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Created by the brilliant team of Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Rob McElhenney, “Mythic Quest” is about video game culture and the people who make the games. It’s always been kind of a tonally lighter, less cynical version of “Silicon Valley,” another show that unpacked the cutthroat world of creative geniuses who sit at keyboards all day, highlighting their unique balances of dreaming and constant panic. Personality clashes and power struggles are common at any corporation, but they just have a different energy when they impact people who make video games for a living.
At the end of last season, Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) and Ian Grimm (McElhenney) left the company at which they turned “Mythic Quest” into a worldwide phenomenon to go off and form their own studio, leaving David (David Hornsby) finally in charge of the profitable empire. The season opens by explaining away F. Murray Abraham’s character—the actor announced between seasons that he was leaving the show—which does leave kind of a comedic vacuum in that Abraham was often an interesting counter to the younger characters, and there’s no similar voice to replace him this year. However, the writers do find a creative way to bring Brad (Danny Pudi) back into the fold, allowing the convicted head of monetization to get a job as a janitor at the company, a perch from which he can play mind games to get back on top.
The rest of the gang returns, but the season struggles to give most of them anything interesting to do. Dana (Imani Hakim) and Rachel (Ashly Burch) have always been able to lighten up the alpha male energy of people like Ian, but they end up separated for most of the season, with Dana balancing out Ian and Rachel being essentially groomed into capitalism by Brad. If there’s a major arc, it’s that David signs a deal to turn “Mythic Quest” into a feature film, which seems like fertile soil for humor but never really turns into much outside of a few admittedly funny scenes involving its eventual star (whose identity won’t be spoiled here).
As is always the case, “Mythic Quest” is more about managing people at the company that makes the games than the games themselves. David’s aggressive assistant Jo (Jessie Ennis) gets more screen time than she should—she’s a character that works best in small doses—and several players feel like they’re just not given enough to do. Yes, there’s another standalone episode—the two flashback chapters from previous seasons were arguably their best—and it’s telling that the writing again feels sharper here. It’s because the writers have new toys with which to play instead of the ones that they’ve clearly grown a little tired of moving around the table.
It feels like the third season of “Mythic Quest” needed a major reset, one that could have come with a new character or setting. It’s like one of those annual games like “Assassin’s Creed” or “Call of Duty” that sometimes releases a game that feels just a bit too much like an echo of the last one. Familiarity in TV comedy can be comforting, but a joke is never quite as funny the second time, and the power games between characters like Ian and Poppy have just grown stale. Even the performers feel like they just can’t bite their teeth into anything this year. McElhenney almost looks distracted through most of the middle of the season—maybe he was worried about his soccer team.
Again, there are enough likable performers on “Mythic Quest” to keep it from completely falling apart. They have spent enough time carving out these characters that just being with them for another season might be enough for fans. However, familiarity brings complacency, and the writers and ensemble here need something greater to fight for and something more ambitious to drive them. The truth is that they really need a TV quest that’s worth their time. And ours. [C]