Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is the latest in a slew of new original programming by Apple’s fledgling streaming service Apple TV+. The eight-episode comedy series from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia creatives Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Megan Ganz was renewed by Apple TV+ a full two weeks ahead of its freshman season premiere, and it’s not hard to see why.
The show follows the team behind a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), consisting of creative director and head honcho Ian Grimm (the pitch-perfect McElhenney), harried executive producer David Brittlesbee (Always Sunny alum David Hornsby), ambitious but eternally frustrated lead engineer Poppy Li (Hollywood newcomer Charlotte Nicdao) and annoyingly aloof monetization marketer Brad Bakshi (Danny Pudi). Episode one joins the team on the lead-up to the launch of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, the highly anticipated sequel to its globally popular smash hit, Mythic Quest.
Other series features include in-house game testers Rachel (veteran video game voice actress Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim), head writer C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham) and Jo (Jessie Ennis), David’s newly hired Gen-Z-aged assistant with morbid fixations and an unsettling attachment to Ian.
In terms of tone, Mythic Quest is a little more grown-up than its creative cousin, Always Sunny. It’s slightly more subtle and a touch more refined, but retains the same core of chaotic comedic energy. Each episode is packed with excellent verbal volleys and escalations, as only Always Sunny masterminds can deliver. The running gags are great, like the metaphor of a painter and brush for Ian and Poppy’s dynamic, and McElhenney’s character being called “Eye-an” instead of “Ee-an”—an anomaly no one questions until the character himself addresses it in the very last episode.
There are also some quality physical gags, like the recurrent mucking around with the motion capture suits and tech used to exercise Ian’s every creative whim and fancy, but the show doesn’t just shoot for the easy laughs. It works as a real commentary and reflection on the modern gaming scene and nerd culture on several levels, which makes its relatively diverse cast fundamental to its success.
The show tackles all the big-ticket controversial issues with no reservations, but its attitude is pleasantly surprising for an irreverent comedy series. It takes on Nazis and white supremacy in gaming (David’s flat announcement “We’re not embracing Nazis” was deliciously succinct), microcelebrity worship and live streamers (with a recurring appearance by the exuberant Elisha Hennig as teenaged livestreamer ‘Pootie Shoe’), gatekeeping in gamer culture and other creative fields, ethics in technology and Internet socialization (“Sure, we created the platform,” the money-hungry Brad says, “but should we be the ones deciding who stays and who goes?”), and the female experience in a world dominated by men and how it affects solidarity amongst women.
Episode four, “The Convention”, pulls this off to great effect when a group of young girls from Girls Who Code turns up for a tour of the Mythic Quest headquarters, and David is left flailing because Poppy, the only significant female player in the entire company, is absent from the office because she’s followed Ian and Brad to a gaming convention on the hunt for a livestreamer for the company to sponsor.
It’s a relatively simple premise, but episode writer John Howell Harris wrings out every bit of nuance from it—Jo becoming uncharacteristically subservient to David in front of their visitors as a rebellious temper tantrum, the only other female representative in the company being the overly clingy community manager Sue (Caitlin McGee), the only female coder Michelle (Aparna Nancherla) explaining to the girls how male domination forces women to see each other only as competition for the limited spaces afforded to them, and, most of all, everyone forgetting about the Girls Who Code visit to begin with, including Poppy herself.
The show even goes all in for a flashback episode titled “A Dark Quiet Death”, entirely dedicated to a young couple in the 1990s, Doc and Beans (played by special guests Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti respectively). The lovers initially rejoice over the creation of their video game Dark Quiet Death but eventually find themselves powerless to stand against the capitalist tidal wave of their success.
It’s a strange thing, watching this story we’ve all seen play out in real life over years and years crammed into a half-hour episode: creativity and originality in its purest forms slowly but surely crushed under the weight of sales and dollar signs. It’s easily the most poignant episode of the season.
Mythic Quest draws a lot of parallels between fellow tech-based satire Silicon Valley, but its most distinguishing strength is the genuine love and care it has for its characters. Ian is hopelessly self-centred, but under all the posturing, all he wants is to make an excellent product for his players and customers. David is a total pushover, but he’s loyal to a fault. Rachel and Dana’s support and encouragement of each other is inspiring; even if one wishes, they would admit their feelings for each other and make out already.
Poppy is perhaps the most potent example of this. Bolstered by an excellently effusive performance from Nicdao, she is loud and annoyingly bossy, but it’s a loudness and a bossy-ness that’s been forged out of necessity after almost a decade of wrangling the asshole circus that is Mythic Quest into order, which the show doesn’t shy away from reminding its audience, but doesn’t attempt to guilt-trip viewers into over-sympathizing with her either.
It’s a smart decision not to make Poppy the ‘straight man’ character of the group. In many ways, regardless of what’s been done to her and how she’s been treated, she proves herself to be just as chaotic and unruly and impossible to rein in as the men around her. Despite everything, she remains a character to root for, thanks in no small part to Nicdao’s knack for communicating real sincerity. All Poppy is looking for is some sort of affirmation and validation that she matters and is appreciated.
On the flip side, with Silicon Valley, one almost gets the sense that under all the jokes and laughs, the writers don’t care about their characters beyond how they can get the audience to laugh at them. As the series went on, it became more and more doubtful whether the minds behind Richard Hendricks and co. wanted them to succeed, and subsequently, it seemed to make the powers-that-be less motivated to chart paths of growth for their characters, and that includes a stagnation in relationships formed between the characters.
It still makes for humorous entertainment, but it doesn’t lay a solid foundation for any real emotional investment from viewers, which is where Mythic Quest leaves it far, far behind.
For example, the complicated dynamic between Ian and Poppy is both the emotional and comedic core of the series. They start the series by vocalizing an imbalanced dynamic (Ian as the “painter” and Poppy as the “brush”), the fight and butt heads in pretty much every single episode, but end off by acknowledging each other as partners. It’s a lot like watching Mom and Dad fight in front of the kids, but it’s also a lot like watching Mom and Dad back each other up when the house is on fire.
If you’re a gamer, you’ll love Mythic Quest. If you’ve never so much as played Mario Kart in your life, you’ll still be able to enjoy and connect with Mythic Quest.
Looking back on it, it’s almost hard to believe that the show covered this much within a span of just nine short episodes, but it’s a triumph for comedic storytelling in every way. Much of contemporary media aims for the same targets Mythic Quest does—after all, being woke is the hot trend right now—but it’s hard to find one that manages to make its points without preaching, and still be genuinely, consistently funny.