It may not be a nerdfest of Silicon Valley proportions, but – like the best games themselves – Apple TV+’s new comedy starring Rob McElhenney will soon have you hooked
It hasn’t been around for very long, but Apple TV+ has already gained a reputation for substandard first episodes. Plenty of people were turned off by the rote prestige of The Morning Show, for example, which meant that they missed out on a great series. And the first episode of See was also very bad. Admittedly, that’s because that entire series is bad, but still.
And now to that list we can add Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. At first glimpse, Mythic Quest seems like a generic workplace comedy. Set in the office of a hit streaming game, we quickly meet a megalomaniac boss played by Rob McElhenney, his put-upon chief coder, his pompous story designer, a couple of testers and a 14-year-old YouTuber whose whims dictate the life and death of the games. On the basis of the first episode, it could be set anywhere – an advertising agency, a TV show, a paper factory.
Working against it, too, is Silicon Valley. Comparisons between the two are rife, presumably because they both have computers in them, and Mythic Quest cannot hope to come out of that fight looking good. One was a beloved HBO sitcom that ran like a finely honed drama and unleashed a flurry of new comedic talent into the world. The other one is a side project by the third best one out of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
And yet, as with The Morning Show, Mythic Quest quickly blooms into something else. A much more conventional show than Always Sunny – nobody shouts over each other, nobody gets addicted to crack, nobody bursts naked out of a leather sofa – Mythic Quest quickly establishes a range that knowingly plays to each end of the spectrum. Yes, there are plenty of Silicon Valley-style jokes about the midpoint between tech and base human behaviour. The first episode is largely devoted to working out whether or not the game should implement shovels, given that users will only draw penis-shaped ditches with them. But then, at the same time, there is episode five.
Episode five features none of the Mythic Quest cast at all. It’s a flashback episode, set across 15 years, that has no immediate connection to the rest of the show. It’s about a couple who fall in love and make a game, and watch as the purity of their idea is slowly eroded by commerce. There’s a tiny payoff at the end, although not one of great importance, but it feels almost unnaturally personal. It speaks to anyone who has ever seriously tried to make something of creative value, but it feels as if it was torn out of the creator’s heart. It’s beautiful, and the emotional heft of it creates enough momentum to elevate the second half of the season.
But, of course, Mythic Quest turns into something else. The series was co-created by Charlie Day and veteran Always Sunny writer Megan Ganz, but McElhenney feels like the engine room of the show. And, while he is often overshadowed by his Always Sunny co-stars with their network sitcoms and film roles, McElhenney has always been the member ready to take the big swings. He’s the one who put on 22kg (48lb) for one season just for fun, and then suddenly got jacked beyond belief for the same reason. Most importantly, he’s the one who threw the entire show into the unknown by building the final episode of season 13 into a beautiful – and sincere – piece of heartbreaking interpretive dance.
While Mythic Quest doesn’t quite reach the boldness of that moment, it often comes close. And it has an astonishing cast, to boot. David Hornsby – Cricket from Always Sunny – gets a more substantial role and a handful of writing credits. Same with Ashly Burch, who was responsible for writing some key late-stage Adventure Time episodes. But the standout is Charlotte Nicdao, who takes her role of McElhenney’s chief programmer and turns it into a star-making vehicle. She is so explosive on Mythic Quest that the show often seems as if it’s hers and hers alone. We’ll be hearing a lot more from her, I’m certain.
And hopefully on Mythic Quest. For a show to shake off a potentially ropey premise and become something as confident as powerful as this is incredible. It isn’t the new Silicon Valley. It isn’t an Always Sunny offshoot. It’s its own fully formed beast, and I want more of it.