Apple TV+ review: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet
Andrew Jones | On 07, Feb 2020Reading time: 5 mins
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, along with Megan Ganz (who wrote on the last few seasons), have created a new sitcom for Apple TV+ that revolves around the gaming industry, and one particular company in particular: the creators of the (fictional) titular game Mythic Quest. As we enter the world, the team are gearing up for the first expansion to their MMO, entitled Raven’s Banquet, but there’s a lot of pressure, internally and externally.
Figurehead Ian (pronounced eye-an), played by McElhenney, is a narcissist who requires every asset to be perfect and cool, and beyond that means to make Mythic Quest more about him than the hard-working employees tasked with crafting his ideas. Put-upon head coder Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) is spending all her life making this game, and wants one thing in there to call her own: a shovel that just digs and isn’t any kind of phallus. On the commerce side, David (David Hornsby) is trying to find balance between egos and the time-crunch, while setting up his new assistant, Jo (Jessie Ennis, in a standout performance), an intensely loyal and worrying second who opts to be Ian’s assistant at all times, despite David’s constant and desperate pleas for sanity. Then there’s Brad (Danny Pudi), who is all about what makes the most money. F. Murray Abraham plays an ageing fantasy writer, who lives in the office, trying to breathe creativity, emotional nuance and depth into the video game, while Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim) sit in a dark room testing the game all day, every day.
The opening episode is very much pilot material, every character given a scene or two to establish relationships, traits, demands and a simple, singular goal that brings everyone together at different stages. Annoyingly, it’s one of the weakest episodes in the run, as the jokes feel a little blander and everything just ticks off set-ups with a limited understanding of the characters. By Episode 2 and 3, though, where the show opts for a 23-minute runtime, things pop with more clarity and deeper-seated jokes and plot points. By the time the characters head off to a streamer convention for a 30-minute instalment, the show is engaging with its characters and offering different relationship-playing storylines where a variety of characters team up for different purposes – it feels light, funny and engaging. A lot like Community or Happy Endings in Silicon Valley.
But then the show does something quite odd. In the middle of the season, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet produces a single episode anomaly that doesn’t contain the main characters, doesn’t have the same setting or even the same basic tone, structure or themes as the core programme. An experiment, maybe, or something to set up a later story angle. It is a 35-minute romantic drama that, until the post-credit sting, has nothing to do with the characters, but establishes what the gaming industry was like in the 90s. It’s so out of place and infuriatingly doesn’t lead up to anything in the latter half of the season that it leaves a weight around the show’s neck for the second half – the need to explain why we had this well made, well written, but completely inappropriate-at-this-stage-of-the-show piece of TV.
The second half of the season then moves into 30-minute territory, where the fast-paced insanity struggles to sustain itself for those extra minutes, and the core relationship of the show – Ian’s ego and Poppy’s desire to be key to the game’s development – never truly clicks. The crazy antics of every other character still ring in huge laughs but, strangely, the show hangs its hat on the non-romantic but awkwardly needy dynamic between these two. They barely spend time with the rest of the crew for several episodes, and just seem to make the fun of the other storylines disappear when those characters re-enter.
Comedy shows shouldn’t just be silly and goofy, sure, but Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet ultimately can’t quite figure out the reality of the two characters they want to bring the pathos to, and it really is a hinderance for the rest of what is a hugely funny show. Annoyingly, by the final episode, so little is figured out that the two characters’ situation, bar two or three details, mirrors the pilot so much that as a viewer, it seems the middle of the show wasn’t important.
There’s a lot of comedy to mine in the gaming industry, in a workplace that establishes a key part of modern culture, where intense work is meant to craft the ultimate distraction – resonant, important touchstones in current art – and which is also used for instant gratification amid the huge commodification of streaming of conventions. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet opts to nod towards issues such as hate groups, misogyny, hacking and online safety, but decides to make them modest elements within the grand scheme of a sitcom, even one that desires to be a deeper relationship drama too.
The result has too many gameplay shifts and sometimes fills up the map with unnecessary distractions from the main quest, while offering limited replayability. It’s a fun time for a few hours, but this is worth waiting for the game-of-the-year edition further down the line.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.