Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet comically explores the inner workings of a successful gaming studio. Filled with colorful, diverse characters, the acclaimed series is the brain child of Megan Ganz, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenney, who stars as the erratic but brilliant creative director Ian (that’s EYE-an) Grimm. And, while the entire cast already runs like a well oiled machine, it’s a machine led by the toned and millennial-friendly persona of Rob McElhenney’s Ian.
Even if Mythic Quest‘s gaming studio feels something like a distant, more plugged-in cousin of NBC’s The Office, Ian Grimm is no Michael Scott. He is a complex, intelligent, and admittedly visionary creation. The comedy stems not from his cluelessness but his fierce intelligence and ADHD-fueled mania.
And McElhenney plays Ian – a “narcissist maniac” – to perfection.
The Origins of Mythic Quest
Mythic Quest stemmed from a tour McElhenney and team took at Ubisoft, a massively successful gaming company that would help produce the series. As the team toured the facility, they were struck by the collaboration of the various teams all working toward a common goal. McElhenney recalls the passion each team held for making the best game possible, and even though they were all there for the same purpose, each individual team held their own priorities, creating tremendous amounts of conflict that McElhenney and team could mine for comedy gold.
“It just felt very similar to the process we all go through making a TV show. There needs to be a conflict because if you just have one autocrat dictating what something is going to be you’re just limiting what the show is going to be,” McElhenney explains. “In the gaming world, it’s a very similar structure. If you just have one individual dictating things, then it limits what the game can be but it also makes for great comedy.”
McElhenney wouldn’t consider himself a gamer, unlike his alter-ego Ian (that’s EYE-an). That doesn’t mean he doesn’t perform the necessary research to create a realistic series and a believable performance.
That research came in the form of hours playing Skyrim.
The Look of Ian Grimm
McElhenney’s Ian Grimm has a very specific look. It’s perhaps one you’ve seen before. Black clothes. Mostly long-sleeved shirts. Extended, millennial-friendly beard. Often a knit cap. And rings, lots of rings. Online buzz hypothesized that the look for Ian Grimm was too familiar to be a coincidence, leading to rumors of Twitter’s Jack Dorsey being a significant inspiration.
According to McElhenney, there isn’t a single inspiration for Ian’s look. But there were a lot of creative directors who thought they’d inspired the character.
“After the show premiered, I got a lot of social media response by a lot of creative directors who said, ‘I think this is me, and I appreciate the nod.’ I’m creating an amalgam of a look, and it was interesting how similar so many people in this position present themselves.”
The perfect look wasn’t just a visual success. Rather, it helped McElhenney, who professes not to be a method actor, find the character. He believes something happens when he puts the rings on, marking the moment show runner Rob McElhenney stops existing and Ian Grimm takes over.
Call it an acting Infinity Gauntlet, if you’ll forgive the nerd pun.
“When that final ring hits the ninth finger, and I realize I’ve almost adorned myself entirely in rings and bracelets, that I’ve fully become Ian,” McElhenney explains with tongue firmly in cheek.
But it’s not only the clothes that made the man. McElhenney continued to physically transform himself to play Ian. Previously, he gained near 60 pounds for a season It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to mark a down, aimless period in that character’s life. For Mythic Quest, he looked at a lot of people in the gaming industry and realized that the stereotype of the overweight gamer doesn’t really apply in reality. McElhenney’s observation is that many men within this world are hyper-masculine and tend to work out incessantly. So did McElhenney.
It all works in coordination to create a perfectly realize Ian Grimm as a successful, and successfully realistic, creative director of a gaming company.
The Quarantine Bonus Level
Mythic Quest premiered in February 2020, months before the COVID-19 quarantine took effect, sending its creative team and cast into isolation. McElhenney and the creative team decided it was the perfect opportunity to imagine how the mandatory quarantine would impact their lovable cast of characters. Those of us working in similar environments know the scenario well: constant meetings through Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. The intrusion into the personal life is many things at once: maddening, frustrating, but ultimately life saving.
That’s exactly what the Mythic Quest team wanted to tap into.
“That really was our intention, so I’m glad it seems to have resonated,” McElhenney remarked.
Accomplishing this episode was a massive undertaking. A 3-day Zoom script session between McElhenney, Ganz, and David Hornsby (also playing David on the series) then shifted into standard production with one major exception: it was all filmed in the actors’ homes in quarantined safety. Each cast member received equipment (yes, a lot of iPhones), makeup, and production design instructions for their interior shots.
As funny as the episode is, it also features a deeply emotionally resonant moment to which many have related internationally. Midway the episode, Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) begins to crumble under the weight of isolation and boredom. In the episode, Ian – in an uncharacteristic moment of selflessness – breaks quarantine to give Poppy exactly what she needed: a hug and a shoulder to cry on.
But don’t think McElhenney and Nicdao similarly broke quarantine. It’s all Hollywood magic.
“That is not me. The only time that anyone ever left their home in the making of the episode was when I was out on the street in that scene, but as I walk in, I’m walking into my own garage, and we do a match cut to Charlotte’s husband’s phone. That is him finishing that scene.”
The team struggled with the weight of making a socially responsible episode. Ultimately, physical health is important, but it does not trump mental health. They felt that showing Ian visiting Poppy to avoid her sinking into an unrecoverable abyss was worth the depiction shown in the episode. Using the body double of Nicdao’s husband allowed them to achieve the desired emotional effect without breaking real-life quarantine safety protocols.
The resulting episode is widely seen as the highlight of an accomplished first season.
Where does Mythic Quest go from here?
The production just started filming the first episode of season two, which was green-lit by Apple before season one premiered, when the mandatory quarantine went into effect. When the production shut down, McElhenney and team realized they would have to re-write the entire second season. It would be impossible to continue without pretending the world – even the fictional world of Mythic Quest – had not changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As soon as we all collectively find as a community, as a city, as a state, and as a nation find ways in which we can ethically and medically find responsible ways to return, then that’s when we’ll jump back into scripts.”
In effect, they simply paused their game to pick it up another day.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is now streaming on Apple TV+.