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Mythic Quest season 2 review: Playing through the pandemic

Successful movies and TV series based on video games and the gaming industry have been few and far between, but Apple TV+ seemingly found a cheat code with Mythic Quest, its compelling, clever workplace comedy about the employees of a fictional video game studio. Mythic Quest returns for a second season on May 7, having produced all nine episodes — and two specials — over the course of a pandemic-plagued year that shaped both the production schedule and the narrative of the popular series.

Given everything that’s happened over the past year and how it affected in-production projects, it’s reasonable to expect some shaky moments in a season beset by production shutdowns due to the coronavirus, but Mythic Quest loses little — if any — of its momentum in the show’s second arc and blends the pandemic’s new normal with the formula that worked so well in season 1.

Catching up

Created by the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia trio of Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Rob McElhenney, Mythic Quest casts McElhenney as Ian Grimm, the eccentric, narcissistic creative director of the studio that produces the titular Mythic Quest, a wildly popular multiplayer role-playing game (a la World of Warcraft).

McElhenney is joined in the cast by Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li, the studio’s socially awkward lead engineer; Community actor Danny Pudi as Brad Bakshi, the studio’s power-hungry head of monetization; and F. Murray Abraham as washed-up fantasy novelist C.W. Longbottom, head writer for the game. Filling out the cast are Ashly Burch and Imani Hakim as a pair of romantically entangled game testers; David Hornsby as the studio’s beaten-down executive producer, David Brittlesbee; and Jessie Ennis as David’s scheming assistant with anger issues.

Season 2 of Mythic Quest picks up after the events of two pandemic-focused stand-alone episodes of the series: May 2020’s surprisingly emotional Quarantine and the recent Everlight, which welcomed everyone back to the studio post-lockdown. The second season picks up as the Mythic Quest team begins planning the next expansion of the game and their own futures within both the company and the world of gaming.

A new normal

One thing Mythic Quest handles particularly well in the narrative for its second season is something we’ve all been faced with over the past year: Finding creative ways to work within our new pandemic-shaped existence.

Although the coronavirus never becomes a major plot point in the season (and there’s an argument to be made that it should have received more attention behind the camera), its presence is felt throughout the early episodes. The show’s resident Oscar winner, Abraham, appears on video throughout much of the first half of the season, and the series finds creative ways to involve him and other characters appearing remotely that acknowledge our new normal without making it a focal point in the episodes.

In some ways, the limitations of the pandemic even seem to work to the show’s benefit. Smaller groups of cast members in each scene means your attention is more focused on what each character is saying and doing, and as a result, their words and actions hit home a little more, no matter how ridiculous things get.

Whether this is intentional or a lucky side effect of these pandemic times, the end result is a season that feels more invested in the show’s colorful cast of characters.

A very special episode

One of the best episodes of the first season of Mythic Quest was the self-contained story A Dark Quiet Death, which diverged from the series’ narrative to follow a young couple who fell in — and eventually out of — love based on their experience developing a game together.

That episode, directed by McElhenney and written by his sister, Katie, diverged from the rest of the series’ timeline and tone and delivered a poignant reminder of the emotional connections we forge around projects we care deeply about. Season 2 delivers a similarly touching special episode midway through its ongoing story arc, set decades before the events of the main story.

Season 2’s stand-alone episode, directed by McElhenney from a script by Chernobyl writer Craig Mazin, is a beautifully tragic story that puts the spotlight on Abraham’s character and the experiences that turned him into the caricature of past-tense celebrity we’ve come to know. Much like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which occasionally took a break from irreverent, raunchy comedy to deliver an episode full of nuance and dramatic weight (see the season 13 finale, Mac Finds His Pride), Mythic Quest has a knack for handling powerful dramatic themes as competently as workplace comedy tropes.

Again, with feeling

Although season 2 of Mythic Quest doesn’t quite break the mold or take the series in bold new directions, it does build on the best elements of the first season in rewarding ways and avoids the drop-off in quality that many series’ experience after a well-received debut.

The relationship between McElhenney and Nicdao’s characters is a complicated one, full of contradictions, dysfunction, and destructive behavior, and the series continues to pick at it in the second season, exposing new and fascinating layers to both characters. With both characters’ introductory narrative heavy lifting already handled in the show’s first season, the new season is free to turn more of its attention to the characters played by Abraham, Pudi, Burch, and Hakim, and knowing more about each of them makes the show’s silly moments funnier and the sad moments more resonant.

Whether Mythic Quest will continue for a third season is unknown at this point, but if season 2 is indeed the final chapter in the saga of Ian, Poppy, and the MQ team, the series will go out on a high note.

For all of the season’s funny moments — and there are plenty of them — Mythic Quest is at its best when it’s telling stories everyone can relate to, not just gamers or game developers. Season 2 of the series doesn’t shy away from telling those stories, and doing so through the lens of the gaming industry makes its success even more impressive.

Season 2 of Mythic Quest premieres May 7 on the Apple TV+ streaming service.

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