Formats Unpacked: I Think You Should Leave
How a predictably unpredictable format has built a massive and engaged fandom
Occasionally a TV show comes along that gets into your brain. Y’know. You just can’t stop thinking about it. Referencing it. Wanting to talk about it but are frustrated because not everyone has seen it or they have seen it but it’s just not for them. Today’s format is just that!
Doing the unpacking is Gem Royston-Claire. Gem is Senior Creative Director at Jellyfish, where she works with brands such as Netflix, Amazon and Google on strategy and storytelling.
Over to Gem…
What is it?
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, a sketch show on Netflix.
What’s the format?
Each of the three seasons has six episodes, around 16 minutes a pop. Most eps feature 5 sketches, with Robinson himself starring in many - plus a bevvy of well-known guests (Jason Shwartzman, Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Patti Harrison to name a few).
What’s the magic that makes it special?
Mmm, formats. There’s a reliability - cosiness even - to a predictable format. Except, that is, when it comes to I Think You Should Leave.
The show has a pretty rigid format (see above), and the sketches themselves follow a format, too. We start with something recognisable (brunch, office meeting, a commercial). But where we’ll end up, god only knows. Moments into every sketch, you find yourself in the storytelling Wild West wondering which way is up.
And this is where much of the magic lies. In almost every sketch, someone lobs the status quo out of the window, creating an intensely absurd situation. Typically, they’re oblivious to their own awkwardness and things escalate rapidly, in the most batshit of ways.
It’s a format that is paradoxically predictable and wildly unpredictable. And yet… As unhinged as the scenarios are, there’s something fans like myself find incredibly relatable about ITYSL. A combination of the writing (by Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin) and the characters’ hyperbolic performances make ITYSL immensely memorable and quotable. And thus memeable.
A big part of my day job is centred around growing and engaging fandoms - and nerdily studying their behaviour. The ITYSL fandom is a uniquely proactive bunch. Their CapCuts regularly go viral on TikTok. Countless fan-made Instagram accounts exist, spawning memes about other shows, parenting, beer and so many more. One fan has made a database of every sketch for easy viewing of your favourites. If I could shake their hand, I would.
It’s a brilliant and rare thing when you find a show that gradually invades your mind, heart and lexicon. ITYSL fans communicate in their own language, creating a wonderful sense of connection and community for those that ‘get it’. Closer to home, it’s provided something of a refresh to comms between my husband and I - we can now do everything from flirting to fighting almost exclusively in ITYSL soundbites. Covertly arguing in front of the toddler has truly never been so easy.
All of this internet-alighting, marriage-improving magic from an accumulative 4.5 hours of TV. Pretty powerful stuff. Don’t believe me? Then I think you should watch.
DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE. But if I had to…
Focus Group is probably the most famous sketch, deservedly so.
Coffin Flop. You never forget the first time you see this one.
Fan factoid: There was an amazing article on how exactly they made the flimsy coffins for this.
Gift Receipt is a masterclass in escalation. And wiping properly.
Fan factoid: Ooh look, it’s Steven Yeun from BEEF!
And a special mention for the brilliant daftness of Brian’s Hat.
The Characters was a one-off series in 2016 featuring up-and-coming comedians starring in their own 30-minute sketch show. Tim Robinson has an episode if you need more unhinged comedy in your life.
Nathan For You is a heavyweight of the sketch show genre, and who could forget Portlandia - another of the surreal comedy greats.
Whilst I have the attention of all you lovely, creative and talented people. Proper Fancy is back on the last Thursday of June. For the uninitiated, it’s like a team Show and Tell but for people without a team. Anyone can join. Even if you are part of a team but are looking for more creative inspiration. It’s happening on Thursday 29th June, 13.00 (BST). If you want to join us, just send us your details and we’ll send over a Zoom link closer to the date.
Thanks for reading. If you have a format you’d like to unpack, do let me know.
See you all next time.