Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Screenshot: I Think You Should Leave, I Think You Should Leave, Photo: Netflix

Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin’s Netflix sketch series I Think You Should Leave has proven to be one of 2019’s sleeper TV hits, its quarter-hour bursts of feet-in-mouths and social situations gone surreally awry sneakily monopolizing the cultural conversation, like a wily oddball whose good car ideas gradually win them the support and respect of their fellow focus group participants. Appropriate for a show that hinges on so much arguing, it’s caused plenty of discussion and disagreement about which of its sketches is the best, the funniest, the most unpredictable. So, The A.V. Club asked itself: Who will be the I Think You Should Leave sketch of the year? One of the show’s many conceptual reveries? A gut-busting reunion with the creators’ former Detroiters and Saturday Night Live collaborators? Something where Robinson digs his heels in to outrageously disastrous effect? (Given the contents of the show, the odds are pretty good on that last one.) However your conclusions match up with ours, please try to prevent yourself from flying off into an impotent rage that ultimately causes discomfort for yourself, your friends, your loved ones, the customers at a high-end clothing chain, Jeff Chris from Indiana, and/or Bart Harley Jarvis.

29. “Both Ways” (episode one)

Photo: Netflix

The series’ very first sketch has perhaps the simplest premise: a man leaving an interview in a coffee shop insists to his potential employer that the door he’s pulling instead of pushing can actually open both ways, despite all evidence to the contrary. Rather than save face and just push the door open, Robinson’s doomed interviewee pulls until the frame splinters, the door hinges screeching while a slow line of drool creeps down his chin. It’s the perfect introduction to I Think You Should Leave: a character doubling down on a minor mistake, anchored by Robinson’s expertly calibrated, red-faced performance. Plus: It’s a nice little toss-off line when Robinson tells the interviewer, “You were great.” [Laura Adamczyk]

28. “Pink Bag” (episode two)

This is I Think You Should Leave with the factory settings on. A low-status fool (Robinson) has a disproportionate reaction to a public embarrassment, in this case a whoopee cushion placed on his conference room chair. It’s a bit of a meta sketch, its escalation coming by way of Robinson sarcastically asking his co-workers what additional pranks they’re planning to top the faux-flatulence. Bonus points for the “family photo” detail, but “Pink Bag” is a herald of better fart jokes to come. [Erik Adams]

27. “Which Hand” (episode four)

Photo: Netflix

The vast majority of I Think You Should Leave sketches play out as an elaborate game of “Who’s The Asshole Here?”. But for once, that all-important title seems to float around a bit, from the overly aggressive stage magician who plays a little too rough with poor, good-natured Charlie, to Cecily Strong as the wife outraged that her husband let “that fat piece of shit” “pull his little dick out and jerk you off in front of everyone,” to, eventually, the beleaguered Charlie himself. Only Strong really nails it, though, with her understated, heartbroken “Why the fuck didn’t you stick up for yourself?” delivering the sketch’s biggest punchline, despite the fact that it has two minutes of runtime (and a very “eh, whatever” text flash ending) left to go. [William Hughes]

26. “Babysitter” (episode five) 

The fifth episode of the season closes with a sketch that just tries to do too much. It’s pretty good as a showcase for the deep holes Robinson digs for his characters, but the vendetta sprung from a point-by-point dissection of “Babysitter”’s central fib earns its most appropriate reaction from within: The incredulous “What?!” Artie O’Daly lets out when his husband explains why he has to embarrass their friend at this party. [Erik Adams]

25. “Lifetime Achievement” (episode four) 

Never underestimate an I Think You Should Leave protagonist’s ability to make someone else’s moment all about themselves. Here, Robinson dons a jazz-nerd Groucho Marx getup to present Herbie Hancock (not the actual “Rockit” man, but an incredible simulation) with a lifetime achievement honor, but he can’t stop himself from revisiting a moment earlier in the ceremony, when he was “bit” by a dog. The truth of the matter is only slightly funnier than the lie, a pratfall caught on camera that fails to earn the sympathy of a hostile audience or the deadpan man of the hour. [Erik Adams]

