I've had a hit-and-miss history with the current roster of Apple TV Plus shows, but I think I've finally found one I can excitedly recommend. Mythic Quest, which debuted on the streaming service yesterday (Feb. 7), brings a new workplace to the screen in your living room: a video game development studio.
And if you're not a video gamer, don't worry. Having watched all 9 episodes of the show, I can give it a solid recommendation as a show for everyone, not just for folks who have strong opinions about loot crates.
On top of bingeing the show in a couple of days — I even watched the final episode during my walk home from work — I got to sit down with the show's cast, as well as chat with two of its executive producers, who come from the games industry.
Here are the 7 things you need to know about Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet. Expect light spoilers, as I'm doing my best to keep surprises for the show, but can't talk around some aspects.
Mythic Quest came from the gaming industry
Throughout its 9 episodes, Mythic Quest deals with the vast majority of hot topics in the gaming world. That's owed in no small part to the folks at Ubisoft Film & Television, who pitched the show to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator Rob McElhenney.
McElhenney stars as Ian — which is pronounced as "eye-an" — Grimm, a game developer who leads the team behind the MMORPG Mythic Quest (think World of Warcraft), which has a new expansion pack that's driving everyone insane. Most prominently of those folks is Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), a socially challenged super-coder who's so obsessed with dinner parties that she wants to build them into Mythic Quest and doesn't realize there's an inappropriate two-letter acronym at play when she injects it into the game.
Throughout Mythic Quest's nine-episode run, viewers get an inside point of view on how tough it can be to code these games, how game streamers behave like spoiled children and how utterly challenging it is to be a woman in this male-dominated industry.
Gamers who watch the show might be amused to find out the Montreal-based Ubisoft is involved, because Mythic Quest's characters refers to their vaguely-evil overlords as Montreal.
Star and exec producer David Hornsby (another Sunny vet) told me that Ubisoft agreed that "no punches should be pulled" and that "we should portray the world as realistically as possible," meaning this isn't an advertisement for the world of video games. It's a very "warts and all" depiction of this industry, that gave me a reason to trust the show.
The one aspect of the show that seemed too-real was the super-young douchey video game streamer, named Pootie Shoe. That name's just a bit too close to famous and controversial YouTuber PewDiePie, and I wish they'd gone for something a little different, especially since the character isn't supposed to be similar.
At press day, Rob McElhenney told us that while he had no interest in the show originally, it took him only 10 to 15 minutes to know there was something worth digging into once he walked into Ubisoft's facilities.
Jason Altman, head of Film & Television at Ubisoft (also an executive producer), told me Ubisoft "made a point to bring in programmers and designers and creative directors and art directors and even monetization folks and marketers, to talk to the team." Altman knows the gaming industry well: he spent 15 years working in the business as a game producer.
Bringing in game dev experts to the show proved fruitful for one of the show's earliest laugh-out-loud moments, as Ubisoft's Danielle Kreinik told me when I asked about my favorite moment from the first episode. She said that when the team was at the motion capture stage, a producer working on the game within the show (from the Ubisoft studio Red Storm) sitting there watching all of the action said a moment in the show involving a shovel reminded him of a particularly vulgar phrase. "We told Rob [about said phrase that I won't spoil] and he thought it was hilarious."
It's also a really funny show
Speaking of Hornsby, this show gives the man behind the "Rickety Cricket" character from It's Always Sunny the chance to try something new. While he's not a lead, he often steals scenes as David, the team manager who can't realize he can't be everybody's friend and boss at the same time. Once David's emotions about Poppy and Ian come out, I was both embarrassed for him and laughing at him at the same time.
A lot of the show's laughs come from the main cast being a bit oblivious to the needs of side-players, who constantly get a short shrift. This is how we learn about the most put-upon HR department and a super-earnest community manager who's been exiled to the basement.
One of the weirdest parts of Mythic Quest is watching Danny Pudi — who I loved as Abed on Community — play against type. As Brad, the chief of monetization, Pudi's likability blends with dry and honest delivery of soulless profit-driven greed, and the result is half humorous and half unsettling. As he describes the most cravenly manipulative lootbox ever, I started blinking like that one GIF.
