There’s no arguing that Apple TV+‘s debut year at the Emmys was a good one. Though the streaming service only launched in November of 2019, it walked away with 18 Emmy nominations, several of which were for major categories including Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Those 18 nominations are more than Fox and Comedy Central earned, two long-standing networks with a proven track record. But as much as Apple has to celebrate the Emmys made one big mistake: not nominating Apple TV+’s best and funniest show, Mythic Quest.
Created by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Megan Ganz, on its surface Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet looks just like any other workplace comedy. There’s the narcissistic and juvenile boss, McElhenney’s Ian. There’s the incompetent middle management, David Hornsby’s David, who is constantly battling with the all-too-smug sales guy, Danny Pudi’s Brad. There’s even an office wildcard in the form of Jessie Ennis’ Ian-obsessed assistant Jo. And of course there’s the “normal” person who holds a magnifying glass to how truly insane this work environment is, the allegorical Jim and Pam of this series, Charlotte Nicdao’s neurotic Poppy Li.
It’s rare to see a freshman series premiere with such a clear understanding of its characters, yet that’s exactly what Mythic Quest delivered from its very first episode. You don’t need to have played a single minute of a video game to enjoy Ian’s megalomania or C.W.’s (F. Murray Abraham) complete confusion about anything related to technology. But there was always something more to Mythic Quest, a secret mission if you will. Underneath the wild characters and infuriating office politics lay one of the most nuanced examinations of the modern workplace brought to television.
Over its first season Mythic Quest explored some of the most complicated issues effecting life in 2020 with both humor and nuance. There was a saga all about Neo-Nazis invading MQ‘s servers which led to a conversation major social media sites are still grappling with right now: Do you ban hateful users when those hateful users are financially benefiting your company? Poppy headed one of the most brutal storylines of the season, extolling the values of young women joining STEM while simultaneously realizing that she may be just as sexist as her toxic colleagues. This season even tackled what working during the pandemic was like.
Mythic Quest: Quarantine is one of the few if not the only show about COVID-19 that has worked. Throughout its half-hour runtime the special highlighted some of the best pandemic tropes from Ian’s complaints about how hard self-isolation was while lounging in his personal hot tub to Poppy refusing to shower for days at a time. It was a special that was aggressively silly. But it was also a moment in television that quietly understood exactly how hard life during COVID-19 has truly become. In one of the final moments of the special, Ian braves the infected world to go hug his friend Poppy while she’s in the middle of a breakdown. These two people are at the height of privilege in this new world. They both are healthy, still have their jobs, and can comfortably work from home. And yet they’re both still hurting.
That’s what Mythic Quest offers, understanding. Mythic Quest knows that we’re living in a weird world, even without the fear of the pandemic. It gets that the goal of a stable 9-to-5 job from decades past has been replaced by people using their careers to pursue their passions. More importantly it understands how disheartening and difficult it can be to force art into the mold of capitalism. During a time filled with countless startups and social media influencers, this comedy sees that dream we’ve all been sold and is unafraid to explore its poisonous side.
Every once in a while there comes a show that is indisputably of its time. That’s what Mythic Quest is for this era of the workplace. In that regard it’s perversely fitting that a show as smart, innovative, and unique as this has been ignored by an established institution like the Emmys. The old guard ignoring the new is yet another exhausting workplace trend. Next year, maybe the Emmys can fix their mistake.