Joel Golby seems like a perfectly sane and rational man. A well-known journalist and author who works for, among others, Vice and The Guardian, he’s not the type who strikes you as obsessive.
And yet, there he was in the latter organ last Saturday, sharing what can only be described as an obsession with American comedian and actor Tim Robinson’s Netflix sketch show I Think You Should Leave.
“I have watched the first series of the show six, seven, and in the case of some episodes, 10 times,” he wrote, adding that he went through a phase of making everyone who came to his house watch it.
Unlike Golby, who I’ve never met but whose stuff I’ve always liked a lot, I didn’t watch any of the first season of I Think You Should Leave in 2019, never mind all of it.
Netflix churns out an awful lot of new series in any given year — far too many, to be honest — so it stands to reason that some of them are going to slip through your net. I Think You Should Leave was one of those. I wish now it hadn’t been.
I wish it had been something else that failed to enter my orbit. Any one of the too-numerous-to-list Netflix duds I endured for a couple of episodes and then abandoned forever as a waste of time would have been ideal.
Having watched the first two episodes of the second run of Robinson’s show, which landed on Netflix yesterday, I’ve had a late-to-the-party taste of what I’ve been missing. If I’d had enough time, I would have raced through the remaining four.
In all probability, when I’d done with those, I’d have raced through the whole of season one. What can I say? I’m hooked. I understand now what Golby meant. I Think You Should Leave is extraordinary. It’s addictive.
None of the episodes is any longer than 18 minutes, so they go down easily. But the sheer variety of the material Robinson and co-writer/co-creator Zach Kanin squeeze into such a tight running time is dizzying.
It’s common to the point of cliché to describe a sketch show as “hit and miss”, to carve it up into the bits that are funny and the bits that aren’t funny (even though comedy is the most subjective of all things). That won’t suffice here.
You might laugh a hell of a lot at I Think You Should Leave. I certainly did. Some of the sketches — like the one about the office guy who tries to surreptitiously eat the lunch hotdog he’s hidden up his sleeve during a work meeting — had me in stitches.
The bit where he accidentally sucked the frankfurter halfway down his throat and almost choked had me almost choking with laughter along with him.
There were also gut-busting belly laughs in the sketch featuring Robinson playing “Karl Havoc”, a character in a hopeless prank show. The gag is his “old man” prosthetics are so howlingly, hilariously cheap, obvious and awful, he looks like his face is melting.
All of a sudden, Karl plunges into existential despair and ends up wondering if he wants to live anymore. It’s a swerve into dark territory that comes out of nowhere.
The only thing you can expect from I Think You Should Leave is the unexpected — another cliché, I know, but one that happens to fit this show perfectly. From one bit to the next, it’s clever, puerile, absurd, surreal, disturbing. You genuinely don’t know what’s coming next.
Sketches start out as one thing and spiral off into something else entirely. In that respect the series reminds me slightly of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, another show that had little truck with conventional punchlines.
But even the Pythons never went to the weird places Robinson sometimes goes. There’s a sketch about a man who’s convinced a baby knows he “used to be a piece of shit”. Another, set at a corporate entertainment evening and featuring a presenter in a gold lamé jacket compering a “little buff boys” contest (kids in grotesques muscle suits), is just deeply disquieting.
Then again, what’s shaping up to be a creepy little number with guest Bob Odenkirk as an intrusive diner abruptly shifts gear for a surprisingly moving payoff.
Robinson had a relatively brief spell working on Saturday Night Live, but apparently his comedy style never quite fit in. I’m not surprised. He’s far too good for that mediocre show.