Mythic Quest is the best kind of non-event series. Coming from the creators of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the Apple TV+ comedy hit the ground running without really aspiring for that prestige label. By way of a familiar workplace comedy set-up, its debut outing offered more than just a comforting distraction last year. The workplace in this case is a studio behind a popular online game akin to World of Warcraft. The engine driving the comedy is the dynamic between the studio's egomaniacal creative director Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) and the ever-stressed lead engineer Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao). In Poppy's words, Ian's a "brilliant painter", and she's his "favourite paintbrush." But she wishes to be more than just "some tool to create his masterpiece" " and she gets her wish by the end of Season 1.
Skewering the sexist gaming industry with a through-the-looking-glass perspective, Mythic Quest pinballs between a variety of topical targets. On a day-to-day basis, the employees at MQ must appease a teenaged livestreamer who rates games on a scale of one to four "buttholes", stop players from digging penis-shaped trenches (do read about the lovely TTP tradition), and weed out neo-Nazis using the game as a rallying point. But the Season 1 standout was a bottle episode about the eternal struggle between creativity and commerce.
"A Dark Quiet Death" rewinded the clock to the 90s where two idealistic video game developers (played by Cristin Milioti and Jake Johnson) slowly and gradually lose artistic autonomy as they yield to commercial pressures. As a self-contained short film within the larger MQ-verse, it found poignancy in its earnest exploration of the conflict over selling out. The same applies to its Zoom-staged quarantine special, where Poppy " like all of us " struggles with self-isolation. Cut off from the rest of the world and trying to endure a pandemic without all the things that makes life endurable, it was the warm hug we needed. MQ mines its resonance by catching us off guard. It sets you up with the promise of typical comedic hijinks, and then packs quite an emotional punch when you least expect it. That's the cheat code to its appeal: just when it's being silly, it steals in a sneakily mature moment.
Charlotte Nicdao and Rob McElhenney in Mythic Quest Season 2
Season 2 opens with a special of its own. "Everlight" sees the MQ staff put the pandemic behind them and return to HQ for a LARP party. What better way to purge the pent-up pandemic frustrations than taking it out on your colleagues with pretend weapons in a tournament with a backstory narrated by Anthony Hopkins? The episode also gives us a taste of the dysfunctional office dynamics with Poppy and Ian now working as co-directors.
Picking up from Poppy's promotion, Season 2 finds the two titans in a renewed power struggle as they each develop their own expansion packs to follow up last year's "Raven's Banquet." Shouting matches and sex dreams aplenty ensue. To match her now inflated ego, Poppy grows equally daunting and manipulative to keep up with Ian. Nicdao really comes into her own this season, building around Poppy's latter-day Liz Lemon identity. She is still an out-and-out career gal. She has no time for personal life because she lives for her game. But her promotion affords her the power and agency women rarely get in the gaming industry. Despite all the petty disputes, Poppy and Ian learn they're alike in many ways. Noromos will be glad to hear their relationship, though deepened by shared vulnerabilities, remains charged but platonic.
Danny Pudi and Jessie Ennis in Mythic Quest Season 2
Working above, but really under, Poppy and Ian is the routinely emasculated executive producer David Brittlesbee (David Hornsby). A recent messy divorce makes his efforts to be taken seriously all the more futile. Providing backstories to the game is head writer CW Longbottom (F Murray Abraham), a washed-up novelist who won a Nebula way back in the '70s. A walking parody in the same vein as Chevy Chase's Pierce Hawthorne in Community, CW gets his own backstory in a mid-season episode.
Besides Poppy and Ian, two other relationships take centre stage this season. MQ's monetisation expert Brad Bakshi (Danny Pudi) must fend off power plays from his scheming protÃ©gÃ© Jo (Jessie Ennis), who was once David's assistant-in-training-tormenting. Watching Pudi and Ennis play "Who's the Alpha" is devilish fun. The chemistry between QA testing duo Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim) was palpable from the first season. Their will-they-won't-they relationship now consummated, the struggle to be heard continues while both contemplate their future at the company. Chemistry between all these colourful personalities fine-tuned, the show delves more deeply into their relationships in a way that is as affecting as absurd.
While MQ won't really challenge our perceptions of a workplace comedy, it's kind of like an expansion pack and response to preceding genre entries. The show's setting isn't a typical one for a workplace comedy. The genre usually mines its humour from the most mundane (The Office), most bureaucratic (Parks and Recreation) and most thankless (Superstore) jobs. But MQ proves even the seemingly exciting, flexible and satisfying careers can make for a comedic wellspring. Because expectations rarely match reality when you're running on the corporate hamster wheel.
Bosses in sitcoms are often loveable idiots (Michael Scott in The Office), despots (Christian DeVille in Corporate) or both (Denholm Reynholm in The IT Crowd). McElhenney and Nicdao traverse that spectrum as the situation demands. What makes the new season work is MQ isn't just the McElhenney and Nicdao show, but allows room for all the individual comic talents to find their footing. With Superstore now cancelled, if you're looking for a new surrogate work family to spend 30 minutes a week, make it this one.
Mythic Quest Season 2 premieres on Apple TV+ on 7 March, with new episodes to follow every Friday.