How Rob McElhenney and the cast of ‘Mythic Quest’ turned quarantine into comedy

Rob McElhenney in "Mythic Quest: Quarantine."
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With everyone’s ‘new normal’ being living through the age of a pandemic in some form of quarantine, it only makes sense to have a show based around the current situation—and that’s exactly what Rob McElhenney and the rest of the cast of ‘Mythic’s Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ decided to do. 

The popular Apple TV+ series, which has already been renewed for a second season, is releasing a special bonus episode titled “Mythic Quest: Quarantine,” this Friday, May 22. The new half-hour installment will showcase your favorite characters living through their own quarantine experiences with a few hijinks underway as well. But of course, their colorful personalities and witty character dynamics still come across, even through a virtual meeting format. Achieving that exact feeling and mastering that comedic timing while living in the reality of quarantine and filming in separate locations however, was a bit complicated. 

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“What’s interesting is we were directly looking into the camera [and] we couldn’t see each other, but we could hear each other,” explains McElhenney. “That was tricky. What winds up happening is that you realize things that you never thought of before—like how much of our communication is based on us being in the same room together. Whether that be non-verbal cues or just the nuances that you can only pick up from a person when you are in the same room as them, those are the things we had to navigate. Yet I still think that, for whatever reason, we were still able to kind of push through that and have a certain level of connection with one another.” 

In today’s climate, holding meetings through Zoom, Google Meets or other platforms is a usual daily occurrence in almost every industry. It was important to McElhenney who created the show along with ‘It’s Always Sunny’ collaborator Charlie Day and Megan Ganz, that this episode specifically visit the lows of being self-isolated, but also celebrate the triumphs that come from adapting. 

“There was something about not being able to see them but being able to hear them that made it a little more intimate,” adds McElhenney. “It’s hard to explain. We’re all on these teleconferencing calls all day long and there’s just something eerie [and] uncanny about it all where you’re not really in a room with somebody, just because you can see them doesn’t mean that you feel that level of connection. But we are used to talking to people on the phone, because almost everybody who is alive right now has been alive since the advent of the telephone, so we have a frame of reference for that whereas we don’t with these telecommunications and it’s just still odd to us—or at least to my lizard brain. So for us to be able to communicate with one another just in hearing the sound of their voice, for some reason it helped click certainly emotionally if not comedically.” 

‘Mythic Quest: Quarantine’

The episode itself has all of the ingredients you know and love about the show which follows developers of a popular video game, just in a different format. 

Figuring out how to maneuver comedic situations to push expectations is typical for the Philly native, who also created and stars in FX’s smash hit ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ The show, that follows a group of individuals forced into friendship by owning a bar together can be described as the anthesis of the beloved sitcom ‘Friends’—and that’s along the same lines of how McElhenney pitched it to studios over a decade ago when he was just 25. 

Taking the rambunctious and delightfully shocking basis of ‘It’s Always Sunny’ and the hilarious hyper-focus on the gaming industry’s colorful aura in ‘Mythic’s Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ and you have one guy who knows how to turn on the funny, and pushes the limits of expectations.

“I like the idea of stressing the limits of expectation. I think why ‘Sunny’ has been able to survive for as long as it has is that we’re continually surprising people,” says McElhenney. “I think that on the surface, and why it probably took people a long time to really take to ‘Sunny,’ was that they thought it was something that it wasn’t, because of its profanity, because we’re certainly obscene in so many different ways. But I think as you watch it and you recognize what we’re doing and we’re at least attempting to do, is that we’re not those people and we’re satirizing those kinds of people to a certain extent. That’s what really interests me. The idea of extending that into this world where ‘Sunny’ is sort of a live-action cartoon, at this point, that does not exist in the real world, I think the characters and the people of ‘Mythic Quest’ and the game of ‘Mythic Quest’, you could make the case that these people exist in the real life.” 

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At the end of the day, McElhenney is striving to create a show that holds audience’s attention, and with his two prime showcases being ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ and ‘Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet’ (especially with the latest quarantine episode), it’s easy to say that he has achieved that sentiment tenfold. 

“We’re still going for big laughs,” says McElhenney. “I think you see a lot of comedies now certainly over the last few years that are great shows, but you’re not laughing really ever once. That doesn’t devalue those shows or movies as entertainment pieces, but I don’t see how that’s a comedy. If your intention is not to make someone laugh, but solely to engage and make someone cry or feel suspenseful—that’s fantastic, but that’s a drama. Our intention is always how can we make people laugh? But then with this particular show, how can we stretch what people’s expectations of a hard comedy could be? Something that is going for laugh out loud moments, but also some moments of quiet pathos.”

“Mythic Quest: Quarantine” drops on Apple TV+ May 22.

 

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