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Tim Robinson, backed against a wall with a hot dog sticking out of his mouth, has several co-workers trying to grab the hot dog in a skit from I Think You Should Leave season 2. Photo: Netflix

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I Think You Should Leave’s simple surrealism will save us all

Season 2 has hit Netflix, and it’s more absurd humor that finds hilarity outside of the zeitgeist

Shortly after season 1 of the sketch-comedy series I Think You Should Leave premiered on Netflix in April 2019, it began to blow up on social media. It was hard for people tuned into TV Twitter to scroll through their timelines without being bombarded by striking images of an elderly man in a pink shirt, with long, stringy white hair and a big shiny bald spot, uttering the nonsensical phrase “You have no good car ideas!” The quote was absurd and meaningless when removed from the context of its equally bizarre source material. But that moment was just one of many fragments of I Think You Should Leave that people latched onto and turned into running memes.

In the two years fans have been restlessly waiting for creators Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin to put out a second season, shots, scenes, and lines from season 1 have been given new life across social media, in spite of the arguably niche bent of the show’s humor. Season 2, which hits Netflix on July 6, has built tremendous anticipation, partly due to a lengthy COVID-19-related production delay, and the way internet culture has expanded the show’s reach.

Perhaps now the most famous moment of the show involves Robinson dressed in a hot-dog costume saying, “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this!” The sketch features Robinson ineffectually trying to gaslight the patrons of a clothing store into believing he wasn’t the one who crashed a hot-dog-shaped car into the store. In the past year, the moment spiraled into a major political meme, used to articulate the ways people in power deflect responsibility from themselves onto others. It’s ironic, given the series’ absolute lack of political humor or focus on real-world social issues. I Think You Should Leave even avoids basic reality itself — which is exactly what’s allowed the show to flourish as a beloved fixture of pop culture.

Tim Robinson lies down and yells during an office meeting in I Think You Should Leave season 2 Photo: Netflix

The premise of most of the series’ sketches, in both seasons, rests in one simple, repeated concept: a character acting out of step around a social more, then exacerbating the faux pas until it’s nearly unrecognizable by the conclusion of the sketch. The familiar anxiety of a friend not liking a present mutates into death by feces-contaminated receipt ingestion. Deciding what ironically self-deprecating caption to give a cute group photo on Instagram morphs into a friend intent on dubbing herself and her friends “fat fucks” who should be killed and laid to rest in “wet, wet mud.” Robinson and Kanin undeniably struck gold by playing into people’s most pervasive yet innocuous fears. On the surface, I Think You Should Leave should operate like anxiety-inducing horror as much as absurdist comedy.

But the sheer disconnect from reality that the series revels in allows its content to be imprinted effortlessly onto almost anything, which is why the Hot Dog Man sketch has had such staying power. It also offers a form of ironic escapism. That strength carries over to season 2. Not every sketch in season 2 lands well, which is bound to happen when the humor hinges so relentlessly on stretching an awkward situation past the point of no return. (Season 1 has some duds as well.) But the enduring appeal of I Think You Should Leave doesn’t rest in the question of which sketches work and which don’t. It’s more about the way viewers get drawn into its bizarro universe. It’s a world plagued by comic magicians, imbalanced nacho-sharing, and an aggressive baby named Bart Harley Jarvis. In this vision of comedy, the most mundane social missteps are the principal causes of human anguish.

In season 2, Robinson and Kanin stay that course, and the best bits are the ones that exploit a simple, weird concept in ways that play on the successes of the first season, but still find surprising elements. A late-night haunted-house tour sees one man adamant on saying words like “cum” and “horsecock” when asking questions for the guide, because they’re on the “adult tour.” A friend who’s known for being a wild card when it comes to hiring party talent hires a Johnny Carson impersonator at such a low price point that the impersonator is allowed to hit the guests. An undercover reality prank-show host becomes so physically encumbered by his own disguise that he contemplates suicide.

And in what is arguably the season’s standout segment, the embarrassment of an employee accidentally getting a few drops of urine on his pants in the bathroom at work is covered up by a website that sells phony, pee-stained pants. It all escalates so wildly from the initial concept that it easily ranks among the best I Think You Should Leave bits from either season. (The skit appears to be unrelated to the recently launched retailer that sells faux-pee-stained pants.)

One bit in season 2 does wade into social discourse — the only time that happens in the entirety of I Think You Should Leave so far. Robinson, playing a character fired for a hot-dog-choking incident, pushes back against the “cancel culture” that forced him out of his job by selling a vacuum that sucks hot dogs out of your throat to prevent choking. “In today’s climate, something you’ve said or done in the past could cause you to be fired from your place of work,” Robinson explains, then sets out to promote the illogical “Carber Vac.” The segment mostly leaves the crux of cancel culture in its rear-view mirror, tackling the hotly contested issue by simply discarding it. The show doesn’t mock cancel culture, or even take sides on it — it just mocks the attempt to mock it.

Tim Robinson and three other people stand on a beach at night, opening a bottle and whooping, in I Think You Should Leave season 2 Photo: Netflix

This kind of overall rejection of real-world politics or social issues makes I Think You Should Leave even more attractive to its passionate fanbase. It comes during a period when it’s hard for comedy to avoid politics, social discourse can be a minefield, and the field of professional humor has regularly been declared dead or dying. The overwhelming pushback against so much political humor during the Trump era took hold quickly when it became clear that there wasn’t much to laugh at. Various ongoing comedy shows, from Saturday Night Live to The Simpsons, have spent the last few years taking a watered-down, liberal approach to making light of an increasingly bleak cultural landscape. That form of comedy rarely feels funny these days, and it often feels out of touch, especially in a pandemic world where politics was so clearly costing hundreds of thousands of lives.

Enter I Think You Should Leave, which in its weird, unique way, fiercely brought people together. Maybe it was because it had been a while since something so simple and stupid made people laugh so hard, and in unison. Here was comedy that somehow managed to neither punch up nor down, and that wasn’t trying to find the humor in white supremacists donning MAGA hats. Instead, Robinson and Kanin crafted a world that can’t be bothered with the problems of our own.

It isn’t that I Think You Should Leave is willfully oblivious to the 2020 election, or COVID-19, or climate change. It’s just burdened by different problems altogether. The show’s comedy isn’t just funny, it’s fantastical. It seems quaint and absurd to live in a world where lives are at risk due to a whoopee-cushion prank, a hot dog stuffed into a shirt sleeve, or a gift receipt poisoned by feces-tainted hands. It’s a squirmy, uncomfortable world, but the risks seem manageable compared to the risks we face every day. It isn’t the kind of comedy that gives us bigger insights into the world — just the kind of comedy that takes us entirely outside that world for a while. In 2021, that’s a novelty, a blessing, and a reason to watch season 2 as soon as possible.

Season 2 of I Think You Should Leave is now streaming on Netflix.