In the somewhat-Purgatorial, somewhat-Hellish realm that is pandemic television, Mythic Quest somehow thrives. The video game workplace comedy (which has a niche audience, to say the least) landed on Apple TV+ about a month before the world shut down, a faint artifact of the forgettable February 2020. And Mythic Quest could have faded away after that, as a show that only stood out because of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney. It could have held out for the pandemic to be over, like other workplace hits Succession or Apple’s own Ted Lasso. It could have ramped up on pandemic imagery, like Superstore or This Is Us. But, no. Mythic Quest has done none of those things. Somehow, perhaps thanks to the genius of creators McElhenney, Megan Ganz, and Charlie Day, Season 2 of Mythic Quest strikes a brilliant, lighthearted balance of pandemic living with humor.
After two epic pandemic episodes bridging the gap between Seasons 1 and 2, this new season plops the MQ workers back into the office, finally—a feat most of us will face in the months to come. Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) and Ian (McElhenney) face a task even greater than the Raven’s Banquet expansion: a second expansion. Though the pair are more agreeable than in Season 1, as David teases, they tiptoe on the brink of a creator’s divorce. Not exactly fighting, but not exactly collaborating, the pair exchange passive-aggressive bickering through leadership conferences, a brainstorming sesh or two, and in their new shared office (which, naturally, doesn’t last too long). As a whole, the second series is all about duos: from Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana’s (Imani Hakim) budding relationship to Brad (Danny Pudi) and Jo’s (Jessie Ennis) eschewed mentorship. That’s not to say that the scrappy outliers, like lone wolf David (David Hornsby) or exhausted HR head Carol (Naomi Ekperigin), don’t try and steal every scene, though.
While McElhenney blesses the screen as the stand-offish Ian, Nicdao’s Poppy emerges as the show’s true star. She is furiously flawed—a stubborn workaholic with no social life but a knack for designing games—but a perfect foil to Ian’s charismatic ego. The two share a friendship with off-the-charts chemistry, hurling insults that sound like compliments and compliments that sound like insults at each other with such ease. Alongside them, both actors who play Longbottom at different ages (F. Murray Abraham and Josh Brener) shine especially bright this season. And who could forget Pudi’s wonderful performance as Brad, the know-it-all? A visit from his zany brother allows for more time with Brad, leading to one inevitable conclusion: Danny Pudi should be cast in every comedy series.
The series hits a high point halfway through the new season with “Backstory,” its fifth episode, which follows the saga of a young Carl “C.W.” Longbottom (Brener). The aptly-titled chapter takes a risky leap into 1970s Los Angeles, a locale completely unfamiliar with video games, much less Mythic Quest. Carl earns an apprenticeship of-sorts at a publishing house in the city, teaming up with his co-workers to become a real writer. But, true to C.W. and the antics of Mythic Quest, he strays from the course. C.W. was a stand-out in the first season, and although he rarely rears his problematic head in the office in Season 2 (He Zooms in, because he’s just like us!), the show dedicates a hearty chunk of time to his downright masterful backstory.
Unfortunately, when it strays from C.W.’s upbringing, most of Season 2’s other humor is not incredibly smart. The jokes don’t always land, and when they do, they’re still fairly low-hanging. Still, Mythic Quest is more than its occasionally unfunny, occasionally hilarious sense of humor. Like workplace comedies The Office or Parks and Recreation, it embraces interpersonal professional relationships, but the series never crosses the line. The relationships are flawed, as capitalism drives these characters to overwork their creative selves, so they end up treating each other with little respect. And though there are touching moments where these folks shine, they are never forcibly lovable. Mythic Quest never apologizes for Poppy’s coldness, for Ian’s ego, for C.W.’s poor-taste comments. People like this exist in workplaces, and unlike workplace comedies that have made them into adorkable icons, Mythic Quest makes audiences reckon with the vocational landscape.
Despite these successes (its muddled humor aside), there is a major flaw. The first season of Mythic Quest introduced a minor problem that’s spiraled into something unavoidable with this latest season: the game concept is thoroughly dull. Like the aggressively masculine promotional material, the Mythic Quest imagery bores more than it invigorates. Themes from gameplay occasionally work their way into the plot—like in the first season, when alt-right gamers abuse the game, or in this season, which features a potential expansion of two dueling titans like Poppy and Ian—but only on occasion. The transitions use symbolic clips from the games. Maybe you’ll watch them. Or maybe, if you’re like me, you’ll use the opportunity to check your phone. There’s a great opportunity to feature a topical video game in this series concept. Unfortunately, the hyper-masculine and tedious Mythic Quest isn’t it.
Fortunately, skirting spoilers, the ending of Season 2 is, in a word, promising. The future of Mythic Quest is ripe with opportunities for these characters to grow. If the success of this show amidst a global pandemic is any indication, the series is on the up-and-up. The first two seasons have been a dazzling tour through video game culture and Mythic Quest’s headquarters; if I had to place bets, Season 3 (shall we be lucky enough to be graced with a renewal) will best them both. Led by the fantastic performances of McElhenney and Nicdao and a trio of whip-smart creators, the future of Mythic Quest is boundless.
Season 2 of Mythic Quest will debut the first two episodes to Apple TV+ on May 7, with new episodes releasing weekly.
Fletcher Peters is a New York-based journalist whose writing has appeared in Decider, Jezebel, and Film School Rejects, among other spots. You can follow her on Twitter @fietcherpeters gossiping about rom-coms, TV, and the latest celebrity drama.
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