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When I Think You Should Leave debuted in 2019, it hit like a lightning bolt. Unless you came to it pre-armed with a working knowledge of minor, short-lived stars of Saturday Night Live from a decade ago, the arrival of Tim Robinson felt like the very best sort of surprise.
As the co-creator and lead actor of the series, Robinson’s comedy exploded at you from a million different angles. He’d made a sketch show, but one that deliberately avoided the genre’s traditional premise-escalation-conclusion structure in favour of freeform absurdism. From the second sketch – a compensation lawyer infomercial for a specific plumbing incident that leaves Robinson in pulsating fits of uncomprehending rage – it became clear that I Think You Should Leave was going to deal with a number of unfamiliar patterns.
The problem with this, of course, is that the longer a thing lasts, the more obvious the patterns become. And with every new season of I Think You Should Leave, Robinson essentially walks a tightrope of staying exciting without lapsing into trope. It’s something he very skilfully managed to avoid with 2021’s second season, which was by far the saddest mainstream sketch show of recent years. Sketches hung around longer than they should, to show the characters mournfully being driven home by their mothers or experiencing moments of melancholy connection with newborn babies on the beach. Just when you thought you knew what I Think You Should Leave was, it turned on a dime and refreshed the format.
Today, the third season of I Think You Should Leave premiered on Netflix. Like the first two, it is made up of six short episodes. And, like the first two, it is extraordinarily funny. Its opening pair of sketches alone offer four separate heaving, helpless belly laughs; the sort of laugh that forces you to pause and rewind the episode because your laughter blew through a handful of other jokes. I’ve sat through entire seasons of television that haven’t made me laugh as much as I Think You Should Leave manages in three minutes. It is an incredible, extraordinary achievement.
But back to the patterns. I Think You Should Leave got its name because a recurring theme is that it features characters who tend to plant a stake in the ground and, no matter how annoying or repulsive it is, obsessively double down on it until it would be better if they simply abandoned the situation. Think of the guy in the hotdog outfit from season one, obnoxiously trying to figure out who crashed the hotdog car into a shop. Or the guy from season two, passing out from hunger because he spent all his money on elaborately patterned shirts.
There’s more of this in season three (one sketch at a drive-through restaurant is a classic of the form) but, once again, Robinson has managed to subtly shift the format. Because now, possibly for the first time ever, Tim Robinson is occasionally allowed to win. In a handful of sketches – not many, but enough – he plants his stake, and people actually start to agree with him. Yes, admittedly, in one of them this makes him violently convulse until the pupils of his eyes completely disappear, but this still represents progress. It means that Tim Robinson has started to actively bend the world towards his point of view, and while this might doom us all to a horrible life, he should nevertheless be proud.
Obviously all sketch shows are a little hit and miss by nature, and the weaker points here hint at a possibility that Robinson might be becoming hamstrung by his success. Like previous seasons, he employs a number of guest stars – Will Forte is back again, along with Beck Bennett and The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri – but now his style of presentation has become so distinct that several of them just spend their sketches doing bad Tim Robinson impersonations. It’s like that period where everyone who ever acted in a Woody Allen film suddenly started speaking exactly like Woody Allen. On one hand, Robinson should be flattered that he has become so influential. On the other, it does make you wish that all the Tim Robinsons on the show were just played by Tim Robinson.
However, this is the slightest possible gripe. There are moments in this season that fully reduced me to jelly. The name of a wrestler. Some stickers on a car window. A pig in a mask. The world is a better place with new episodes of I Think You Should Leave in it. More pressingly, its arrival (along with Sunday night’s Barry finale) means that the final episode of Succession – literally a watershed moment in the history of prestige drama that will be talked about for decades to come – is somehow now only my third-favourite television show of the week. How lucky we are to have such riches bestowed on us.