My coworker Ethan Gach and I watched press screeners of the first season of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, a sitcom that premieres on Apple’s new streaming service on February 7. Mythic Quest is a workplace comedy about a video game studio. We’re pretty mixed: Parts of the show are hilarious, others are touching, and some parts are contrived and stupid. Our chat includes some mild spoilers in the form of general references to narrative arcs on the show.
This piece was first published on January 31, 2020. We’re bumping it today for the show’s release.
By the way, Kotaku granted permission to Mythic Quest to use the website’s name and logo in a couple of episodes. No one here had any creative input or involvement with the show at all, though.
Ethan Gach: Maddy, can you guess what song I’m listening to on Spotify right now?
Maddy Myers: I actually can’t...
Ethan: I’m as ashamed as I could possibly be without refusing to admit that I’ve played Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” at least three times today. [Mythic Quest plays this song in its fifth episode.]
Maddy: Mythic Quest does have a certain early 2010s energy to it. You know the other thing I keep thinking about since I finished watching the first season? The Guild, that Felicia Day web series that aired from 2007-2013. That’s what Mythic Quest feels like, in both good and bad ways.
Ethan: Yes, that and Community, which is perhaps less surprising since one of its writers, Megan Ganz, also worked on this. I think it’s the high fantasy arcs that each episode seems to hew to, and also the bright colors.
Maddy: I was expecting Mythic Quest to feel a lot more like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, given that actor Rob McElhenney stars in it, and his Always Sunny co-star Charlie Day is also involved (as a producer and writer, if IMDB is accurate). But the humor is closer to Community and The Guild. Unfortunately, I kept getting taken out of the reality of Mythic Quest because of all the aspects of the show that are almost accurate to real life, but not quite.
To double back slightly, Mythic Quest is a nine-episode sitcom that’s set in a game development studio working on a fictional MMORPG. Amazingly, the game’s lead programmer is a woman; the interactions between her character Poppy and the egotist creative director Ian (played by Rob McElhenney) were some of my favorite moments in the show. Most of the show revolves around the two of them and their toxic dynamic. But then there’s all the other little details about how the game works, how it’s made—a lot of those just didn’t add up.
For example, the first episode involves the lead programmer adding a shovel to the game that introduces a whole new gameplay mechanic (digging holes), and she’s somehow kept this a secret from the rest of the executive creative team up until that point. In that same episode, the studio employees leave at 5 pm on a Friday, intending to launch the big patch with the new shovel on... Monday morning. Wouldn’t they be crunching through the weekend to finish the patch? The whole premise of the pilot felt weird and wrong. I feel bad that I noticed those problems so often, because I wanted to not care, but it was tough!
Ethan: To be fair, I don’t think it’s just a matter of nitpicking as people who spend so much time around games. A lot of the mini-crises that fuel the character conflicts feel overly contrived, while the actual issues between people at the fictional studio kind of get papered over, especially between Poppy and Ian.
I came out of the first two episodes extremely disappointed and skeptical, but then found myself enjoying the second half of the season once I was more familiar with each character’s idiosyncrasies and could just appreciate those smaller contributions outside of the larger plot.
Maddy: I’m not sure if I have a firm take on the season as a whole. It felt very up and down. There would be moments I thought were hilarious and poignant in just the way the creators seemed to intend. But then there would be moments that felt hastily stapled together, or confusing, or not like something that would ever happen in the games industry... but more like something that would happen in the film or TV industries, with which I’m sure the people who made this show are more familiar.
There’s an entire episode in the middle of the season about a group of characters we’ve never met before and will never see again afterwards. It’s a stand-alone story about a completely different game development studio, and it’s set in the 1990s, rather than the present day like the rest of the show. It’s a very serious episode, and has almost no jokes, and its themes arguably tie back into the rest of the show, but barely. That’s the type of experimental risk this show wants to take. But it also wants to be a 25-minute workplace sitcom about a group of wacky nerds who work in game dev.
I think I would have liked the show more if it had chosen to lean one way or the other. Like either be a poignant but sometimes funny show, or just be wacky all the way through.
Ethan: Wow, you didn’t like episode five? That’s the one that sealed my investment in the show, and also why I’m letting Win Butler wail in my ears today, since “The Suburbs” is what plays that episode out.
Maddy: I didn’t dislike it. I was just like... is this what the show wants to do? Or does it want to do the other thing?
Ethan: I think that episode certainly helped explain the stakes of the second half of the season, both in terms of the consequences of letting a creative working relationship slip into a toxic place, and also of letting corporate processes and interests end up squeezing anything of interest out of a project. Though I agree the conclusion of this season doesn’t seem to have taken episode 5's lessons to heart.
