The following is a compliment: While watching the new “Mythic Quest” quarantine special, I forgot several times that it is, essentially, a very effective commercial for Apple products.
The Apple TV Plus comedy, which debuted its first (great!) season back in February, came back on May 22 for a socially distanced scripted special that brought all its characters back together, apart. It’s not the first to do so — “All Rise” and “Parks and Recreation” beat it to the punch — and it surely won’t be the last. But while all of them are united by a “let’s do it because we can” self-dare attitude, the “Mythic Quest” version has the bonus advantage of an all-virtual episode making complete sense within its own established world. (And as aforementioned: “Mythic Quest” also has Apple’s complete arsenal of products and copyright at its disposal to make the episode look impressively high quality.)
The visual format of the episode — which takes place through a series of FaceTime calls and live-streaming — may necessarily look different, but its rhythms are the same. Ian (co-creator Rob McElhenney) is still a paranoid megalomaniac, only this time, while broadcasting from the comfort of his “compound” complete with a hot tub, boxing gym, and at-home movie theater. (Which, if that’s McElhenney’s actual home, is quite the testament to the power of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” residuals.) His righthand woman Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) is holed up in her apartment trying desperately to lose herself in work, as per usual. Neurotic David (co-creator David Hornsby) immediately gets caught in a battle of wills with nefarious finance guy Brad (Danny Pudi), which he badly loses, as was inevitable. Meanwhile, eccentric author C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham) can’t get his technology to work, much to the furious frustration of diabolical assistant Jo (Jesse Ennis), who spends the episode glowering at her webcam from underneath a framed photo of Ronald Reagan.
With video technology already layered into the show, “Mythic Quest” was simply better equipped for a virtual special than most shows ever could be. And from a character standpoint, the show’s collection of nerds work together at an increasingly powerful video game company and already spend their days making cyber connections more tolerable or even more interesting. That is, after all, their literal job. So when the episode ends with the entire cast coming (virtually) together to bring an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to (virtual) life, it’s not just fun, but makes actual sense out of a potentially gimmicky framework.
But what makes this “Mythic Quest: Quarantine” episode most interesting is that it takes a moment to figure out how its characters would actually be doing in quarantine beyond the base level of bored and annoyed that everyone in self-isolation can acknowledge. In a stark scene near the end, Ian realizes that Poppy’s new radio silence is a sign that she’s struggling and reaches out to let her know she’s not as alone as quarantine makes it feel. Their evolving dynamic and growing mutual respect — especially as acted by Nicdao and McElhenney — were highlights of the original season. It’s smart on the parts of the writers, and rewarding as a viewer, to have this episode build upon them. Not all shows can use their network’s capabilities to such technically seamless ends as “Mythic Quest” does in this half-hour. But if TV series are going to keep trying to crack their own virtual codes, rooting their realities in character beats like this could go just as far.
“Mythic Quest: Quarantine” is now available to stream on Apple TV Plus.