24. “Bozo” (episode six)

Not every I Think You Should Leave sketch ventures into full-blown absurdity, some instead digging into familiar, mildly uncomfortable situations, made more uncomfortable by a character’s overblown, counterintuitive response. In “Bozo,” a split sketch, a group of coworkers waiting for a meeting entertain themselves by watching viral YouTube videos, each suggesting their favorite and echoing each other’s “so funny”s before even clicking. The humor lies more in Robinson’s performance than anything else, his Reggie growing increasingly distressed that he neither recognizes any of the videos nor has a favorite of his own. “It’s fine if you don’t have one,” a colleague reassures him, before Reggie comes up with an, of course, ill-advised plan. You won’t believe what happens in part two of this sketch. So funny. [Laura Adamczyk]

23. “Choking” (episode five)

Photo: Netflix

The shining star of this restaurant sketch isn’t the River Mountain High (see below) hunk whose presence leads Robinson to choke on an appetizer, lest he humiliate himself in front of multi-hyphenate Caleb Wendt—it’s the strained, gargling quack Robinson adopts as he attempts to play it cool in front of the man who designed his studded leather belt. [Erik Adams]

22. “Chunky” (episode six)

Photo: Netflix

It’s a Chunky! Chunky eats your points and gets very mad! But what does that mean? That’s the question plaguing this episode six sketch, which finds Dan Vega’s Mega Money Quiz derailed by a mascot who hasn’t really mapped out his bit, despite having had “all summer” to think of it. Andy Samberg guests as a bewildered contestant, but the blank-faced, red-furred Chunky steals the sketch, confusedly translating Vega’s nebulous demand to “eat points” into dancing, physical violence, and the sloppy destruction of Samberg’s laptop. One wishes for another twist—it anticlimaxes with Chunky making Samberg wear his own hat—but Robinson keeps things lively with dorky clues—“Melted or cold/from the cow’s utters/over time it will grow mold”—that reveal Mega Money Quiz to have problems bigger than an unimaginative mascot. [Randall Colburn]

21. “Instagram” (episode one)

A prime example of the show’s finely tailored cameos, giving a voice to all the sarcastic self-deprecation in your social media feed: The upspeak that’s long been one of the most potent weapons in Vanessa Bayer’s comedic arsenal. “Instagram” hits its one joke and hits it hard, aided by the glee with which Bayer’s tone-deaf Sunday funday reveler throws out insults like “pig dicks” and “bona fide pieces of hog shit.” [Erik Adams]

20. “River Mountain High” (episode four)

Photo: Netflix

The hip soundtrack, the weirdly hazy hallways, the floppy-haired, troubled heartthrob who appears at least four years too old to be in high-school: “River Mountain High” is a precision tooled Riverdale parody, but then Robinson’s voice barges in from offscreen, tugging the teen drama into the depths of product-integration hell. Culminating in a more straightforward sales pitch for TC Tuggers by TC Topps (“The only shirt with a dope tugging knob”) the two-part “River Mountain High” gets its punch from editing, cutting between the exceedingly patient and surprisingly curious young couple and their gawky principal, tripping over his lines and pausing to take a big gulp from a water bottle. [Erik Adams]

19. “Party House” (episode six) 

Photo: Netflix

There’s a brief survey of modern sketch in the credits of every I Think You Should Leave, from the directing duo of Akiva Schaffer (The Lonely Island) and Alice Mathias (Documentary Now!, Portlandia) to the alumni of Nathan For You, Inside Amy Schumer, Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, and The Birthday Boys among its producers. With its Too Many Cooks horror-comedy punchline and sea-sick color palette, “Party House” feels like it owes the biggest debts to Adult Swim, but it’s also a wonderful prop-based premise, with Robinson passing the obliviousness torch off to Kate Berlant as they and their coworkers conduct the serious business of an intervention on and around furniture shaped like Garfield, Odie, and Nermal. [Erik Adams]

18. “Has This Ever Happened To You” (episode one)

