Mythic Quest‘s second season on Apple TV+ is hopefully best characterized as a sophomore slump.
It’s not that the show has suddenly gotten bad. If anything, the writers are more comfortable now stretching this lovable (and lovably detestable) cast of characters beyond their humble beginnings. As the mid-season bridge episode “Everlight” strongly suggested, this is a story marked by character growth and evolving perspectives. But in the end, it feels like Season 2 maybe tries to do just a bit too much.
There may be an appropriate (and admittedly convenient) scapegoat here in COVID-19. Creators Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Rob McElhenney (who also stars) apparently had a very different season in mind before the pandemic turned our world upside down. So the original scripts were thrown out and Season 2 was written in the midst of a shared traumatic experience.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just season full of quarantine episodes, however. Mythic Quest acknowledges COVID in small and mostly unspoken ways. A declined hug. An absence of crowds. Offhand references to the exhausting year since March 2020 and the slow, cautious comeback we’re all living through right now.
‘Mythic Quest’ acknowledges COVID in small and mostly unspoken ways.
The circumstances surrounding the pandemic could explain the writing’s lack of focus, but it doesn’t make the season’s multiple dangling threads any less frustrating. We pick up the story pretty much right where we left it, with McElhenney’s Ian Grimm, creator of the hit online role-playing game Mythic Quest, getting used to the idea of sharing his creative director role with Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao), the game’s ace (and now former) lead engineer who also happens to be a dweeby and perpetually uncool counterweight to Ian’s raging ego and “alpha” persona.
Poppy’s relationship with Ian has always been complex. There’s real, mutual love between them that’s definitely not romantic, but it’s also not quite older sibling/younger sibling. Season 2 spends much of its time further defining the contours of that relationship, as the co-creative directors turn their attention toward figuring out what the next big evolution will look like for their game.
We also spend significantly more time in this second season at the lowest hierarchal rung of the studio, focusing on “the [game] testers,” Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim). Season 1 touched on their awkwardly budding romantic relationship in fits and starts, developing it in the background as much of the story turned to the often-hilarious struggles of building and maintaining a game like Mythic Quest.
Those struggles are still at the center of this story, but Season 2 swings a big piece of its focus around to Rachel and Dana. After cocooning into their pandemic shells for a whole year-and-then-some, the two are ready to explore their feelings for one another more deeply. It develops into an unusually heartwarming little odd couple, with Rachel’s preachy politics and Dana’s chill and pragmatic (but also youthfully self-absorbed) outlook singing in harmony rather than clashing.
The season’s opening two episodes — which premiere as a two-pack on May 7 — fittingly swing the spotlight around to focus on these two relationships. They’re central to the arc of a season that is ultimately focused on themes of growth and charting a personally fulfilling path through uncertainty (and uncertain times).
This plays out across the whole studio. Brad (Danny Pudi), the studio’s money-focused business shark, is now partnered up with an appropriately devious assistant in Jo (Jessie Ennis). The power dynamics are a little different than Ian and Poppy’s, but there’s a similar character to the crackling energy between Brad and Jo. The two actors play off each other quite well, in the process exposing aspects of their characters that we hadn’t seen before but which make total sense.
David Brittelsbee (David Hornsby), the studio’s executive producer and ostensible boss is also on a journey in Season 2, though he perhaps fades a bit more into the background in this new batch of episodes. He’s still a feckless doormat when we first meet him again, but he’s coping with a growing self-awareness of his shortcomings — perhaps as a result of spending an entire year at home in a state of self-reflection.
For all of the great character work, too often Season 2 feels…messy.
Even Carol (Naomi Ekperigin), the studio’s beleaguered HR boss whose job role is forever misconstrued, and Sue Gorgon (Caitlin McGee), the God-fearing and relentlessly upbeat Mythic Quest community manager, get more time in the spotlight to showcase how funny they can be — and they are. But no one benefits from Season 2’s deeper character dive more than C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), the game’s head writer.
I’m going to take it easy here because I don’t want to spoil any surprises. But Season 2 of Mythic Quest takes C.W., an acclaimed sci-fi author whom we know for his outdated, kind of gross views and frequent swerves into politically incorrect waters (that’s a nice way of putting it), and turns him into a multi-dimensional character. You’ll understand C.W. as a person by the end of the season, and with that understanding comes a clearer sense of what makes Mythic Quest, the show, tick as well.
For all of that great character work, however, too often Season 2 feels…messy. There’s a whole subplot involving Brad’s brother that ties to the long arc of the season, but it’s never really fleshed out enough to feel paid off in the end.
Worse, a subplot involving the studio’s art team actively undermines one of Mythic Quest‘s greatest assets: Taking major real-world issues in the gaming world and framing them in a way that mainstream audiences can understand. In this case, you have studio leaders in Ian and Poppy who repeatedly denigrate the value of a talented art team and effort that goes into their work.
It’s done right at first. In one scene from early in the season, Poppy barks orders at the art team while Ian gladhands them. But both make the same mistake of devaluing the team’s efforts. So when Ian casually characterizes their labors as “magic” and the Mythic Quest art director quietly but firmly corrects him, it goes unheard.
It’s a thread that gets picked up several times over the course of the season, including into the finale. But ultimately, that thread goes nowhere. The story never acknowledges the plight of the art team beyond little background glances and pointed looks. By the time the ninth and final episode is over, the art team has been all but forgotten. That may reflect a problematic reality to some extent, but Mythic Quest has always been good about serving these grounded plotlines with aspirational lessons for the characters who don’t get it.
In this case, though, Ian and Poppy never seem to learn from their error, or even realize an error was made in the first place. That could be laying the narrative groundwork for a future season, but in the present it feels like the show is tacitly endorsing their callous disregard for members of the Mythic Quest team. It feels especially dissonant in the context of a season where Ian and Poppy both demonstrate this growth toward other characters.
I still love Mythic Quest. Season 2 is an uneven mess at times, but the good outweighs the bad mostly thanks to the great roster of characters and the talented actors behind them. The gooey, heartfelt center that made Season 1 such a delight is still plainly in evidence here. It’s just a little more broken and a little less put together than it was before the pandemic.