Un-reinventing the Sketch Comedy Wheel
Netflix’s new six-episode sketch series, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, definitely makes an effort. The former SNL and Detroiters (so good, so prematurely canceled) comic deploys lots of volcanic, red-faced blasts of anger, impotent white-male aggression made funnier in its futility. But the show doesn’t try too hard. It comes off well in comparison to the cooked-mushy results of the Saturday Night Live weekly pressure cooker. And after next-level spikes of sketch comedy’s evolution, like in Key & Peele and Mr. Show, it’s refreshing to get a sketch show that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.
There’s no lack of energy or originality in the sketches that make up the 15-to-20-minute episodes. But Robinson’s show focuses more on simple get-in/get-out comedic premises and in keeping production low-fi for laughs than in making grand social statements, creating pitch-perfect shot-on-film parodies, or in trying to tie everything together into one Tim Robinson Cinematic Universe conceit, as Nick Kroll did on his Comedy Central series.
Instead, the short blasts of very random comedy land somewhere between the 11-minute microwave nuggets of Adult Swim programming and the 22 minutes of a typical cable sketch show such as Inside Amy Schumer. Even though some sketches still aren’t as brief as they should be, the show overall rejects overstaying its welcome or even oversaturating the screen with too much Robinson. The sketches don’t set the comedy world on fire, but pros who understand how to elevate material with great performances and total commitment execute them solidly.
Essential Detroiters co-star Sam Richardson pops up to take the lead in some pieces, alongside Fred Willard, Vanessa Bayer, Will Forte, Steven Yeun, Cecily Strong and many others. Their faces are always welcome. Behind the scenes, Robinson works with the Lonely Island crew (Andy Samberg appears in a sketch in the last episode) to create a smartass-but-also-really-dumb free-for-all vibe. Clever sketch ideas include a man’s long-con revenge against a baby who cried through a transatlantic flight, a woman’s clueless Instagram posting (“Sunday Funday with these pig dicks!”) and a very silly pageant for newborns.
VIDEO: “Instagram” Full Sketch | I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
The “Baby of the Year” contest becomes an excuse to trot out ridiculous baby names (“Taffy Lee Fubbins!”) and have Richardson berate audience members. The airplane sketch gives Will Forte a spotlight to play a weird, obsessed old man. And the Instagram one is Vanessa Bayer’s turn to shine as a social misfit.
Robinson is still the star, however. As he did in his 2016 episode of Netflix’s The Characters, he shows he’s maybe the best screamer in comedy since Bob Odenkirk. He’s capable of playing a wide range of losers, from a man emasculated by a magician to the host of a game show that wasn’t well thought out in advance.
As the writing staff of three men suggests, the humor skews heavily male with lots of shit, dick, fart, and baldness jokes. That is not to say they’re bad jokes. A throwaway gag about a toilet hole made only for farts effortlessly crushes for the two seconds it’s on screen. Blessedly, the whole show doesn’t stay at that level for very long. It does return there a lot, though.
The show transitions from sketch to sketch using generic colors and designs over soul music. It’s another signal that Netflix just serves as the delivery system for a lot of weird, funny ideas that maybe wouldn’t fit anywhere else, but are worth laughing over on a lazy weekend afternoon in front of the TV or on a long bus trip.