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Mythic Quest season 2 review: Less about games, more about megalomaniacs

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Whenever a dream job comes knocking, good fortune becomes a part of the employment offer. Ask for too much, and the job could be someone else’s. Accept, and another minefield awaits: The unspoken pressure to cede your identity to your job, to stop being a person and instead be a proud dream job-haver, and happily work all hours and take on endless responsibilities. This could work out, but eventually, the person you are catches up with the life you live, and reconciling the two can be a real existential pain in the ass.

At least, on Mythic Quest, it’s a funny one.

The second season of the Apple TV Plus series, which premiered with two episodes on May 7, is about the struggle after the struggle. It’s what happens when you have the best job you could ask for, but have a vague sense that you are maybe not the best person you can be. This mostly translates to a lot of comedic jockeying for power, as inspiring speeches made by one character become awkward cringe-fests when attempted by another, or simple team-building tasks become a sitcom riff on the Breakfast Club, with everyone stuck in a room until they can get over themselves. (Not likely to happen.)

Creators Rob McElhenney, Megan Ganz, and Charlie Day make Mythic Quest’s second year a pricklier season of television than the first. Characters stretch in new directions and behave in ways that aren’t easy to sympathize with. In its first season, the comedy did a remarkably good job of laying out what its version of a video game development office looks like, and mining that for a killer workplace comedy. In Mythic Quest, everyone thinks they’re the most important part of the creative machine that makes an MMORPG happen. In an office full of minor megalomaniacs, creative director Ian Grimm (McElhenney) is perpetually on the biggest ego trip of all. He is a man who, to his subordinates’ chagrin, has effectively made himself synonymous with the game they all make together.

But now he finally has to share. Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) is no longer the under-appreciated engineering genius she was in season 1 — now she is the Mythic Quest’s co-pilot, a boss equally responsible for the direction the game takes. That is, if Ian is able to share it.

More than in the first season, Mythic Quest is built around the toxic-yet-symbiotic relationship between Poppy and Ian, exploring what happens when two people are both uniquely good creative partners but also terrible collaborators ill-equipped to communicate and function in a healthy way. In diving deep into Poppy and Ian’s creative partnership, Mythic Quest’s writers also display an interest in power, and how it’s wielded in the workplace in ways both implicit and explicit.

Poppy, for example, spends much of season 2 learning that her manic egoism that may have come across as charming when she wasn’t a boss now reads entirely differently. From her new place on top, one bad joke can ruin someone’s day. Ian, meanwhile, struggles to understand his younger, lower-level employees who started working in a time of economic precarity where simply “asking for what you want” is completely foreign to them, and advocating for yourself is just an easy way to make yourself a target.

As a comedy that comes from a lot of the same writers as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the notoriously edgy-yet-sharp sitcom about terrible people committed to being terrible together, Mythic Quest has a knack for making things that sound awful on paper turn out really funny in practice. On both shows, a lot of it comes down to performance: In Poppy, Nicdao crafts both a caricature and a three-dimensional human. There’s enough pathos in very funny scenes where she disrespects a room full of artists that, unlike the Gang in Always Sunny, once she learns what she’s doing is messed up, she’ll try and get better.

Mythic Quest’s renewed focus on character does, however, come at the cost of its examination of industry. There’s really not much in this season that dives into specific aspects of the games industry for its conflict — nothing that really matches the first season highlights like “Dinner Party”, which explored how to manage an online community with a Nazi problem, or “The Convention,” with jokes aimed squarely at video games’ problems with misogyny.

Instead, the show tries something a little harder, digging deep into messy characters who are figuring out what they want. One episode picks apart office villain Brad Baskhi (a deliciously evil Danny Pudi) and explores what makes his misanthropic heart tick. Perpetually inappropriate fantasy writer C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham, who spends several episodes videoconferencing in) wrestles with the past and present of his career in characteristically profane ways. Testers Dana and Rachel (Imani Hakim and Ashly Burch) recognize that their status at the bottom of the company hierarchy isn’t necessarily sustainable, inadvertently hindering each other’s efforts with their differing communication styles. And Carol (Naomi Ekperigin) is the stressed, overworked HR director dealing with them all.

Through all this, the second season of Mythic Quest becomes more like The Office or Parks and Recreation in its depiction of difficult, messy weirdos learning to accept and work together. At first blush, this is a letdown compared to its more incisive first season, which was equal parts takedown and celebration of the games industry. Like those shows, Mythic Quest suffers a bit in its need to make the majority of its cast likable, as well as like each other — consider Ron Swanson’s slow dilution in Parks and Rec from ideological opponent to grumpy father figure for protagonist Leslie Knope. This tension makes the new season a little less funny than the first, but there’s still an edge there that’s fresh.

Season 2 tackles much harder questions that Mythic Quest didn’t necessarily have room to explore in its first season, when it was busy introducing all of its characters and making a notoriously opaque industry seem approachable to newcomers. They’re also messier questions that we aren’t terribly good at addressing as a culture: acknowledging who can speak, who gets heard, ignored, remembered, or stepped over. And how events that seem insignificant to one person can have a monumental effect on the career of a colleague, or the way an industry is perceived by the public.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like it has a whole lot to do with video games. That’s kind of the point: Mythic Quest was always swinging bigger than that. Every dream job has a catch.

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