fb-pixel
TELEVISION REVIEW

Ensemble comedy ‘Mythic Quest’ has got game

Rob McElhenney (left) and F. Murray Abraham in "Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet."
Rob McElhenney (left) and F. Murray Abraham in "Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet."Apple TV+

“Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” from Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is about a massively popular video game series and the company people who run it. Watching the comedy, I thought fondly of “Silicon Valley,” since it takes place in a high-tech setting amid talk of self-obsessed “visionary” geniuses and multimillion-dollar contracts. I thought of “The Office” and its focus on workplace rivalry and awkward encounters, as the strange mixture of colleagues — an engineer, a money guy, a writer, a producer, and product testers — cope with the whims of their ego-driven and insecure boss, Ian Grimm, played by McElhenney. And I thought of “Billions,” with its Big Money battles and office psychodynamics, which might look something like this if it were rearranged into a jokey sitcom satire.

Which is to say that “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” available Friday on Apple TV+, is in league with some of TV’s best. It’s a smart, energetic series that contains what may be the most important element in a successful comedy: an alchemical ensemble of characters, each one as curious and distinct as the next. There are a number of scene-stealers in this bunch, including F. Murray Abraham as — not kidding — C.W. Longbottom, a sci-fi writer and drunken office mascot long past his prime, and Danny Pudi as the coldly corporate Brad, who may or may not have a soul. Jessie Ennis is a revelation as Jo, the new young assistant to David Hornsby’s ever-anxious executive producer; she’s a blend of demonic explosions and mad crushes, and she made me laugh repeatedly during the nine-episode season. Her uniqueness made me think of Aubrey Plaza’s deadpan April from “Parks and Recreation.” Two of the testers, Rachel (Ashly Burch) and Dana (Imani Hakim), bring the sweetness as flirtatious, innocent game lovers.

Advertisement



At the center of everything are McElhenney’s Ian, pronounced Eye-an, and Charlotte Nicdao’s Poppy, a genius programmer who is forever dealing with Ian’s eccentricities and neediness. He has enough good ideas to merit his position of power, but his predictable feelings of masculine inadequacy, combined with his pseudo wokeness, make him an easy mark. In one episode, Poppy needs to keep Ian distracted, so she puts a taller, more virile war hero in his path, to trip him up and keep him obsessing about his own deficiencies. It works. Poppy is a strong foil; she pushes back at Ian, as she fights to implement her own creative ideas. But she also has quirks and weird explosions of her own; Nicdao never lets Poppy serve as the wise but mansplained and buttoned-down woman in a largely male industry — an issue the show takes on with some fury, unlike “Silicon Valley.” The male ego — and fraught father-son connections — are among the show’s central themes and relentless targets.

The issues in the world of gaming are very much a part of “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” if that’s not clear already. The dialogue is steeped in the narrative choices and imagery of video games, so that an entire episode is built around the look and purpose of a shovel in the series’ latest edition (called “Raven’s Banquet”). Questions of art versus commerce emerge regularly, most powerfully, perhaps, in the fifth episode, a fantastic half-hour that has no obvious connection to the main story. Called “A Dark Quiet Death,” and spanning from 1993 to the 2010s, it gives us a pair of early game developers (Cristin Milioti and Jake Johnson) who have a cute Gomez and Morticia-like relationship. They create a successful game, and the corporate threats to their original ideas put them on the line. The self-standing episode provides a strong sense of context for everything involving Ian and his business. It’s also a reminder of the show’s inherent analogy — that these characters are each also on a mythic quest of sorts.

Advertisement



One of the ongoing jokes on “Mythic Quest” is that sales of the game hinge of the whims of a streamer who has some 10 million followers. Named Pootie Shoe (Elisha Henig), he is a 14-year-old brat and bully driven by personal vendettas; and yet, the Mythic Quest workers are captive to his every whim. When they aren’t coping with the game’s sudden popularity among white supremacists or a class of schoolgirls who’ve come to the office to meet actual women in the gaming industry, they’re dealing with Pootie’s pouts (gloriously leading to the line, “Et tu, Pootay?”).

Advertisement



“Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” has been renewed for a second season, and I’m already looking forward to it. The show is another reason, along with “Little America” and, to a lesser extent, “The Morning Show,” to take Apple TV+ seriously as a new streaming outlet of original series. Just what you need, I know.

Advertisement



MYTHIC QUEST: RAVEN’S BANQUET

Starring: Rob McElhenney, Charlotte Nicdao, Danny Pudi, Elisha Henig, David Hornsby, F. Murray Abraham, Jessie Ennis, Ashly Burch, Imani Hakim. On: Apple TV+. Season one available Friday.


Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.