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Last year, I considered Mythic Quest to be one of the funny bright spots on the Apple TV+ subscription service, and it was smart enough not to look down on gamers. Today, the second season of the show about a fictional game studio debuts, and it gets to the heart of how game developers can find their creative inspirations.
Once again, the live-action comedy series has a short season with nine half-hour or so episodes, preceded by a special standalone Season One episode, dubbed Everlight. The Everlight episode chronicles how the fictional game studio returns to work after the pandemic with a party that highlights LARPing, or Live Action Role-Playing (think folks who play games like Dungeons & Dragons but with props and gear, not paper and miniatures).
That episode was a bridge show that recognized the pandemic and what everyone had to go through. Then it jumps to a work environment in a post-pandemic setting. Megan Ganz, co-creator and executive producer, said in a premiere event that this felt like the right way to handle the pandemic, which doesn’t provide a great comedy backdrop as nobody wants to watch a show set in the midst of Zoom conference calls. The first two episodes of the second season are available today, and then the episodes roll out once a week until the season finale.
The show doesn’t look down on gamers, but knowledge of gaming is infused into it. Jason Altman, who worked for 15 years as a game producer, came up with the idea a few years ago in his role at Ubisoft Film & Television. Altman worked on it with Danielle Kreinik and Gérard Guillemot. They were part of the giant French video game company Ubisoft, and they had already had some experience with films like Assassin’s Creed. They lobbied Rob McElhenney, the star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, to get involved as executive producer and the lead actor. He and Ganz consulted heavily with Ubisoft and its studios.
The second season begins with the major changes that befell the studio, which made a big hit game dubbed Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. Now the company’s headquarters leaders in “Montreal” (where real-life video game publisher Ubisoft has a huge presence) wants a new expansion. The egotistical creative director, Ian Grimm (played by show co-creator Rob McElhenney), has welcomed Poppy Li (played by Charlotte Nicdao) as co-creative director. They find themselves in a state of creative ennui that most game developers find themselves in after coming up with a hit and then being asked to do something new.
The angst of the team in this transition is captured as the lead characters have dreams about having sex with Ian. They’re disturbed by this in a comic way, and their discomfort and uncertainty is reflected among the other characters in the studio. Brad Bakshi, the “evil monetization” guy, is looking for more evil things to top his past efforts like putting a casino into a fantasy role-playing game. This time, he plants a seed in Poppy’s mind to create a “battle royale” version of Mythic Quest as its next expansion. Anyone who stares at a blank slate can sympathize with this stagnation, said McElhenney at an online premiere event.
“We’re always discovering what the show is as we make it,” he said. “Certainly, we knew a little bit more going into the season than we did last season. Last season, we conceived of this world and these characters, and then we hired all of these amazing actors who brought such different things to the roles. And I think if you’re clever you you don’t resist that. You chase what everybody’s bringing. And thankfully, everybody was bringing a lot. So we had we knew going into Season Two that we had a lot of new fun pairings we could do with characters who had never shared scenes together. So this this season, the stories came quick and fast. And we just had a ball.”
An evolving script
As an example, McElhenney said that the character Jo (Jessie Ennis) didn’t exist until he met the actress and cast her as a power seeker.
Unable to come up with anything else, Poppy pursues this creatively bankrupt move and manages to push it through over Ian’s objections. Then the show leaps forward to the next expansion, where Poppy and Ian now compete with each other to get their ideas accepted by Montreal. The testers Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim) catch the creative bug and try to create their own game while keeping a budding romance going.
While the show is still a comedy, its brush with realism of game development and character growth can be touching. I like how the show uses scenes from Ubisoft’s games as dramatic transitions between scenes. There’s still a lot of workplace comedy from HR reps and studio head David (David Hornsby), who have to deal with the bureaucracy of the big company. David has to deal with Brad stealing his assistant Jo in a twisted but hilarious triangle to show who is the ultimate predator.
The show takes on issues such as female leadership and what it means when a woman gets control of a dream that she has fostered forever.
“After a lifetime of being told to sit down, she’s being allowed to stand up,” Nicdao said.
It also dwells on topics like office romance, picking yourself up after divorce, and it even has a cameo from Tracy Fullerton, a professor at the USC Interactive Media & Games Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Last year’s season had something really special in episode 5, dubbed “A Dark Quiet Death.” It took us back in time to the 1990s with other characters who start meet as strangers and set up shop in the same building as the Mythic Quest studio. The two people, Doc and Beans, (played by Jake Jonson and Cristin Milioti), are ghoulish characters with dark personalities. They start a game company, Oubliette Studios, and fall in love. They take their game from nothing to incredible success. Yet the slippery slope of the clash between creativity and commercial success eats at them.
This important episode set up a through line, as the in-show writer Longbottom would say, that extended as a theme of the show. A curse doomed the new company to repeat the life cycle of the previous company, as if the final episode of the show was fated to end a certain way. I wasn’t expecting that piece of clever writing in a sitcom, and it made the show so much stronger.
This time, in episode 6, dubbed “Backstory!,” the show once again stretches to create a memorable special episode. It’s about a writer who arrives in Los Angeles on an internship with two other interns at a famous science fiction book publisher. The publisher has famous authors such as Isaac Asimov, and the interns have to copyedit for them. But they all aspire to be great writers themselves and they try to help each other to succeed. The trio turns into a love triangle whose story takes place across decades. It winds up fitting into the story of the game studio. Then it leads to a seventh episode that resolves the narrative.
While I saw what the writers were trying to do with this episode, it didn’t cleave as nicely to the theme of creative ennui as I had hoped. There were some dark elements to the story that didn’t really match up with the light-hearted characters that we thought we knew. Still, it illustrated the lows of creative stagnation, the temptation of stealing someone else’s creation, and the exhilaration of finding your creative purpose. And it had some lovely acting moments.
The episode highlights the problem of the creative spark for ideas and how it is so tempting and easy to take someone else’s work and to take credit for it. That sets up the ending episodes that take us through some very consequential changes for the studio’s different characters. The show does a good job of stretching the acting of the studio’s Shakespearean writer C.W. Longbottom, played by F. Murray Abraham. Abraham, an Academy Award winner, talks about how no one looks down on him, even though he’s the oldest member of the cast — and not a gamer.
These changes are so eventful that I wouldn’t be surprised if the series ended with this season. But I do think it was a successful season, and now that I’ve already watched the whole thing, I hope that they continue with a third season. There were some touching moments and some episodes that made me think and others that made me laugh. It means that fiction about the process of making video games is a rich vein to mine.
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