Photo: Netflix

While the as-seen-on-TV lawyer with a bad suit and worse haircut may not be the most original character in comedy, like many I Think You Should Leave sketches, this one excels for its sharp left turn into silly absurdity. What begins as a spoof on a commercial offering services to rectify a termite infestation in a newly purchased home quickly becomes an ad to correct a way more particular problem, including a pair of prankster exterminators sloshing around in the homeowner’s bathroom and jumping on the furniture while he reads his art books. “Has this ever happened to you?” Robinson’s Mitch Bryant yells into the camera after detailing the long-winded, impossible hypothetical. Well, only the once. Shout-out to the visual gag of a toilet hole so small it’s “just for farts.” [Laura Adamczyk]

17. “Fenton’s Stables And Horse Ranch” (episode six)

Male fragility gets taken to the glue factory in this commercial parody, where a couple of amateur cowpokes straight out of a Cialis ad discover the joys of mounting steeds whose members are no larger than the average man’s. Ted and Emily Skull (any relation to “Baby Of The Year” pediatrician Dr. Skull?) are all too proud to show off their dinky calling cards, the sight of tiny horse penises played just as straight as Ted and Emily’s cheery ad copy and their business’ stentorian-then-gentle jingle: “Fenton’s Stables And Horse Ranch / Where the horses are hung like you-ou.” “Fenton’s Stables And Horse Ranch” is gleefully sophomoric proof of I Think You Should Leave’s willingness to go all-in on a gag. (R.I.P. Shortstack.) [Erik Adams]

16. “New Printer” (episode five)

Though Robinson bears the brunt of I Think You Should Leave’s assorted faux pas, the show demonstrates a generosity with its mortifying setups. For example, this workplace sketch starring Shrill standout Patti Harrison, who follows an officemate’s clichéd reaction to a new printer—“Christmas must’ve come early this year”—with a flurry of similar, increasingly tortured and poorly received yuletide material. The Santa stuff gets deeply strange, as does Harrison’s way of delivering it. (Where did she find the Forrest Gump/Eeyore voice of “Does that count as what I get for Christmas… as my gift?”, and where can we get more of it?). It’s a desperation for validation that’s all too real, and it comes with a payoff that just goes to show you it’s not the size of the gift, but the thought, that counts. [Erik Adams]

15. “Wilson’s Toupees” (episode two) 

Detroiters was one of the last and cruelest TV casualties of 2018, and it’s heartening to see some of that old Cramblin Duvet spirit carrying over to I Think You Should Leave’s commercial parodies. This one benefits from a Mr. Show-esque conceptual spiral, as celebrity spokesperson Bruno Amato passionately lays out a solution to a nonexistent problem: Giving up a toupee cold turkey without making friends and colleagues feel like you’ve been lying to them about your follicular fortitude. The complications mount quickly within an authentically infomercial-cheap framework, and that’s even before Wilson’s throws a gorilla-suit ambush into the mix. Presented as the ad break within River Mountain High’s TC Topps endorsement, “Wilson’s Toupees” bolsters the previous sketch’s Riverdale send-up, making it clear that while the drama might’ve started out targeting moody teens, its true audience is T-shirt tugging, middle-aged chrome domes who think musty Curly Howard schtick will make them the life of the party. [Erik Adams]

14. “Baby Shower” (episode six)

Photo: Netflix

They say you shouldn’t put a hat on a hat—“they” being comedy writers, and “a hat on a hat” being a funny idea that’s had another funny idea piled on top of it, putting both ideas in conflict and negating what’s funny about them, individually. But what about putting 50 Stanzo brand fedoras on top of a hat? That’s the tricky calculus pulled off by “Baby Shower,” in which there isn’t just a pattern to a significant other’s crummy ideas for the titular occasion—there are major financial stakes and a degree of economic thinking that maybe should’ve occurred to him before his mob movie failed to get off the ground? I Think You Should Leave has a great ear for odd turns of phrase, and “Stanzo brand fedoras” and “black slicked-back hair wigs” are the type that’ll tickle your funny bone before worming their way into the recesses of your brain. [Erik Adams]

13. “New Joe” (episode three)

