Spencer Crittenden went into “HarmonQuest” a game master and came out a showrunner. Long the trusted guide of the adventures of Fondue (Dan Harmon), Beor (Erin McGathy), and Bone Weevil (Jeff Davis) on the hybrid animated/live-action series and in other Harmon-led projects, Crittenden has taken a larger role than ever on “HarmonQuest” Season 2. That means not only continuing the ongoing deeds of Fondue and Co., but bringing in a new batch of week-to-week one-off characters to join the fray.
“A big part of role-playing games is that every group is different, every table is different, every player has different values and ideas of what the game is,” Crittenden recently told IndieWire. “They’re all kind of right and kind of wrong, but everyone is still having fun. I think they all highlight the correct way to play and show that you don’t necessarily have to be an expert.”
Even at a new online home (the show has migrated from now-defunct Seeso to the streaming platform VRV), “HarmonQuest” has maintained its standard format: Harmon, McGathy, Davis, and rotating guest play a role-playing game in front of a studio audience. The show then cuts between their live antics and a “Drunk History”-style animated version of the ongoing story, replete with medieval details and colorful creature design.
Some of the guests on the show, like Thomas Middleditch and Patton Oswalt, have had extensive experience in the RPG world. But for the majority of the comedians who join in on the Quest (like Gillian Jacobs, the star of the hilarious Season 2 premiere), it’s almost more fun to have guests without any preconceived notions.
“In a strange way, some of our easier successes are with novices, because they can adapt very quickly to the performance aspect of it,” Harmon said. “Watching them get their sea legs, even though they’re a guest and they’re a total non-initiate, they are setting the tone for the whole chapter of the adventure. It’s always different, but it’s always good and I’ve really loved that.”
The idea of not being fully equipped for the task at hand is kind of built into the “HarmonQuest” DNA. Despite having a season’s worth of adventures under their leather belts, Fondue, Beor, and Bone Weevil aren’t exactly the mythic, impervious heroes of old.
“Dan, in the first episode, says, ‘We’re so bad at this.’ I think part of where the comedy comes from is that they’re really incompetent heroes. That’s part of what I wanted to play around with in the second season, that they’re not so great at playing the game,” Crittenden said.
“Something that’s really exciting on a show like this is thinking if, God willing, we get to like a Season 7, that our characters will have leveled up and that we’ll have had some experience playing and we’ll be wielding more powerful characters. Unless we die. Guess you can’t rule that out,” Harmon said. “But adding to the usual satisfaction of growing with family on any TV show is exciting to me.”
As the man behind the story, Crittenden has near full control on any part of the “HarmonQuest” story not subject to a twenty-sized dice roll. At a Season 2 premiere event held at the illustrious Starburns Castle in Burbank, Crittenden explained to the gathered fans how he’s able to help guide each episode so that things don’t go completely off the rails.
“First I come in and talk to them and explain the basic concept of what’s going to be happening. Then I give them a sheet that explains their character and another sheet with things like ‘Help the gang get out of prison’ or ‘If there’s a door, use glasses to pick the lock,’ to give them a little direction and beats to move the plot forward,” Crittenden said. “Before we shoot, we also take them through a practice game where it gets them acquainted with the concept of explaining yourself doing actions.”
Among the Season 2 guest stars are Oswalt, Elizabeth Olsen, Jason Mantzoukas, Rory Scovel, Aparna Nancherla, Paul Scheer, Janet Varney, Rob Corddry, and Kumail Nanjiani (whose orc janitor Eddie Lizzard was a Season 1 highlight).
Now that Crittenden has established a system for crafting his side of the narrative and has a specific rapport with the revolving door of guests, he’s seized the lion’s share of the behind-the-scenes work on the series. After being more hands-on in Season 1, Harmon’s main role now is showing up and playing along on shoot days.
“It worked out perfectly. My big, fat face is on it, so it’s all the more interesting to me as a narcissist. But it’s a show that I’m a fan of. I don’t have to do any work on it and it’s good. It’s a dream come true for me,” Harmon said.
Ultimately, part of the overall intrigue of “HarmonQuest” is that despite Crittenden’s best efforts, the story is still subject to the whims of those dice rolls. Filming an hour in the studio and cutting away two-thirds of that runtime to get the final episode length gives Crittenden some leeway, but sometimes the unplanned bits make for the best results.
“Usually if something ends up bad, we can cut it out and it never happens. But the point is that it’s supposed to be crazy and random. If things go bad, that’s funny,” Crittenden said.
“HarmonQuest” Season 1 is available for free on VRV, where new episodes of Season 2 are posted every Friday.