Once a staple of every broadcast network, the workplace comedy is slowing becoming an endangered species as streamers and cable take over. As more and more single-camera comedies mean there’s less of a need for single sets, the funny shows that centered on day jobs have slowly lost their dominance. However, a clever and unpredictable one remains on Apple TV+ in “Mythic Quest,” created by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz (collaborators on FX’s beloved “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). The first season built a loyal following through word of mouth and two smart standalone episodes—“Quarantine” in May 2020 and “Everlight” on April 16—helped keep interest high for a second season. There are times in this run when a sense of sophomore uncertainty about what to do now creeps in, but it almost feels appropriate as the entire team of Mythic Quest is dealing with the same problem.
The workplace in “Mythic Quest” is a video game studio run by the walking ego known as Ian Grimm (the very funny McElhenney, best known for playing Mac on ‘Sunny’). Grimm and his leading developer and now co-creative director Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) are trying to figure out what to do next with their MMORPG, basically sending each power player to their respective corner to develop the next phase of their gaming empire. Uncertainty about how to follow up a success blends with ego in the second season of “Mythic Quest” in clever ways in that Poppy and Ian feel like they can’t show weakness to one another and still be able to lead the studio effectively. It’s almost like the writers embed the inherent concerns of a sophomore slump into their fictional story too.
Most of the other major players are back in the studio too, with the exception of F. Murray Abraham’s C. W. Longbottom, who is working remotely for most of the season because, as McElhenney told the Television Critics Association, he “did not want to be known as the person who got F. Murray Abraham very, very ill.” Game testers Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim) are also testing their new relationship while also realizing they may have new career opportunities that could make that difficult. David (David Hornsby), the executive producer of Mythic Quest, is once again caught in the middle of most office dramas, but even he is trying to assert new dominance.
Power is a prominent theme of Season 2 of “Mythic Quest,” often reflected in how when someone places too much value on it in a workplace scenario it only leads to creative stasis. Even Brad (Danny Pudi), the cynical money man of the company, worries that he’s not showing enough of it, becoming soft as he gets to know the people around him, and Jo (Jessie Ennis), the power junkie of the company, struggles to find out which alpha to support. Who’s in charge when everyone at the company is a brilliant success?
The uncertainty in the narrative of Season 2 makes the new episodes feel a bit less focused than the first. By the end, when Poppy and Ian are introducing their expansions to the game, it’s almost a shock to remember that’s been the main plot of the year. It’s a show that could stand a bit tighter focus and urgency, which could have dissipated because of shutdowns and rewrites related to COVID (it got bad enough that at least 26 crew members tested positive, according to Variety).
While it’s a very smart show, it has a casual tone that can betray that, making it feel a bit thrown together at the last minute. It’s a talented enough ensemble that the “let’s see what happens” feel of some of the writing and plotting still makes for enjoyable comedy, but it also feels like a show that’s just a step away from greatness, and so it can be frustrating to feel like it’s falling slightly short of its potential. Hopefully, a less infectious third season could find that focus.
However, there is a three-episode run in the second season that justifies any of the problems with the rest of it. Without spoiling anything, there is once again a standalone flashback episode that greatly enriches the overall show and reveals how deceptively smart this program can be. In the first season, Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti starred in a brilliant half-hour that featured none of the main cast, and that happens again this season with a different kind of origin story for one of the show’s central characters. It’s followed by a fantastic bottle episode in which the whole staff is in one room arguing over a personality test that reveals the kind of animal they are underneath from a lion to a butterfly (one guess which end of that spectrum most people want to be on). In what is possibly the show’s best episode in either season, the writing is tighter, and the ensemble displays a kind of chemistry as a whole that one wishes is shown off more in future seasons. And then that’s followed by, no spoilers, a counter to the flashback episode that features a fantastic guest appearance from none other than William Hurt. (Snoop Dogg and Derek Waters also guest star on a show that’s often inspired in its casting.)
The excellent three-episode run in the second season of “Mythic Quest” is a joyful reminder of how strong this comedy can be when it’s really clicking. And the prelude to it and conclusion of the season have just enough laughs to frame it. Workplace comedies have always been about memorable people from Sam Malone to Michael Scott, and that’s what’s really starting to develop here as actors like McElhenney, Pudi, Nicdao, and the rest of the cast really begin to define the personalities of their characters. While the workplace comedy may not be the reliable powerhouse it once was on television, “Mythic Quest” is a reminder of how effective it can be when it’s done well. [B]
“Mythic Quest” Season 2 debuts on Apple TV+ on May 7.