Can we talk about the guy from Amadeus being on the show for a second?
Maddy: Yes. Please.
Ethan: I have no idea why F. Murray Abraham wanted to be in a 2020 reboot of The Guild, but he really gave it his all.
Maddy: I loved him. His character is so obnoxious in the way that only an old, award-winning fantasy novelist who somehow wheedled his way into a games industry job could be. I’ve never actually worked in games, but I’ve totally met guys with this energy in my life, so I just assume this one’s accurate. If it’s not, at least it’s funny.
Ethan: I think the scene of him and the playtester Rachel watching cutscenes together was one of my favorites and also the funniest. I was giggling uncontrollably on my couch last night watching them choke back tears at a video game character saying goodbye to his dying horse, both because of how the scene is used to undercut Abraham’s own talent as a washed-up Nebula award winner who only lives to make up backstories no one cares about, and also because it still looks like the dumbest kind of prestige video game cutscene moment.
Maddy: That scene was great, as well as the one where he walks into the “ethics committee” meeting and assumes it’s about him (presumably because he’s been on the other end of an “ethics committee” before). There are some basic workplace comedy moments in this show that I found darkly funny, many of which make light of how white and male the games industry is.
That said, there were also some moments along those lines that just didn’t work for me at all. Imani Hakim plays Dana, the role of the other playtester at the office (as well as the will-they-won’t-they queer love interest for Rachel’s character). I largely liked her storylines, but there were a couple of weird “ra ra feminism” moments on this show that just didn’t feel realistic or human enough to me. There’s a bit where Rachel tells Dana she looks better with her glasses on, which goes to some weird places. And then there’s a scene where Dana gives a lecture to a group of young girls who are part of some type of “Girls Who Code” initiative. The young girls have just been given an office tour that has been filled with dark humor about how tough their careers are really going to be if they get into tech. The show tries to conclude that storyline by letting Dana deliver a corny monologue to the girls about how, actually, working in games is the coolest job in the world. I think there was a way to make that moment work, but that monologue just wasn’t it. Especially compared to how realistic the preceding examples had felt, at least to me.
Ethan: I totally agree. The show is much more successful in its darker (or should I say Sunnier) moments. And occasionally it does a good job of undercutting whatever victory an episode was leading up to with a nod to the fact that actually the games industry, like many, has strict hierarchies that work to systematically hold certain people back and exploit them.
Maddy: Yeah. The show felt more real and grounded to me when it was darker, which says a lot about my experiences in games, I guess. I wanted more of the sociopathic assistant character who kept trolling people online (even when she was told not to), and the 14-year-old streamer “Pootie” who all of the game studio employees refer to as “a piece of shit.” More of the It’s Always Sunny vibe, basically. But the show seemed almost afraid to get that dark, instead choosing to wrap up several storylines with “it’s okay now because these characters have realized they truly care about each other.” It’s a lot funnier when they all fucking hate each other. Which, most of the time, they do!
I’m not actually sure if I would recommend this show or not. I laughed at parts of it, groaned at other parts. I’m not sure I would have bothered to watch it all the way through if I hadn’t been planning to have this chat with you. But it wasn’t bad, and it was kind of cool to see a show attempting to tell a story about a topic that I spend all of my workdays marinating in. What do you think? Is it worth viewers getting an Apple TV+ subscription (whatever the heck that even is) in order to watch this Apple Original?
It might be worth getting the seven-day free trial. Apparently Apple has one of those. I looked it up.
Ethan: It was definitely a place I enjoyed spending time in at the end, and at under 30 minutes apiece it’s easy to get in and out. I imagine if I were still in college or high school, it would be the perfect kind of show to have on in the background while doing homework (which is also what I used shows like Community and The Guild for). Apple has a rep for wanting its content to be family friendly, and I almost wonder how much of the darker impulses of the show were curbed by one of the many proper names helping to fund and produce it.
In the end, I would definitely recommend it for a few of Abraham’s punchlines alone. His duel with the AI server, him boozily running down the hall in a “Eureka” moment after his faith in storycraft has been restored, or simply his complete moral bankruptcy when it comes to not knowing whether the studio is apologizing to its game’s players for having Nazis on its servers or to the Nazis themselves for being banned from the game.
Maddy: “Are we apologizing to the Nazis, or on their behalf?” Maybe this show is good. Just for that one joke.
I guess I should also note that my girlfriend, who does not work in games and just plays them occasionally, enjoyed the show more than I did, because obviously none of the inaccuracies bothered her and she could just clock it as a light-hearted workplace comedy. So maybe this show is actually not for gamers. And that might be fine, too.