Photo: Netflix

If a mustachioed Fred Willard shows up to fill in for your church’s regular organist, best case scenario is he’ll insult one of the congregation members in a well-meaning but overly familiar manner. Worst case scenario? Well, that’s the beautiful cacophony of “New Joe,” in which the title character brings “his own, much larger organ”—a calliope-type contraption he accompanies with pull cord sound effects and the shattering of flatware—to a funeral service. At nearly 80 years old, Willard remains the master of this type of comedic guilelessness, that big, goony grin of his and the completely inappropriate cheeriness it brings to New Joe’s exclamations of “My condolences” plugging I Think You Should Leave into a whole continuum of fictional boobs who don’t know how to read the room. [Erik Adams]

12. “The Day That Robert Palins Murdered Me” (episode five)

If the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line is to be believed, one of Cash’s signature hits came together on the spot, a Hail Mary pass intended to impress a gospel-weary Sam Phillips. Billy, the Cash surrogate played by Rhys Coiro in I Think You Should Leave’s fifth episode, tries to pull a similar audible with his murder ballad “The Day That Robert Palins Murdered Me,” but he hasn’t counted on his over-eager bassist (Robinson), who takes the instruction “Follow my lead” a touch too literally. The sketch hinges on the tug-of-war between the singer’s considered storytelling and the bassist’s awkward, supernaturally themed riffing, which gets delightfully hung up on the minutiae of its skeletal antagonists’ underground world. But the performances are just as crucial to that tension, with Coiro allowing just a dash of frustration into his Man In Black composure, as Robinson flails about physically and lyrically, building a country-and-western mythology out of bone money (and also worm money), food surpluses, and hair that’s puled up but not out. [Erik Adams]

11. “Brooks Brothers” (episode five)

Photo: Netflix

There’s a lot going on here—from Robinson’s signature brand of comedic gaslighting, to his hyper-specific recitation of online porn sites in the faces of a flummoxed crowd—but it sticks in the memory for two quickly escalating moments of pitch-perfect visual comedy. First: A crowd of people angrily demand to know who crashed a Wiener Hut car into a high-end men’s apparel store, only for Robinson to sidle into frame, decked out in a hot dog suit, and attempting to blend in with the irate pack. And second: The moment shortly after, when he refutes the assertion that he’s the only one there dressed like a hot dog by pointing to a random bystander in a bun-colored suit, mustard tie, and bright red shirt. Zach Kanin’s quiet “Oh no” as he realizes that he is, indeed, dressed as much like a hot dog as you can get (without actually being in a hot dog costume) seals the perfect absurdity of the moment. [William Hughes]

10. “Game Night” (episode three)

“Your new boyfriend seems very mature.” “Yeah, Howie’s great, he works at the tobacco shop my mom buys cigars at.” Together, those two lines represent the driving force behind the comedy of I Think You Should Leave: Pushing awkward situations way past the point of uncomfortable and into the realm of the absurd. Tim Heidecker’s been spending his post-Tim And Eric years slowly molding himself into a living deadpan parody of a smug singer-songwriter type, meaning all it takes is a ponytail to transform him into condescending, flatulent Roy Donk superfan Howie. We’ve all met this guy, and the dynamic between middle-aged Howie and his much younger girlfriend—he tells her she’ll never be a good writer, she tells him he’s going to get cancer—is similarly, painfully real, just with a little room-temperature gazpacho to spice it up. [Katie Rife]

9. “Nachos” (episode four)

Photo: Netflix

When given the choice, Robinson’s protagonists will more often than not lie, and when found out—and they are always found out—lie some more for good measure. During a date in what appears to be the early goings of a courtship (complete with banal, dorky conversation beats like “Just play the hits!”), Robinson’s hapless everyman notices that his date is eating all of the fully loaded chips on their shared plate of nachos, leaving him with scraps. Rather than just ask that she stop bogarting all the fully loaded chips, he gets up and asks their waiter to tell his date the restaurant has a rule against such behavior. When Robinson’s request is discovered, it’s the (over)acting that really sells the sketch. Reminiscent of a child caught lying, he becomes utterly invested in the lie, displaying theatrics so overwrought and over-the-top that he has trouble speaking through his (very real) tears. There’s just no turning back. And now there’s no going to that movie either. [Laura Adamczyk]

