Ahead of the second season launch, co-creators Megan Ganz and Rob McElhenney and the rest of the cast of ‘Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ — Charlotte Nicdao, Danny Pudi, Ashly Burch, Imani Hakim, F. Murray Abraham, and Jessie Ennis — chat about why the Apple TV Plus series is more than about video games
At the mention of ‘Hyderabad’, actor Danny Pudi breaks into a ear-to-ear grin, spreads his arms wide and exclaims over a video call, “Hyderabad!” with the familiarity of a man from the Godavari district. He continues, “One of my last trips before the pandemic was to Hyderabad, and I cannot wait to be back.”
Starring in season two of Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, Pudi plays Brad Bakshi, the shark-like head of monetisation at developer studio Mythic Quest. Season one saw a team of game developers, testers, writers and other staff led by the egotistical Ian (Rob McElhenney), working on an open-world role-playing game – very similar to World of Warcraft and Skyrim – called Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.
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McElhenney and Pudi are joined by Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li, a socially-awkward MIT-educated game designer, David Hornsby as David, the studio’s often-overlooked executive producer, and F. Murray Abraham and C.W. Longbottom, a fantasy novelist-turned-MQ lead writer. Jessie Ennis plays Jo, David’s bizarre assistant, while Ashly Burch and Imani Hakim play Rachel and Dana respectively, two testers who start seeing each other in the second season.
So far the series – created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia trio of Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and McElhenney – has, in its own special way, shown the non-gaming audiences the complexities of ‘creative versus technical’ debates, the constant pressures developers feel, diversity issues in the industry and more, while staying away from the typical geek genre tropes.
The end of season one, production-wise, came on the cusp of the pandemic and the creators and cast managed to film the last episode ‘Quarantine’ conference-call style, touching on sleepless nights, anxiety, boredom, and virtual team spirit. A bonus special episode ‘Everlight’ which focussed on LARPing (live-action role-playing) was filmed post-pandemic, and marked the MQ team’s return to work as did many gaming studios around the world.
Dimensions of storytelling
Season two sees Poppy and Ian stepping up as co-creative directors but not necessarily getting along as they plan for an expansion pack for Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. McElhenney is a known fan of World Of Warcraft himself and he says the biggest inspiration for the second season was “putting the pandemic behind them and making a show that looks to an optimistic future while understanding a return to normalcy is not easily done.”
He elaborates on the value of showing a different side to the gaming industry that has boomed, “It was important to make a show that feels like it could take place anywhere. It’s also a show about interpersonal dynamics of people who are forced to work together, and this transcends culture. However, we also knew the gaming industry was exploding and we noticed a lot of stories that haven’t been told in this world that felt authentic and so often they are derisive or poking fun at the industry and gamers themselves — they don’t convey the full dimensionality of who these people are. What comes along with that is fodder for the show.”
Fans of the series had long been waiting for Poppy to take up a role of power and, as it turns out, so was Nicdao. “There are so many aspects of the character that are challenging because even though she is a pretty outrageous and goofy person, there is so much of it that is grounded in the reality of what it’s like to be a woman in a position of power in any workplace. I loved playing with ‘the idea of success’ this season. In season one, she had this clear goal of wanting more creative control over the game. Now she has that control, she doesn’t quite know how to handle it yet. She’s a genius when it comes to programming but not so much when it comes to being a leader.”
Pudi’s role as Brad is a far cry from his lovable character Abed in Community. Commercial positions in gaming are often seen as nefarious and agenda-driven but they are needed for the industry to thrive as much as it does. Pudi comments, “A large part of the game’s success is Brad’s work and he prides himself on finding all the nooks and crannies where he can monetise the game. At the same time, there’s friction between him and the creatives, people who are more concerned about cutscenes and the craft of storytelling. Brad is fearless and doesn’t care about that; product is product. It’s fun to play someone who’s not concerned about being liked, high-fives and hugs – things I care about.”
For season two, Pudi is excited to have one of his best friends on board but it does not spell much fun for Brad. “You get to see his insecurities come about when Brad’s brother comes about. He is played by Parvesh Cheena whose couch I lived on when I first moved to Los Angeles. He and I did theatre in Chicago together too, so this was a wonderful experience to work with a long-time collaborator. In the same episode, we have Snoop Dogg too, which is exciting.”
Ennis says she is “grateful” she is nothing like her “unhinged” character who is often seen crushing on Ian. “The only thing we share is we do our work at 110% (laughs) but Jo has misguided tendencies in that she is very violent and unrelenting. So it’s actually fun to play this agent of chaos.”
Probably one of the most surprising character arcs has been that of C.W., a writer who continues to live in his past-glory days that are awash with success, failure, friendship and heartbreak. According to co-creator Megan Ganz, conversations with the series’ casting director involved a need for ‘an F Muarry Abraham-type’ to which the casting director recommended F. Murray Abraham himself, much to McElhenney and Ganz’s delight. Two episodes from season one presented Abraham with the opportunity to “do it all; make you laugh and cry.” He continues, “Each character has a great sense of humanity in this show, but everyone very clearly likes C.W., and if there were any way for you guys to come watch us do the show, you’d fall in love with place. And they pay me! (laughs)”
Burch is already well-known in the gaming circles as a voice and motion capture artist, featuring in game series such as the widely popular Horizon Zero and Borderlands. She admits that throughout production, she tried to get Hakim, Ennis and Nicdao into Animal Crossing. “I only succeeded with Charlotte and we spent many an hour hanging out there during quarantine. (laughs) There’s a video of Imani and I playing video games in our trailers in the first weeks of working on season one, too. I’ve tried to indoctrinate them all!”
During ‘Everlight’, recalls Hakim, “Burch gave everyone a masterclass on how to do grunts from the diaphragm in some scenes. I would love to get into voice-acting for video games at some point though, and Ashly is so good at it. The show has inspired me a lot.”
A bit of banter
The gaming world is known for its crossovers so when asked about the likelihood of a Ted Lasso (a huge Apple TV+ runaway success) and Mythic Quest crossover, McElhenney simply asks (jokingly, we hope), “What’s Ted Lasso? I’m not aware of it. Is that a TV show? We spend enough time working on Mythic Quest, we don’t need to help with some small thing. What is that called again? Sounds silly.”
It had to be asked: if McElhenney’s two iconic characters, Mac from It’s Always Sunny and Ian from Mythic Quest, met in real life, what does the actor-producer think would happen? He laughs, thinks for a minute and responds, “I think there would be a fistfight; it would be very hyper-masculine which means they’d bark at each other but also run away as quickly as they could.”
Nicdao asks, “Do you think Mac would have a crush on Ian?” to which McElhenney responds, “They’d have a crush on each other, both are egomaniacs and look very similar.” Nicdao then chuckles, “Poppy would not be trying to sort the fight out, she’d have popcorn. But if they were into each other, she’d be out of there as quickly as possible.”
The second season of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet streams on Apple TV+ on May 8.