Soon enough, the Mythic Quest crew is struggling with Nazis on their server, and struggle with the art of deciding how to properly ban people. I found the show funnier as it went on, so if you laugh that much early on, know it gets better.
Mythic Quest appeals to more than just gamers
Co-creator and executive producer Megan Ganz (Community, Sunny) said the team wanted to make the show "realistic to the video game world, so that gamers would watch and see an accurate reflection, but also so someone like my mom could watch it and see a workplace she once had." And they succeeded, full stop.
While I know enough about the games industry to smell bullshit, my interests are not so tied in that it's all I care about. So I found the most enjoyment in the show when Mythic Quest depicted the imbalance between Ian and Poppy, and David and … well, everyone else, especially his assistant Jo (Jessie Ennis), a hyper-aggressive new hire who's drawn to power and repelled by her boss.
Episode 5, entitled "A Dark Quiet Death" is a classic example of Mythic Quest's story-telling. It tells a story within the show, and it's the kind of episode that should earn McElhenney an award for direction. When I asked him about this unique episode, he said "Ultimately, [are audiences] going care about the success or failure of a video game? No, I don't believe so, I wouldn't. In the same way that I don't care about the success or failure of Patty's Pub. What you care about is the birth and death of a relationship."
Yes, you're supposed to be confused about episode 5
About that episode, McElhenney said "We knew we wanted to stretch, and build something a little different, and do something we'd never done on Sunny before: take an episode that took you outside the characters of the show yet still felt thematically infused with the DNA of the rest of the season."
Almost because it's one of my favorite episodes, I want to say as little as possible. McElhenney said he's OK with audiences feeling "confused in the very beginning, if you weren't 100 percent sure that you were watching the right show — did you turn the wrong episode on? — we wanted to make sure that it felt, about halfway through that there was a direct connection to the characters that you knew." But don't worry, it's rewarding in the long run.
The Sunny gang actually gets heartfelt
The feels don't stop after this mid-season moment, and the show could have apparently gone in a different direction.
"In the first draft of the script, Ian was a buffoon, and had no real redeeming qualities, personally or professionally," said McElhenney. "But what we realized was while it was funny, it felt like we were only scratching at the surface of something, it didn't feel real."
He continued, "We wanted people to watch this show and find it funny, but believe it could really happen. That it seemed like a real studio with real human beings, making real decisions."
And with that intent, you get a series with characters who learn and evolve and grow, and who you'll actually root for.
Mythic Quest has a fantastic supporting cast
I can't believe I've gotten this far without talking about F. Murray Abraham. The veteran actor plays CW Longbottom, who writes all of the cut-scenes whenever he's getting a break from his dalliances with bottles of whiskey.
Another highlight of the show is the work of comedian Aparna Nancherla, who writes on the show and plays a coder named Michelle that really helps the show deliver stronger punches. Her dry delivery is so cutting that she'll make you as uncomfortable as she challenges her colleagues.
Also, while Poppy might seem like a secondary character at first, Charlotte Nicdao delivers one of the breakout performances of the show. She mixes zaniness and frustration so well and naturally that she's both relatable and comedic fodder.
You can watch all of Mythic Quest, right now
While explaining episode 5, McElhenney noted that this episode's strength and impact to the rest of the season is "one of the benefits of doing a 9-episode arc on a streamer, because you're seeing all of the episodes if you choose, you can experience them in a shorter period of time, and that slow roll doesn't feel quite a slow, where each episode feels like part of a whole."
McElhenney knows that this show is a divergence from his past. He describes it as "the opposite of Sunny, where each episode brings the characters through dire straits and then back to where they started. We wanted to tell a more evolving story, over the course of a season, stretch a little bit creatively with tone. By the end of it, you've seen something that was bigger than the sum of its parts."
Unlike other Apple TV Plus shows, Mythic Quest has rolled its entire first season out in one drop. And since the show only gets better and better with each episode, I'm happy that audiences can get to the best parts quickly. As I wrote about The Morning Show, a show can be hurt when it's highlights are hidden in the back end, in a moment when the streaming audience expects everything all up front.
And I can't wait for season 2 to drop. Thankfully, the writer's room is already hard at work.
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