8. “Christmas Carol” (episode four)

Time to own up to the inherent faultiness of a list like this: One of I Think You Should Leave’s best sketches is best seen within the confines of the fourth episode, which introduces Sam Richardson’s cybernetic post-apocalyptic warrior in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cold open, cutting away shortly after he blurts out an epiphany about his/humanity’s last hope. And that hope surfaces, as such hopes often do, in the seemingly most unlikely of places: A cut-rate TV version of A Christmas Carol, titled The Night Scrooge Saved Christmas in the first indication that this isn’t your grandfather’s Dickens adaptation. The second: Richardson, in mech armor, bursting through the reformed miser’s wall. The head fake only works once; “Christmas Carol” stays fresh by committing fully to the “Christmas Carol is a time-travel story” premise, in all its janky dialogue, whacked-out exposition (“Now go ahead and eat that goop, Scrooge—it’ll give you the Bonie’s sense of humor”), and escalation of all the I Think You Should Leave jokes involving bones and/or skeletons. Richardson has the ability to sell the ludicrous nature of this battle while also making all of the details sound completely plausible—if only he could’ve been on set for the last few Terminator movies. [Erik Adams]

7. “Biker Guy” (episode two)

Photo: Netflix

Taking a simple prompt—in this case, the writing exercise “how would you describe this item to an alien?”—and using it as a springboard for pure, uncut silliness is one of I Think You Should Leave’s most effective comedic tactics. “Biker Guy” uses both performance and text to reinforce the absurdity: The sketch is laugh-out-loud funny from the get-go, thanks to Robinson’s goofy wig and gravely “Woooooooow” as a motorcycle dude in awe of the sweet hog sitting in front of him on the sidewalk. Then, bit by bit, the sketch builds as Robinson marvels at a bike (“A motorcycle with no motor? Okay!”) and a car (“two motorcycles with a little house in the middle? Daaaang”) before being overwhelmed with ecstasy upon viewing a bus for what seems like the first time. That’s when the sketch takes a turn for the conceptual, as it’s revealed that Robinson is an alien from a biker planet sent down to Earth to make sure that the planet has motorcycles. Which we do, resulting in a happy ending for Robinson and his intergalactic pals. [Katie Rife]

6. “Gift Receipt” (episode one)

Photo: Netflix

I Think You Should Leave ends its first episode on something of a comedic thesis statement, taking a very basic sketch premise—guy demands his friend give back a gift receipt so that he can’t return a crappy present—and then twisting it through such a convoluted series of escalations that it’s hardly recognizable by the time it hits its weirdly somber end. Steven Yeun is the perfect foil for this worse-than-usual version of Robinson’s insecure asshole character, providing a gentle voice of reason even as the rest of the crowd slowly gives in to the spreading madness. By its end, “Gift Receipt” takes on the cadence of a horror movie, as each of Yeun’s guests reveal that they’re just as crazy as poor, doomed Lev, leaving him all alone to reflect on an errant mud pie gone awry. [William Hughes]

5.The Man” (episode two)

Will Forte feels the most at home of all of Robinson’s Saturday Night Live castmates who pop up on I Think You Should Leave. Whereas the colorful maniacs Forte specializes in were often banished to SNL’s 10-to-1 slot, here they thrive. In “The Man” he adopts a look that might be to ITYSL what handkerchiefs, spectacles, and tiny mustaches were to Monty Python’s Flying Circus in order to drag a pair of unsuspecting honeymooners into a letterboxed revenge thriller. This gravel-voiced stranger is menacing right up until the point that he’s not, as the details of his plot and a line of questioning peels away the layers of intimidation and reveals the core of pitifulness and pettiness that’s squirming beneath the surface of all great Forte weirdos. When the tension inevitably breaks, the once (and future?) MacGruber doesn’t miss a beat, his vengeful wailing—meant to taunt the former baby who long ago ruined his dream of making the Queen’s Guard laugh—not too far off from his whining to the flight attendant who delivers the death blow to his plan. [Erik Adams]

