From the outside, video games are a functional, multi-billion dollar industry that excites both investors and consumers of all ages. It’s a young behemoth that boasts an underdog persona while bringing in more revenue than North American legacy media and sports, with an added boost from people scrambling for in-home entertainment during the pandemic. Behind the game industry’s exhilarating scene lies messes, mistakes, and hard work as teams collaborate closely to make interactive art that they’re proud of. Season two of Mythic Quest seeks to pull the curtain on these behind-the-scenes disasters, and it works by using the sitcom format to highlight that beautiful discord, as well as playfully satirize modern games culture.
The second season of the Ubisoft production continues to follow the dysfunctional development team’s misadventures as they knock heads creating the next expansion pack for their blockbuster MMORPG. It’s a similar set up to Raven’s Banquet from the first season, but this string of episodes wrestles with the pressure and growing pains of making a game that’s a pillar in the genre. It starts with Ian (Rob McElhenney), the self-obsessed Criss Angel-like creative director who promotes lead developer Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) to co-creative director, because his ideas have become stale and self-serving. When you compare Ian’s choice to how Ian acts in the first season, it’s great character growth and a smart gesture that, in theory, prevents all of the previous season’s interpersonal issues from popping up again. But it becomes crystal clear from the opening moments, when Ian decides to take a desert sabbatical “vibe realignment” during a crucial development period, that their personality types are fundamentally at odds with each other; an observation that leads to abysmal consequences and makes the team question why they’re still working on Mythic Quest at all. This direction is really refreshing to see, and it leads to the plot wrapping up in an incredibly satisfying season finale.
This season has its finger on the pulse of the contemporary AAA games scene, but the strongest writing lies in the flashback episode “Backstory” which paints a tragic, illuminating origin story for C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), the game’s writer who, in present day, is MQ’s bumbling, out-of-touch narrative writer. “Backstory” throws the viewer into the shag cut 1970s during C.W.’s prime, when he works for a science fiction publication as a junior copy editor writer. During one scene, where he’s out of inspiration and wandering the city drunk, he sees the comforting buzz of a TV screen playing Pong. His eyes light up, and the gears in his brain start turning. This is it. This is the future, he realizes. Through the rain and flashing traffic lights, he dashes to his colleagues back at the office and interrupts their conversation with a barely intelligible rant about the future.
While messy, it’s a heartfelt speech about the potential of games as a storytelling device and an escapist portal into other worlds, and he cites it as a huge inspiration for his future science fiction writing. When he’s done talking the room falls silent, his boss looks around in disbelief and says “What the fuck are you talking about C.W.? Go home, you’re drunk.” I was shocked that they somehow made me feel sympathy for this foul, an ultimately misunderstood character. Avoiding spoilers, the story this one-off episode tells is so gut-wrenching and sweet it’s impossible not to pity C.W., and the show finds a smooth way to weave emotional moments like this into the final threads of the season.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia alum Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Rob McElhenney created Mythic Quest in 2020, and while Mythic Quest is a completely different show, it still carries the good and bad of the crude, juvenile humour Sunny is known for. The characters are playfully cruel with each other, way more so than the original season, which leads to a lot of dunking on coworkers for an extended amount of time. I understand characters having a friendly roast with friends, but yelling “shut up” and getting into screaming matches gets old incredibly quickly. At points, women and people of color on the show are positioned like mouth pieces for older dude rhetoric on “cancel culture” and “SJWs.” Ironic or not, these jokes don’t land, and they run too close to trivializing issues that non-men and racialized people in the real games space deal with every single day. By the end of the season, that “unkindness as a joke” left a sour taste in my mouth, which left me disappointed because Mythic Quest is ridiculously funny when it’s not punching down.
At its core, Mythic Quest season two is a surprisingly comical tale about suffering from success. It’s amazing to see a sitcom about the video game industry that, for the most part, seems to get its intricacies and the bizarre nature of the landscape. This season establishes a clear tone of what Mythic Quest is: a strong character-based comedy about an industry that doesn’t get too much screen time. I laughed a lot seeing Snoop Dogg rapping in a mo-cap suit, I was invested in the budding relationship between QA testers Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim), and it honestly just felt nice to see people talking about ludology, narratology, and games in general on the big screen (even if it isn’t the most serious of conversations). There’s no word on a third season, but I think this show deserves more. The show finds its stride in this latest season, and I’d love to see the characters lean more into being funny without being unnecessarily mean. When you cover games for a living like I do, you become accustomed to how messed up every facet of the industry is, so it makes me very happy that Mythic Quest exists and packages how ridiculous and important video games are in a neat, breezy watch.