私n the first season of I Think You Should Leave, Tim Robinson’s superlative Netflix show, there’s a sketch that made me laugh more than any joke I have ever seen on social media. 初期化, a trio of brunching women decide to post an attractive picture of themselves on Instagram, accompanied by an obligatory and utterly transparent self-deprecating caption, “so it doesn’t look like you’re just bragging”. But one of the party can’t get to grips with this odd internet etiquette. “OK, got it,” she grins earnestly. “Slopping down some pig-shit with these fat fucks, and I’m the fattest of them all. If I died tomorrow no one would shed a tear. Load my frickin’ lard carcass into the mud, no coffin please, just wet, wet mud. Bae.”
You might think the vortex of narcissism, desperation and mindless rote behaviour that characterises many people’s Instagram use would be an obvious, not to say rather tired, subject for satire by now. 実際には, TV comedy that mines laughs from the warped ways people behave online is vanishingly rare. But I Think You Should Leave – which returned for a much-lauded second season this week – does it in practically every sketch, drilling down into the absurdity of online interaction, そして, それは、ハンドルを備えた最初のツールが、ハンドルを備えていない最初のツールよりもどれだけ遅れているかです。, exposes the half-obscured egomania and self-interest that drives it.
In Wired this year, the writer Peter Rubin described the show as “a condemnation of facade. It’s an antidote, 言い換えると, to the internet itself.” Alongside Bo Burnham’s recent Netflix special, 中身 – a musical-comedy extravaganza about the ludicrous and corrosive nature of screen-based life – the show feels like the start of a brand new era: post-internet comedy.
Over the past decade, television comedy has been gradually reshaped in the internet’s image – and I Think You Should Leave is no exception. Shows are engineered to cut through the roiling information overload and to slot seamlessly into the din, as fodder for gifs, memes and no-context Twitter accounts. The absurdity, randomness and inversion of traditional joke logic that flies online has snuck on to TV under the veil of more traditional formats such as the sitcom (Stath Lets Flats’s bizarre malapropisms), the spoof chatshow (The Eric Andre Show’s bristling mania) and the sketch show. ITYSL’s skits are full of strange, meme-friendly images, rarely have a conventional punchline and ricochet wildly between different subjects and tones, much like the average timeline.
The show’s sketches have also re-entered the social media fray to much fanfare. A season-one skit in which a man in a hotdog outfit denies that the hotdog-shaped car lodged in a shop front is his, while loudly claiming “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this”, became the perfect Trump reaction meme, a neat encapsulation of flagrant hypocrisy, deflection and confected outrage. Critics are already trying to predict which sketches from the second series will become established memes.
Yet I Think You Should Leave’s genius is that it goes one step beyond the cacophonous, absurdist style that has characterised much millennial comedy: the show also acts as release value for all this commotion by unpicking the forces behind it. The aforementioned Instagram sketch is actually a bit of an outlier; the majority don’t feature any technology at all. 代わりに, Robinson transposes online behavioural patterns into the real world, where they seem even more bonkers – and disturbing. (It also means the show is, blessedly, even further removed from the actual internet. Although you do unfortunately have to watch it on there.)
As the title suggests, many sketches revolve around being wrong, weird or breaking social convention. The mysteries of mob mentality lurk beneath the surface of every sketch (will the onlookers side with lunacy or logic? It’s never predictable). Cancel culture ambiently underpinned the first season, and is addressed directly in the second, in a sketch about the “Carber reputation vacuum”, a hotdog (また) extraction device designed to stop people being fired for something they’ve said or done (“We all make mistakes, we shouldn’t be punished for them”). Some sketches involve people mercilessly condemned for nonsense transgressions; in others, a person subject to a mild public shaming tries to deflect blame in a series of ludicrous ways.
The show also apes internet behaviours that feel ineffable yet instantly recognisable. In the first season, a woman riffs repeatedly – and very badly – on a colleague’s offhand joke that “Christmas came early” because of the new photocopier, until she finds somebody willing to laugh, giving her the affirmation she craves. It is the perfect offline simulacrum of somebody retweeting their own, lacklustre joke until it gets the desired response.
That sketch captures something else that drives online behaviour but is hard to articulate: the interplay between the desire to be liked and the desire to be right. The tone is set from the very first sketch: after a positive job interview, a man attempts to open a door by pulling instead of pushing. Rather than admit his mistake in front of his potential new boss, he practically tears the door off its hinges to prove his point.
The show’s many nonsensical monologues frequently end with Robinson in fake tears. The show understands how people weaponise vulnerability online, dancing between aggressor and victim. In order to do so, every response – however innocuous – is taken as a personal insult, and being offended is just another way to advance your cause and get what you want. In one sketch, a man covertly asks a waiter to tell his date to stop eating all the loaded nachos. When the waiter finally acquiesces, the man pretends to be appalled on his date’s behalf, but she quickly cottons on. So begins a preposterous attempt to gaslight her into believing he didn’t do it – mainly by crying and playing the victim.
When a character is eventually cornered and forced to acknowledge their misbehaviour, an apology quickly turns into an opportunity to deflect blame and cultivate sympathy. It’s the career-preserving Instagram mea culpa in live-action form – it’s everything nonsensical, profoundly irritating and apparently completely acceptable that happens on social media.
Robinson hasn’t actually said he’s trying to do any of this (as multiple interviews prove, the comic dislikes dissecting his work) and it may look on the outside as if I Think You Should Leave is simply a hyper-digestible patchwork of ridiculous rants, farcical transgressions and fart jokes. But sketch shows, however straightforwardly silly they appear to be, are usually drilling down into the granular details of social dynamics. ITYSL feels so bracingly modern – it makes Saturday Night Live, the show on which Robinson began his TV career, look like a historical re-enactment of ye olde sketch comedy – because it understands that those social dynamics are different on the internet, and it’s the place where our lives are increasingly conducted. Like all great comedy, the show makes us more self-aware, shoving our contemporary cultural mores and learned behaviours back in our faces. I Think You Should Leave is a hall of mirrors: watch and reflect.