The new Apple TV Plus sitcom Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a solid attempt to address timely gaming-adjacent issues like fan toxicity, development crunch, and diverse representation. The nine-episode series, set in a game development office, displays a genuine appreciation of video games and the scene around them. But its reliance on tired sitcom standards undermines any chance the show had at bringing a fresh new perspective to the quirks of development life.
The series, co-created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz, centers on Mythic Quest, the world’s biggest MMO. The game attracts millions of players every day, and its team of misfit developers is about to launch a new update, Raven’s Banquet. They work long hours from a place stuffed with standees, toys, and gaming paraphernalia, and although they love working in the game industry, the demands of incompetent managers, faraway bosses, and entitled gamers make their lives miserable.
What kind of story is this show telling?
The Raven’s Quest team is led by Ian Grimm (McElhenney), a grotesque egomaniac with all the nightmare attributes of bad bossdom. He takes credits for his subordinates’ ideas and belittles everyone around him. As a game maker, he’s a pretentious ass with an overblown sense of his own creative genius, which is driven by co-opting existing science fiction and fantasy tropes.
McElhenney manages to imbue his monster with the familiar charm of sociopathic corporate overachievers, and his character and backstory develop somewhat over the course of the season. But he’s essentially an annoying boss.
As is often the case in workplace sitcoms, going back to Cheers and 30 Rock, the flawed, macho man is played off against a quirky, highly competent, likable woman who acts as a foil for his various scrapes. Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) is the game’s underappreciated, frequently put-upon lead engineer. Many of the show’s stories center on her efforts to save Raven’s Banquet from Ian’s self-aggrandizing ideas. Other central characters bring their own little stories, including a spineless, middle-aged supervisor; a cynical money-grubber sales guy; a lovelorn junior developer; and a psychopathically loyal assistant.
The most engaging side character is an aged, hopelessly out-of-touch fantasy writer that Grimm loved as a kid, played with aplomb by Amadeus Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham. At one point, he excitedly suggests a new storyline, but his younger teammates shoot it down, pointing out that his idea is basically Star Wars. When the plot of this unfamiliar work is explained to him, his only response is a question: “What is a Death Star?”
Is it accurate about video games?
Through its video game setting, Mythic Quest creates an occasional spark of wit and insight. Issues around streamers, fan expos, cosplay, and in-game purchases are well observed, and it’s clear that the writers either diligently researched them or experienced them firsthand. There are a few forgivably outlandish narrative moments, like the episode where the developers graft an entirely new mechanic onto the game overnight. But its overall take on gaming culture is essentially sound.
The storylines will resonate with gamers as pointed cultural commentary. A horrid teenage streamer lords it over Raven’s Quest like a distant titan, spouting empty drivel to his adoring fans and using a butthole-based metric to score his game reviews. The testing team (improbably, just two people) is constantly undervalued and overworked. Stressed coders are bought off with nonsense like free ice cream. Women on the team are often targeted by toxic male gamers.
The game itself looks like World of Warcraft, except with tacky gore, which adds to the sense of merriment. It’s often targeted by malefactors: Hackers bring destruction, while Nazis work to spread hate. The dev team’s financial whiz, Brad (Community’s Danny Pudi), insists on installing a virtual casino right in the middle of Mythic Quest’s medieval forests. It’s all an accurate skewering of gaming culture, which has, over the years, suffered greatly from poorly informed treatment on television.
The show’s take on games and gaming culture is mainly celebratory in the sense that it treats games as worthy of passion, and even as a morally positive pastime. In one episode, a group of schoolgirls is given a studio tour, and although they are unwitting witnesses to various hypocrisies, they come away with a sense that they are the future of gaming, after a stirring speech from one of the women who work at the studio.
According to Mythic Quest, gaming is an almost holy undertaking that’s undermined by bad actors and well-meaning fools. Alas, there are few signs of the kind of dark, imaginative leaps taken by, say, Black Mirror’s treatment of gaming’s underbelly.
Is it worth watching?
Just about. It’s a familiar template: a workplace sitcom featuring setups and gags that have been knocking around for decades. The jokes are about social awkwardness, double entendres, clothing catastrophes, nerd-culture totems, and battle-of-the-sexes miscommunications. It even relies on that most ancient of sitcom standards, the catchphrase — Ian is fond of saying that he’ll “noodle” on some new idea, much to his co-workers’ annoyance.
But it’s all far too safe and standard to provide many laughs. It’s been almost 50 years since the workplace sitcom Are You Being Served? first aired, but apart from some off-color gags about gas chambers, picking up STDs in Africa, and deadly sweatshop fires, the general comedic principles remain the same.
Does the show have anything interesting to say?
Like The Office, The IT Crowd, and Parks and Recreation in their day, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is an attempt to ridicule contemporary office life. So it’s no surprise that its main focus is on clueless or bad-faith attempts by white men to performatively welcome diversity, while engaging in appalling behavior as they try to secure their long-cherished privileges.
It’s a popular theme in television right now, with hits like The Morning Show and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which also seek to flip traditionally male-dominated entertainment settings. But it’s a tradition that goes back to I Love Lucy and the 1980 movie 9 to 5. Apple’s sitcom is good at poking fun at the lingo of empty wokeness; it just doesn’t have much to say on the meat of the matter.
There is one strange highlight, though. The fifth episode takes a detour from the main plot to follow the 10-year journey of a small game development team as it struggles with creative pressures and corporate meddling. This tale of love, betrayal, and the evils of compromise is barely played for laughs, and it’s a genuinely compelling story that doesn’t waste time on tiresome pratfalls. By contrast, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’s other episodes are far too safe.
The writers evidently are intimate with gaming, understand its quirks, and have some useful perspectives. It’s a shame they slathered their ideas with a dreary sitcom sheen.
Disclosure: Polygon gave permission for its name to be used in Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, but did not otherwise have any editorial involvement with the show.