4. “Laser Spine Specialists” (episode three)

Photo: Netflix

What begins as a commercial for “minimally invasive spine surgery” turns into a heated flare-up between Robinson’s jilted amateur singer and Conner O’Malley’s song-sharking scam artist that’s still a commercial for “minimally invasive spine surgery.” Laser Spine Specialists’ logo routinely pops up in the bottom corner as Rod and O’Malley argue over the ailing “Moon River Rock,” adding an extra dose of insanity to a sketch that’s already found Rod wanting to fight his wife’s new husband and lift his adult son over his head—he has, after all, been rude to him his whole life. The highlight here, though, is the weird, lived-in details, from O’Malley’s talk of a mixer in Indiana to the arrival of another scammed singer to O’Malley telling Rod his family hates him and “only I love you!” If we were O’Malley, we also would’ve been on the verge of giggles the entire time. [Randall Colburn]

3. “Traffic” (episode four)

I Think You Should Leave doesn’t need much to inspire one of its signature flights of absurdist fancy. In the case of “Traffic,” a simple bumper sticker provides the setup to one of the show’s most elaborate sketches, as Tim Robinson is tortured by the sound of a dude, played by the aforementioned Conner O’Malley, following him everywhere he goes and just laying on his car horn. Turns out the culprit is a bumper sticker on Robinson’s car that says “Honk If You’re Horny,” as he discovers when he finally confronts O’Malley in a cemetery. O’Malley’s pitch-perfect delivery as he thrashes around in horndog pain begging Robinson for “some magazines or a calendar or something” would be the end point for many sketches with this premise. But “Traffic” keeps building from there as Robinson is busted with a trunk full of dirty magazines, leading to a moment of faux-sincere bro bonding capped with a deadpan musical number from Robinson as O’Malley clutches his precious porno. Did we mention this is all taking place during Robinson’s mom’s funeral? [Katie Rife]

2. “Focus Group” (episode three)

If Tim Robinson’s comedy is built upon an unwavering commitment to the bit, he’s found the perfect collaborator in Ruben Rabasa, an 81-year-old Cuban actor who can not only keep up with Robinson’s cruel, peripatetic whims, but deliver every line as if it were his last. Look at “Focus Group,” which initially finds Rabasa playing the “weird” one in a focus group for a new car model—amidst suggestions for “Bluetooth capability” and “extra cup holders,” for example, he demands “a good steering wheel that doesn’t fly off while you’re driving.” But then Rabasa abruptly turns on mild-mannered Paul (co-creator Zach Kanin), dubbing him “teacher’s pet” and suggesting he’s in love with his mother-in-law, a joke that, hilariously, prompts snickers from the fellow volunteers. In a way, it serves as a microcosm of what makes I Think You Should Leave so special—it takes a brazen, charismatic boldness to so fundamentally disrupt a sketch’s premise and internal logic, but Robinson pivots with such a steady hand that we stay on his level, following him down freakish detours and, somehow, laughing at mother-in-law jokes. [Randall Colburn]

1. “Baby Of The Year” (episode one)

Screenshot: I Think You Should Leave

Could there a be a better representation of everything I Think You Should Leave brings to the sketch-comedy table than a sequined Sam Richardson failing to control a crowd that’s out for the blood of an infant in biker gear? “Baby Of The Year” is the first season at its most ambitious, with twirling camerawork, a cutesy graphic package, and an unfortunately detailed “in memoriam” segment (Says Richardson: “Calm down, they’re old ones”)—banal award-show trappings into which the show’s screaming madness is crammed, like an itty bitty bandana straining to cover for Bart Harley Jarvis’ completely flat back of the head. It’s an extension of Detroiters’ sincere silliness blended with the more sinister absurdity of I Think You Should Leave’s Abso Lutely influences, and like a genuine live broadcast, it remains unpredictable until the very last frame. Just don’t believe the emcee’s sign off, the season’s very first “dump it”: In the competition for the very best I Think You Should Leave sketch, it’s “Baby Of The Year” by a mile. [Erik Adams]

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