Workplace comedies centered around fun rom-com-esque jobs are risky. Sure, it might sound engaging and might convince the execs that those crucial youths will watch your show, but pick something too niche or too limiting and you end up like that Zach Braff podcasting show Alex, Inc.. And once you’ve cleared that hurdle, you have to make it funny. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, the Apple TV+ series from the folks behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, gambles it all on being a hilarious, brash, cool take on the modern videogame industry. It’s almost as terrible as its name.
The show, named after its central MMORPG’s first expansion (more tongue-twister than tongue-in-cheek), sees creators Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz attempt to go both broad and hyper-specific—sillier than Silicon Valley but with nerdy bonafides. I scoured all nine half-hour episodes of its first season on a quest for comedy, finding only squandered potential wandering its depressing office space.
Creative director Ian Grimm (McElhenney) lords over the Mythic Quest team—including souless monetization lead Brad (Danny Pudi), uncool programming head Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), washed-up writer C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), and eager testers Dana (Imani Hakim) and Rachel (Ashly Burch)—who are all ostensibly under the management of wimpy executive producer David (David Hornsby). Ian, ever the rock star with his pickup artist styling and silly name, makes that fantasy immediately transparent. Even David’s scary assistant Jo (Jessie Ennis) gravitates towards Ian’s tech-bro confidence. Each character has a trait, no more no less.
The workplace comedy seems to be attempting a Community feel while replacing that show’s heart with topical, more aggressive attempts at humor. The resulting failure merely flops at a faster pace. It’s the kind of manic rambling tempo that someone like Charlie Day could make into an engrossing vortex with his nails-on-chalkboard whine and endlessly energetic gesticulations, but in any other hands is exhausting. When the jokes aren’t funny and the performers aren’t engaging, this tactic is ironically low-energy.
The first few episodes are so full of smirk-inducing, long-winded bits that stammer on for such prolonged, repetitive back-and-forths that you’d think Judd Apatow let the cast run wild. Close: it’s Your Highness’ David Gordon Green doing the same thing. This pacing sets the tone for the rest of the season, which meanders with the languid leisure of someone confident that it’s working. Those broad characters attempt to satirize an industry’s specific workflow, audience, and ancillary elements, but are always just off the mark. South Park’s groundbreakingly good, Emmy-winning World of Warcraft episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” got so much right in 2006 that 2020’s attempt at the same material feels shockingly behind.
Terrible (and real) hyper-popular streamer PewDiePie has his own teen counterpart on the series, who is desperately important to the game’s success, but only weathers surface-level jokes about his name, PootyShoe. Online videogame outlets like Polygon and Kotaku are namedropped, but with things like “Kotaku is going to run a front page article on us” being plot points. But Kotaku’s homepage (not front page, because it’s not a newspaper) simply updates with the latest published articles. Mythic Quest is full of that uncanny near-reality, where people still say “noob” and Nazis are something game developers actually try to eliminate from their player base.
The latter case features a reference to a real-world event in World of Warcraft where an in-game funeral for a player was raided. Here, content that was topical in 2006 is retrofitted with Nazis and Antifa. It’s like time stopped and Mythic Quest swooped in. Even its interstitial footage of the game itself is oddly out of place and packs a show that already feels overlong with jokeless filler. On a streaming service with no commercials, Mythic Quest still felt the need to put in artificial elements of commercial flow.
Sometimes Mythic Quest’ll try for romantic or feel-good subplots that just utterly crash and burn, with little blame resting on their actors. Hakim and Burch are two of the most engaging performers but a will-they-won’t-they crush between their characters is boring, slight, and shoehorned. The very game Abraham, a legend, simply isn’t given funny things for his doddering old has-been character to say.
Finally, halfway through the season, in Episode 5, Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti share some fun chemistry in a bittersweet episode. It serves as a reminder of what it’s like to watch good TV with people that you like. It has none of the regular cast, is shot in an entirely different way than the rest of the series (by McElhenney, in his first turn as director on the show), and has a charming script by Katie McElhenney. It’s sometimes a little trite, like the first episode of a better show might be, as it eases us into its concept; but going dramatic works. It works so much better for Mythic Quest (balancing out the dark humor and adding some hefty Halt and Catch Fire-like industry context) than watching it try to be a sitcom, that when the show immediately respawns as the same unfunny tripe right afterwards, it’s devastating.
But it’s not all exactly the same. A late turn in the season trying to make its characters overly-sympathetic might’ve worked if it was done better and earlier, but the structure—hell, the format of the show—undermined this attempt from the beginning. This makes Mythic Quest not just an unfunny comedy, but an entirely ineffective show that doesn’t seem to know what it is or where it’s going in a second season that Apple has already greenlit. Mythic Quest certainly won’t woo a gaming audience, and has little to offer anyone else.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet premieres Friday, February 7th on Apple TV+
Jacob Oller is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, Interview Magazine, Playboy, SYFY WIRE, Forbes, them, and other publications. He lives in Chicago with his two cats and a never-ending to-do list of things to watch. He likes them (the cats and the list) most of the time. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.
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