face, and he’s dressed like the gracefully aging ex-skateboarder he is: white sneakers, brown checked pants, and a green sweater over a T-shirt that reads “Fucking Awesome.” As a young comedy fan, Robinson would skate with his buddies all afternoon, then return home to rewatch his copy of Saturday Night Live: The Best of Chris Farley.
More than a decade later, after making his way through multiple comedy scenes, Robinson found his way to SNL, as a featured player. It was a mostly miserable experience, one that found him fighting for stage time and doubting whether he was actually funny. Within a year, Robinson was pulled from the cast, and friends advised him to quit the show and leave New York for good.
Instead, he stayed on as a writer, and for the next three seasons began fine-tuning the comedic ideas that would eventually lead to I Think You Should Leave. “Tim likes to prove himself,” notes Zach Kanin, the show’s cocreator, who’s known him since their SNL days. “And when someone says, ‘Bad job,’ it gets his fire going.” And unlike the characters he plays on I Think You Should Leave, Robinson knows how to endure a very public, potentially humiliating ordeal without turning into a Chunky.
RobinsonRobinson grew up in the suburbs outside of Detroit, where his father was a construction worker and his mother worked in the training division at Chrysler. As a teenager, he had his obsessions—punk rock, skating, his Best of Chris Farley collection—but no plans for the future. College didn’t feel like an option: “I don’t think I would have been able to get in,” he says. In the late ’90s, his mother took Robinson and his future wife, Heather, to Chicago, where they caught a show at the city’s famed Second City theater. He’d never seen a live sketch show. “I didn’t know how you got into it,” Robinson says. “But I remember leaving there and being like, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do.’”
When he returned to Detroit, Robinson realized there was a local Second City affiliate theater close to his parents’ home. “I was lucky it was there,” he says, “because I would have been scared to say, ‘OK, I’m moving somewhere else to do this.’ And I definitely wouldn’t have had the money.” He started taking classes, and in his early 20s, he began teaching improv—which is how he met the teenaged Richardson, one of his earliest students. “It was a very fast friendship,” Richardson says. “During our lunch breaks, we’d always be talking and hanging out. And he’d help me sneak into a bar around the corner from the theater—which wasn’t very hard to do in Detroit at the time.” (The two also bonded over their love for Christmas and old crooners; they still get together every December to watch Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby’s 1957 holiday special.)
Over the next several years, the two pals would perform together in local stage productions like Jerks at Warp Speed, in which Richardson played the bumbling captain of an Enterprise-like spaceship, and Robinson starred as a malevolent supercomputer. “Based on the way we would play together in those things,” Richardson says, “we kind of knew early on: ‘Oh, this is something we’ll have fun doing forever.’”
Both men eventually relocated to Chicago, where Robinson would join the Second City theater he’d visited just a few years before. But it was a one-off, one-man sketch appearance at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival in 2011 that finally pushed him toward SNL. According to Robinson, John Mulaney caught his set and alerted the show’s producers, resulting in a series of tryouts. For one of them, Robinson played a teacher who’s been bullied by his students, and shows up for class in a leather jacket and sunglasses—“I know you’ve been saying I don’t know what’s what. But what if I told you that math was cool?”—and then promptly falls while trying to sit on his desk.
Robinson was hired as a featured player, relocating his family—which by then included his young son and daughter—to New York City for the show’s 2012-13 season. He managed a few solid on-screen turns in that first year, whether it was starring as John Tesh’s destructive, jingle-writing brother, or making Kevin Hart break mid-sketch. He also became close with fellow newcomers Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, and quickly won over the writers’ room: “Even at the first table read, he had really funny pieces,” Kanin says.
But Robinson had never appeared on television before, much less live television. Nor had he dealt with the politics of a network show, especially one so famously hard to decipher, much less navigate: “That year was bad,” he says. “Even if I felt good on a Tuesday, the depression was back again by Saturday.” One night, Robinson was acting in a sketch he’d helped write, about a husband-and-wife real estate team whose ads were getting covered with dong drawings. Halfway through, the stage went dark, and the show cut to commercial. “All of a sudden, the cameras and the people started to move,” he says, laughing. “I had no clue.”
It was Robinson’s second episode, and he was already running out of time. Not long afterward, he and Richardson met up backstage during a taping. “Tim was dressed as Santa Claus for a sketch, and was so excited for it,” Richardson says. “Then we heard [an announcement] saying it was cut. The disappointment for him was heartbreaking.”
Before the next season began, Robinson got a call informing him he’d been dropped from the cast, but that he could stay on as a writer. “Everybody told me, ‘Just come out to L.A., and do your own thing,’” he says. “But I wanted to stay. I would have been so damaged and shell-shocked from [leaving]. I would still be hung up on it.”
During his second season, Robinson began working more regularly with Kanin, a writer and cartoonist who’d arrived at SNL around the same time. They’d first collaborated on a Weekend Update segment about an eccentric Southern billionaire who wanted to construct a new Titanic. The bit never aired, but proved to Kanin how closely their sensibilities aligned: “We thought, ‘This [is a] kind of person we can write a lot of—a guy who was so enthusiastic about such a clearly bad idea.’”
Over the course of the next three seasons, Robinson and Kanin became a two-person creative team, eventually sharing an office at SNL. Some of their sketches never made it past the writers’ room, and those that did were often relegated to the broadcast’s final minutes, a hot zone for more out-there ideas. But just getting them on the air felt like a victory. In one of their bits, Mike O’Brien plays an overzealous TV news investigator who hurls questions at bugs crawling on the sidewalk (“Where are you headed? What’s the rush?”). In another, Peter Dinklage plays an uptight suit who’s jokingly accused of soiling his underwear at a corporate magic show, and simply can’t let it go.
Working in the writers’ room eased the strain of SNL. “I had the best time,” he says of those years. “I didn’t have the pressure of the live show. When you’re writing stuff, it goes on, or it doesn’t. And your grandma’s not like, ‘How come you weren’t on the show last night?’”