It’s tough out there for a follow-up. The “sophomore slump” is real, but even more real is how people seem almost giddy to dislike something they were previously into. Even before watching its second season I was worried that I Think You Should Leave was primed for that kind of reaction—it seems like just the kind of thing that would fall prey to the boom-and-bust cycle of pop culture in the internet age. Although critics and comedy deep divers were on board with Tim Robinson years before I Think You Should Leave, the surprise success of that first season was, for many, accompanied by the sense that it was something secret and obscure they had personally discovered. Its growth in popularity was spread through word of mouth and social media, eventually becoming one of the most memed TV shows of the last few years. Now the second season is heavily anticipated by the show’s fans—I’ve seen more than a few people on Twitter planning to give today’s launch of season two the “stay up ‘til 3 a.m.” treatment usually reserved for new episodes of Marvel’s Disney+ shows—and any gap between that anticipation and the actual episodes themselves is where disappointment can creep in. Will it be enough to placate them if the new season is simply as good as the first one? Does it have to be better? Could any new episodes, no matter how good they are, match up to the fans’ memories of that thoroughly dissected and obsessed-over first season?
I’d like to think so. I hope so. Considering I’ve watched the entire second season of I Think You Should Leave several times now, it clearly resonates with me. But there have been so many unexpected, often unwarranted backlashes egged on and amplified by the internet over the last two decades, and it can seemingly happen with anything. It shouldn’t happen here, but maybe it will. If you feel that sense of disappointment welling up early on, at least play out the string and finish off the full season. Once again it’s less than two hours long, so you’ve definitely got the time.
If it seems weird to start a review talking about how other people might potentially respond to these episodes, well, I agree with you. I hesitated to even bring any of this up. But it was the first, strongest, and most recurring thought I had while watching the first three episodes of season two, and nagged me so thoroughly that I felt the need to address them. Those episodes aren’t bad—they’re pretty great!—but only a couple of the sketches in them reach the heights of season one. You’ll probably know ‘em when you see ‘em—keep an eye out for “Corncob TV” and a courtroom sketch.
Robinson has the same fascination with embarrassment and the failure to read social cues that drove the first season. Once again a typical sketch revolves around a character—often played by Robinson, occasionally by a guest star like Tim Heidecker or Patti Harrison or Bob Odenkirk—who does something inappropriate, embarrassing, or simply weird in public, and then doubles down on it, refusing to acknowledge any weirdness or wrong-doing no matter how much pressure or criticism they get from others. It’s a pattern that still works, and the show veers away from it just enough to keep it fresh throughout the second season.
Despite how that might sound, I Think You Should Leave isn’t really “cringe comedy.” It’s too absurd for that, the situations too pointedly cartoonish. Also, instead of The Office’s Michael Scott realizing he overstepped, broadcasting his discomfort, and ultimately being portrayed as a well-meaning and fundamentally likable person, Robinson’s characters are usually unhinged and with almost no degree of self-awareness. It elevates the comic stakes past mere discomfort and into something far more inspired.
You get all of this in spades throughout the first three episodes, which were made available to critics a week before the final three episodes. It was while watching (and rewatching) that first half of the season that I felt a bit of dread that some people would be disappointed by them.
The second half of season two mostly dispels those concerns. The last three episodes are all fantastic, with only one lackluster sketch among the bunch. (I’ll say it involves an office, but, like, half of this season’s sketches involve an office, so that wouldn’t narrow it down.) One episode breaks from the rapid-fire approach the show is known for and only features three sketches, with two of the three sprawling out to surprising lengths, seeding their absurdity with a level of detail and keen observation that makes them among the season’s very best. One sketch during this back half, an ad for a child’s toy, features such beautifully constructed and ridiculous language that I watched it five times in a row the first time I saw it, laughing harder every time. A parody of driver’s ed training videos is both utterly absurd and yet immediately recognizable to anybody who’s ever had to sit through baffling training videos. And the final sketch of the whole series, which doesn’t feature Robinson or any recognizable guest stars, ends on a surprisingly deep and melancholy note—in a sketch that also features a reference to a Sybian machine. The first half of the season isn’t remotely bad or disappointing, but the final three episodes elevate the season to the point where it’s the equal of that beloved first one.
Robinson and his co-writers (which include the show’s co-creator Zach Kanin and MacGruber co-writer John Solomon) make comedy that’s very specific and focused, and yet whose basic ideas can be applied to an almost endless spectrum of concepts and situations. I don’t see any reason I Think You Should Leave couldn’t continue on for several seasons to come, as long as the show is able to avoid the backlash and online criticism that seems to be the fate of anything that gains any modicum of success these days. If you’re worried I Think You Should Leave’s second season will disappoint you, don’t: it’s still tremendous. And yes, it’s even worth staying up ‘til 3 a.m. for.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.