The team behind Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet got Oscar and BAFTA Award winning actor F. Murray Abraham to not only say, "Assassin's Creed" and "Red Dead Redemption 2," but also fake cry at a cutscene involving Arthur's horse. Regardless of whatever else the show accomplishes, the creative team should hold their heads high and proud.
Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet is a workplace comedy from many of the same folks who brought you It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In Mythic Quest, executive producers Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, David Hornsby, and Megan Ganz shine a light on game development and game culture, with some help from Ubisoft. The nine-episode first season follows the studio leads of an MMO that shares a name with the show, developed by a studio simply known as Mythic Quest.
The nominal lead of the show is lead engineer Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao), an overworked and exasperated programmer who just wants to make her mark on gaming and be listened to. Opposite Poppy is Ian Grimm, pronounced 'eye-ann' for reasons given later in the show, the narcissistic creative director and creator of Mythic Quest. Together, they're the fulcrum of the show: Ian is the face of the game, while Poppy is the one who does all the work. In the first episode, she compares herself to his favorite paintbrush.
They're joined by other fellow colleagues and lower-level employees in the regular cast. David Hornsby plays executive producer David Brittlesbee, a meek and indecisive boss who spends most of the show worrying about his feelings of inadequacy. Mythic Quest head of monetization Brad Bakshi is played by Community's Danny Pudi, a soulless sociopath who wants to siphon every dollar out of consumer's pockets. Then there's the aforementioned F. Murray Abraham as C.W. Longbottom, a writer clinging to his historic work and Nebula Award from the 80s trying to find his way through a new industry.
Combined with Ian, these three feel the most like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia characters; they're all terrible people in their own way and constantly standing in the way of true progress. The first two episodes don't land outside of Poppy, because it's just her as the relatively sane one inside the asylum. The others are defined wholly by their character traits: Ian's narcissism, David's inability to lead, Brad's lack of caring, and C.W. carrying forward the worst parts of his day. Even Poppy comes across as a little naive early on. They remind me of the first season of Parks and Recreation, where the characters lacked the depth to make them feel like real people.
There's a bit more life and verve in the rest of the cast. Horizon Zero Dawn, Life Is Strange, and Borderlands 2 voice actress Ashly Burch is Rachel, a QA testing lead who wants to offer more to the studio, while also harboring a crush on fellow tester Dana (Imani Hakim). They instantly have a warmth and camaraderie that works for Mythic Quest. On the opposite side is Jo, the cartoonishly murderous production assistant who harbors a deep love for Ian. (In the early episodes I wanted more emotion and nuance from the rest of the cast, but Jo's asides were always great.) Then there's a character I wish got more screentime: Sue Gorgon, the community manager that the team has consigned to the basement because she's too bright and optimistic in the face negative comments and hate speech. (I also enjoyed Carol, the HR management that everyone treats like a therapist, but she disappears completely between the pilot and the season finale.)
The first episode is spent establishing how the team bounces off one another in the final week before the Raven's Banquet expansion is supposed to ship for Mythic Quest. Poppy wants to add a shovel to the game. A basic shovel that will also allow players to dig in the game world. But the issues appear immediately, as Ian doesn't think digging is cool enough, Brad doesn't think he can sell it, and C.W., desperate to be useful, wants to make a backstory for the shovel. The latter is admittedly very funny, because Abraham sells the line.
"Maybe the shovel needs a backstory! Who birthed this mysterious terror spade? The gods themselves? Did they suckle at the bosom of Hera like babes at their mother's teat?" Longbottom asks.
It's around the third episode, where Mythic Quest begins to pick up the pace. In this episode—which introduces Sue for the first time—the team has to tackle a mass of white supremacists who have made a home in the game. Everyone acknowledges it's a problem, but what they can't agree on is how to fix it. Episode three is the sharpest one in the early set, as it feels like it has some wit and commentary behind it. For example, David establishes an ethics committee to make ban rules for the game, and he pulls in Dana because she's a black woman, but leaves Rachel behind because the "white woman" slot was already filled by Jo. She doesn't get to join until she points out that she's gay, filling another spot. Or the older C.W.'s complete misunderstanding of what the team is supposed to be doing with the Nazis. "Are we apologizing to the Nazis, or on their behalf?" he asks in confusion at a meeting.
The turning point for Mythic Quest is episode five, which is tonally different from the rest of the show. In fact, it feels like a different show. While the rest is somewhat closer to HBO's Silicon Valley in tone, episode five starts in the 90s. It's a straight up drama, following the lives of a couple (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti) as they see their small game rise in success. It's a heartbreaking story about how that success eats away at their relationship and their connection to the core ideals of the game. Over the course of years, the pair find the faceless "Montreal" higher up whittling down everything that's meaningful about their game, Dark Quiet Death, until it's just another zombie action game.
It's an amazing episode, but it's one that feels like it's from a completely different show. The connections back to the rest of Mythic Quest are so brief, that you could cut the episode from the season without losing the overall arc of it. It's a wonderful aberration, but I don't think it should be there. The whiplash switching from comedy, even darker comedy, to straight drama is hard, and I don't think Mythic Quest handles it smoothly. You just pop out of one show and into another for an episode.
But it also signals a change in Mythic Quest. As I said, in the early episodes, the characters aren't really people. But once you coast into the second half and pass episode five, you start to see more sides of them. You begin to get more of Ian's backstory, and see what makes him such a broken man. Poppy starts to fracture at the seams of doing all the work and having no say in the work. Rachel and C.W. have a moment that highlights that the older man actually loves the emotions that video games can bring to the table. It's an amazing turnaround; if the earlier part of the season is Parks and Recreation Season 1, then the show somehow transitions to Season 2 mid-season.
Mythic Quest covers game development in the same way Brooklyn Nine-Nine covers police work, as more flavor than realism. Certain things aren't realistic at all, like Poppy adding a shovel, which presents entirely new gameplay, without anyone else noticing. Or Brad turning off all the monetization in the game and the studio going into a freefall because no one else can turn it back on. If you want accuracy, this isn't really the show for you.
Despite that, Mythic Quest does touch upon some of the issues within the industry. While crunch seems unacknowledged for most of the show, it's mentioned directly in the season finale, when the employees begin to unionize because of the stuff they've had to deal with over the season. Poppy's main plot is about being a woman in a tech workplace, but that's also brought into sharper view with episode 4. A Girls Who Code group visits the office and gets the straight truth from one of the more disgruntled female programmers. Doxxing is brought up twice, both times in regards to female employees. It's not all bleak comedy, but it's not all sunshine either.
I don't know if Mythic Quest is good enough to make me get Apple TV+, but the show improves rather quickly over the course of only nine episodes. By the end, I actually kind of liked these characters. (Except Brad. Brad is a straight monster all the way through.) Silicon Valley is gone, but Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet looks like it might eventually become a good replacement for it. If the second season can be as good as the best of this season, I'm looking forward to it.
Also, more Sue please.