Midway through the first season of Apple TV Plus’s gaming industry sitcom, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, there’s a one-off episode about the life span of a most unusual video game. Dark Quiet Death is, contrary to its name, more like life. Rather than your typical racing, fighting, or fetch-quest games, this one simply deposits users in a scary castle to fend off monsters, using only a flashlight, until they die. There is no grand finale: You just survive as long as you can.
Sitcoms are kind of built like that, too.
While the goal of prestige dramas has become to tell a great story and get out as elegantly as possible—or at least that should be the goal!—sitcoms seem to just go on and on in perpetuity, until viewers are killed by the monsters of their own indifference.
Maybe it’s the spell of that one-off talking, but while watching Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (hoo boy, that title), I couldn’t help but assess it in terms of how well built the show is for long-term viewer survival.
The verdict after watching six episodes? My health bar is a little low.
The show comes to us from Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz, the creative team behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which recently completed its 14th season. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a hard-left turn out of not only Philadelphia but also that show’s tone and aesthetic. It ditches the loose premise of four irredeemable pieces of human garbage hilariously self-sabotaging a new hare-brained scheme each week in favor of ensemble workplace shenanigans at the world’s most popular MMRPG. (That’s Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game, and if you didn’t know that, don’t worry; this show caters to gamers but doesn’t leave noobs behind.)
McElhenney stars as Ian, the Jack Dorsey-bearded, egocentric creator of the titular Mythic Quest, which is about to launch its first-ever expansion pack, Raven’s Banquet. Why the name of the expansion pack is included in the show’s title, as though its launch will permanently figure into the premise, remains to be seen.
So how does one go from It’s Always Sunny—which is like a way more antisocial Seinfeld in its plotlessness—to the more specialized and sanitized Mythic Quest? According to a recent interview with IGN, it started with the gaming powerhouse Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance) approaching McElhenney about creating a series set in the gaming world. After visiting the company’s Montreal HQ, McElhenney became convinced that there were more than enough different personalities and possibilities to build a show around. Subsequently, Ubisoft came on board as a producer, providing research and technical insight, along with all the graphics we see for the game within the show.
This insider access seems to help Mythic Quest nail its authenticity. I am not a gamer, so I can’t speak to the precision and accuracy of every detail. As an outsider, though, I will say that Mythic Quest certainly feels real, in the way that The Larry Sanders Show did for late-night talk shows. It makes the behind-the-scenes dynamic at a gaming company both more interesting and more mundane than I had ever considered. Of course, there’s a sleazy chief of monetization (played by Danny Pudi) who wants to build a casino within the game to keep Questers spending real dollars. Of course, there are in-house testers (played by Ashly Burch and Imani Hakim) who play video games all day looking for glitches (and maybe love?), along with spoiled Twitch streamers who are financially courted to play certain games. The show even covers an admirable range of issues affecting the industry, like the “bro monoculture” of it all, and it’s nice to see the Sunny team take on progressive topics in a new venue.
This is all fertile ground for TV comedy, and considering how mind-bogglingly popular gaming is, it’s about time there was a TV comedy set in this world.
It’s just a bummer that the comedy isn’t funnier.
The comedy part of the show, in fact, seems almost like an afterthought. The characters are all one-note, with some of those notes hitting more atonally than others and long outlasting their welcome. Pootie Shoe, for instance, is this world’s lazily named answer to Pew Die Pie: an annoying, 14-year old streaming sensation. It would be a funny swipe at Pew Die Pie to have this snotty kid representing him in one scene, but then Pootie Shoe turns out to be a pretty substantial character, whose name and whole deal we have to encounter, annoyingly, in every episode. He’s a glitch.
There are moments where everything gels, totally fulfilling the lovely promise of a gaming-world sitcom from the It’s Always Sunny team. A dick joke from the first episode that becomes a runner throughout the season straddles the two words especially well. (I won’t spoil it here.) “Dinner Party” is a very of-the-moment episode in which the Mythic Quest team has to deal with all the white supremacists on the platform, and it perfectly satirizes the moral gymnastics that the Zuckerbergs and Dorseys of the world go through in similar situations.
At present, Mythic Quest is, unfortunately, an example of art flowing downstream from corporate desire. Ubisoft wanted a show about gaming, and Apple TV Plus wanted to continue establishing itself as a real network (and promote gaming given its relatively new Apple Arcade service, which includes the Ubisoft game Rayman Mini), so therefore this show exists. All shows are referred to as “content” now, but some of them hew a bit more closely to show-shaped products designed to attract people to a platform than others—and unfortunately, Mythic Quest is one of them. It’s hard not to think that if McElhenney, Day, and Ganz were all hardcore gamers who had organically decided to explore the comedy of this world, the jokes would be a bit punchier.
There is so much promise here though—I didn’t even mention F. Murray friggin’ Abraham as a failed George R.R. Martin-type story guru for the game—that I’m hoping Mythic Quest gets renewed. Like a lot of games, a little fine-tuning and upgrading should give these characters some more notes to play as they interact more with each other and develop beyond the beta test stage.
Perhaps version 2.0 next year will be this show’s leap from the original Mario Brothers to Super Mario Brothers. (Wish I had Ubisoft to consult for a more current reference.)