We’re all plagued by our past mistakes. Actually, in case I’m generalizing to make myself feel better here, I’m plagued by my past mistakes. It’s not uncommon for me to relitigate an innocuous conversation or email, agonizing that I’d somehow exposed myself as petty or tone-deaf or self-important or any one of a thousand damning traits. Just this week, I found myself cringing in the shower thinking about how I botched an order in a fancy cocktail bar more than a year ago. I’m not saying it’s rational, I’m just saying it happens.
Yet, of all the tiny failings my brain loves to seize on, only one of them is something I wrote. And today happens to be its anniversary. In a piece about Netflix comedies on this very site exactly two years ago, I somehow found it plausible to claim that Tim Robinson’s sketch series I Think You Should Leave was not “particularly good.”
In case I haven’t made this clear yet: I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Since I Think You Should Leave first arrived on Netflix on April 23, 2019, I’ve watched it—and this is a conservative estimate—100 times. Granted, the lone season comprises only six episodes, their 29 total sketches stretching to all of 100 minutes. That’s a shortish movie. But I’ve revisited that shortish movie, or at least the vast majority of it, every week or two. Malcolm Gladwell would say I’d mastered it, though he’d also probably wonder why I had.
Thankfully, the “why” doesn’t take a Malcolm Gladwell to figure out. That thing my brain does, where I’m unable to let go of embarrassments both real and imaginary? Whatever that is, it finds a kindred spirit in I Think You Should Leave. Of its 29 sketches, nearly every one hinges on a character who is gloriously, spectacularly wrong—yet refuses to budge, lest they be humiliated by copping to their own wrongness. The show opens with a man who tries to pull open a push-open door after a job interview, then insists that it goes both ways, drooling with the effort as he ultimately cracks the door’s frame. Its final episode features Reggie, a guy who so badly wants to be able to play “name your favorite funny YouTube clip” reindeer games with his coworkers that he goes home and creates his own, then tries to pass off the horrible result as a viral video. Both men are played by Robinson, who’s so attuned to our worst self-preservation impulses that he rarely plays the foil.
Instead, he’s the guy who attends a baby-shower-planning meeting with his girlfriend and won’t stop suggesting that the gift bags include the low-grade props from his failed mob movie. He’s the guy in a hot dog suit who crashes his wienermobile into a men’s clothing store and clings to his innocence, admonishing the clientele for watching porn on their phones while he steals an armload of suits. He’s the guy at a group dinner who chokes on a jalapeño popper but refuses to admit it in front of a pop-star guest, instead delivering a guttural, nonsensical toast. He is, in our worst ways, all of us.
Streaming has reinvigorated sitcoms like The Office and Friends, garnering them new fan bases and making them the mindless comfort-watch of multiple generations. It turned Key & Peele into a YouTube juggernaut. But it has also allowed I Think You Should Leave, with its feverish parade of awkwardness and vicarious self-flagellation, to snowball into an entirely new sort of comedy phenomenon: a cult hit that has achieved an outsized level of cultural impact, at least in terms of memes produced per minute of run time. Even if you’ve never watched the show, you’ve consumed it.