“Always Sunny” creator’s new Show has humor and heart
About a year ago, in June 2019, videogame giant Ubisoft (full disclosure: my wife’s employer) released a trailer at the E3 Convention, announcing their first foray into original television programming. The trailer introduced Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, a new comedy series that would be streaming exclusively on the Apple TV+ media platform. They put the new show into the capable hands of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia co-creator, co-writer, and co-star, Rob McElhenney.
Like on “Sunny,” McElhenney, Charlie Day and Megan Ganz oversee the writing of Mythic Quest, with McElhenney starring in the leading role of Ian Grimm, a narcissistic but lovable creative director for the online game and global sensation, Mythic Quest (think World of Warcraft). The show itself is a comedy about the team that built, and maintains, this massive, ever-evolving, globally-economized, game.
One of the things that makes the show unique is that, with the day-to-day involvement of Ubisoft Film & Television execs, they’ve deeply anchored it in the reality of true-to-life game developers, including many of the unique personalities such communities foster, whether they be ego-driven maniacs with a heart of gold like Grimm, or nerdy, socially-awkward data wizards like the character Poppy, played with neurotic aplomb by actress Charlotte Nicdao. There’s even a Hugo-award-winning game scriptwriter played by Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham. He’s a has-been sci-fi writer whose character drinks too much, has a questionable sexual history, and sleeps in closets, but somehow retains the threads of regality as the cast’s anti-PC voice. He drops side-mouth, tone-deaf quips to the younger workers around him with cringeworthy and often hilarious results.
While the first season has the same sense of feeling out its world and characters that many new shows have in their initial runs, there are more than enough highlights to suggest that once McElhenney and crew find their footing, Mythic Quest could easily match the quality and relative success of shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and, of course, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, now going into its 15th season.
It’s also noteworthy that, in their first and only season, the creators made the brave decision to create a standalone, appendix-type episode that features different characters and exists in an earlier timeline than the rest of the series. McElhenney, who directed the standout episode “A Dark Quiet Death”, is already receiving early buzz for award consideration, and the two lead actors of this episode will probably get similar attention. It’s about as close to a perfect thirty minutes of episodic television that you’ll see this year.
But other episodes also provide plenty of keystone moments. The pilot episode’s main storyline revolves around the creation of a “shovel” for users of the game that creates inner-office conflict and culminates in a hilarious send-up of gaming violence. The “Blood Ocean” finale is a worthy endcap to the season, offering the biggest laughs of season one while also creating a satisfying progression of the characters leading into the future.
With the show’s first full season is currently available for Apple TV+ subscribers, it has already been successful enough that a second season has entered production, albeit tenuously with the pandemic bringing all film/TV production to a temporary halt. But even though the pandemic has made it impossible to begin production on the new season, McElhenney thought of a way to not only create new content for the show’s fans, but also find a way to have Mythic Quest speak directly to the challenges, hardships, and bizarre reality of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Mythic Quest: Quarantine
Enter Mythic Quest: Quarantine, an add-on episode to the first season filmed entirely on iPhones—while the cast, both in reality and in the world of the show—were physically quarantined. And although other shows had done similar productions (Parks and Recreation, for one), the Mythic Quest: Quarantine episode was unique in that the actors themselves played the roles of the crew, handling their own wardrobe, props, makeup, lighting and camera work, from their private homes. Apple execs were more than happy to provide the 40 iPhones which the cast used to film the episode.
What the cast and remote crew were able to pull off was technically astounding. They wrote, filmed, edited, and aired the episode in a matter of three weeks. But it was also incredibly heartfelt, funny, and entertaining. A nice footnote to add is that while, in the episode, the fictional gaming company decides to donate $600,000 to charitable pandemic-relief organizations, the real-world creators replicated the act by raising $600,000 to Mercy Corps’ COVID-19 relief program.
Overall, Mythic Quest is definitely worth tuning into. It’s fun, comfort-food programming that can often be (very) dark, and uncomfortable enough to make you cringe while wearing a grin on your face, but it also has a ton of genuine, laugh-out-loud moments, and several well-earned scenes of emotional depth. Best of all, it’s definitely trending upward as it heads into Season Two. It will be interesting to see what McElhenney and his team will take the characters, now entering a (hopefully) post-pandemic world.