[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Mythic Quest” Season 1, Episode 11, “Everlight.”]
When the Apple TV+ comedy “Mythic Quest” debuted its “Quarantine” episode in late May of last year, Rob McElhenney’s sweet ode to caring co-workers hit at the right time, with the right notes. Zany virtual bets and inventive Zoom experiments made the half-hour a joyful reprieve, just like much of the show that preceded it. But two months into stay-at-home orders, Poppy Li’s struggles with social isolation — and her co-creative director Ian’s recognition of her deteriorating morale — gave the episode an extra emotional wallop. Not only did anxious audiences need the kind of respite good comedy can provide, but they needed someone to acknowledge how exhausting all that lonely worrying had become.
Nearly a year later, “Mythic Quest” is back, with both a new season (set to premiere May 7) and a new bonus episode. “Everlight” is much more traditionally executed than its predecessor, while still earning its standalone release. Gone are the video conference gags where the eldest co-worker (F. Murray Abraham’s C.W. Longbottom) calls into meetings as an animated panda, and in their place is a seasoned C.W., still working virtually while the rest of crew heads back to the office.
That’s right. “Mythic Quest” is moving past the pandemic. In a note McElhenney sent to critics, the co-creator said when Season 2 starts, “our characters will be back in the office, having closed the chapter on 2020/early 2021 and returned to normal life.” But they didn’t want to jump into a routine work environment too quickly, especially after acknowledging the toll remote work has already taken on employees. Hence, the series’ second special episode of the pandemic is set on the first day employees are back together, collaborating in-person, and it arrives just as real Americans are gauging whether it’s safe to do the same.
“Everlight” doesn’t exactly offer guidance on how to do that safely, or even if companies should start bringing workers together again. No one is wearing masks, and there’s no discussion of testing or vaccines. As implied in the letter, “Mythic Quest” seems to be operating out of an idealized world where everyone was smart enough to get inoculated, everyone had access, and there’s no lingering anxiety about being breathing the same air as 50 other people. Instead, what it offers is strong comedy with an encouraging message — similar to “Quarantine,” if inevitably more vague.
Written by Ashly Burch (who also plays Rachel, one of the game testers), “Everlight” is really a party. Every year, the Mythic Quest team celebrates a holiday created for the game in real life, and this year’s festivities center on a live-action role playing tournament to the death. Participants sign up to fight each other, using whatever genre-appropriate (safe, NERF-like) weapons they prefer, with the victor earning a year’s worth of bragging rights. In the game, however, this is no mere good time. Everlight, the holiday, is based on a story similar to “The Sword in the Stone,” where an evil darkness washed over a medieval kingdom, and only the most perseverant believer could bring back the light (by pulling a sword from a stone).
As Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) explains to Ian (McElhenney), “The darkness is despair, and the only way to defeat despair is by bringing in the light — the light is hope. […] The only way to bring in the light is by believing that you can.” Blunt? Sure. Effective? Absolutely. Bookended by an animated sequence that first tells the saga of Everlight and an imaginary battle where Poppy and Ian become actual warriors against the dark (embodied by Danny Pudi’s Brad), the episode certainly elevates itself above an ordinary half-hour. Anthony Hopkins narrates the opening, for Pete’s sake. But it’s still the side-by-side collaboration that hits home. We all need a little bit of courage to venture out into a strange new world, and while not all offices can guarantee the safety of this imaginary video game studio, the only way we’re going to find a healthy path forward is by believing we can (and listening to the CDC).
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Perhaps more importantly, “Mythic Quest” portrays a return to work that’s accommodating and kind. The reason for C.W.’s continued virtual presence is simple: “His ego is a lot stronger than his immune system,” Poppy says early in the episode — which echoes the reason McElhenney & Co. kept Abraham off set for much of Season 2. “[Abraham] said, ‘I want to come. I want to be there.'” McElhenney explained during the show’s TCA panel in February. “And I said, ‘Respectfully, I do not want to be known as the person that got F. Murray Abraham very, very ill.'”
“Mythic Quest” found its groove fairly quickly in Season 1, grounding itself in real-world issues related to the gaming community (including toxic users and gender imbalance in the industry) while maintaining the snappy dialogue and perfect lighting that make sure a show set in an office is still an escape for viewers, rather than a replication of the daily grind. But its bonus episodes have pushed the show onto a higher tier of office comedy. They’ve proven the series can balance earnestness next to satire while engaging with real-world workplace concerns. With “Superstore” gone, TV could use more office comedies unafraid to delve into difficult social and emotional subjects, and “Mythic Quest” can do just that. “Everlight” sets up Season 2 plots without stepping on them, and while reviews of the next nine episodes are embargoed, I feel safe in saying this episode does more than help bridge the gap between seasons; it helps “Mythic Quest” find its storytelling sweet spot.
The “Mythic Quest” bonus episode, “Everlight,” premieres Friday, April 16 on Apple TV+. Season 2 premieres Friday, May 7.